How “The Space Gal” made space for herself in the entertainment industry and took maternity leave as a contractor, scientist, and producer
As someone who inspires space exploration and holds multiple STEM degrees, Emily is anything but your average TV star and children’s book author. She hosts and produces Emily’s Wonder Lab and FOX’s Xploration Outer Space and authored a series of explorative children’s books called The Ada Lace Adventures. But Emily didn’t always aspire to be the face and voice of children’s science.
In classic Hollywood fashion, big networks initially turned down Emily for adult-focused science shows because “a predominately male audience wouldn’t be interested in a solo female host.” Disappointed but not discouraged, Emily began hosting Xploration Outer Space in 2014. Seven years later, she’s an executive producer of the Emmy-winning show that is currently filming its seventh season.
Meanwhile, Emily was pitching another show focused on a new, much younger audience: Emily’s Wonder Lab. While in her first trimester of pregnancy with her first child, she got the call: Netflix wanted the show, and they wanted her to decide when to film it - pregnant or not. This was not only an incredible opportunity for Emily’s career, but also a step for all women in the entertainment industry.
Emily decided to film while 36 weeks pregnant.
“On TV, you don’t usually see somebody who is pregnant doing something other than being an expectant mother—or hiding it,” Emily said.
As an independent contractor, Emily gave herself eight weeks of maternity leave after filming Emily’s Wonder Lab. She took this time primarily off from any work besides small production tasks she could knock out during naps to keep the ball rolling. This method worked for her, allowing speaking engagements to resume after eight weeks. Her husband’s 12 weeks of paternity leave was a big help, too!
Keep reading for more about Emily’s experience showing up, owning her domain, and taking the time she needed to be her best self post-baby. Dive deeper below.
#1 Emily didn’t hold back, and Netflix respected her journey
- Emily pitched Emily’s Wonder Lab to Netflix during her first trimester and was able to hide her pregnancy: “I was pretty scared at that point in my career because I was auditioning for a lot of things. You just don’t know if the network is going to see a pregnant person and say ‘that’s not the look we’re going for.’”
- Despite pushback, she announced her pregnancy: A month after her Netflix pitch - but before Netflix reached out to confirm they wanted the show - Emily shared her pregnancy news with her production company Bunim Murray. She knew upcoming social events would reveal her growing bump, and this way, she could own her announcement. But friends advised her to hide her pregnancy, saying, “Why would you throw a wrench into this conversation with Netflix?”
- Netflix wanted the show, and on Emily’s terms: She went for it anyway. One week after Emily announced her pregnancy, Netflix called to pick up the show! “Do you want to film before or after the baby comes?” they asked. With an easy, energetic pregnancy, Emily decided to do it around 35-36 weeks “before there was an extra human in the mix.”
- A supportive husband goes a long way: Emily’s husband, Tom, went with her to LA to film since he could work out of Google’s LA office. They were traveling and knew labor could start at any moment during filming.
#2 Taking a parental leave as a contractor and public figure
Independent contractors don’t get parental leaves, no matter how famous and successful they are in their work. For Emily, work involves more than just logging into an email from 9-5. She had to figure out what to do about her travel, production, and speaking schedules while spending the first few weeks with her baby. Here’s what made Emily’s first eight weeks successful:
- Schedule existing projects around the pregnancy: Emily was intentional about the work she took on towards the end of her pregnancy and what she scheduled for the months following.
- Accounting for recovery: Childbirth recovery time is always unknown, but typically most moms need at least 6-8 weeks. Emily had to account for this time off, delaying travel and public speaking gigs until the 8-week mark. In hindsight, this was a good time block for her.
- Doing bite-sized work: Emily’s maternity leave wasn’t completely work-free, but the production tasks she was doing could get done in 45-minute chunks (aka during baby naps). These included reviewing final episodes and fact-checking. She would only allow one of these work sessions per day to create boundaries around her time. “In those early days, it’s nice to feel productive, so I actually enjoyed having those little to-do lists. I would never agree to do too much.”
- Taking advantage of her husband’s generous parental leave: Her husband worked at Google and got 12 weeks of fully paid leave, which Emily did not take for granted. Emily was able to sleep, recover, and do a bit of work during the early stages of postpartum. Daycare started at eight weeks, which allowed both parents to use their daytime most efficiently.
#3 Becoming a parent changed her perspective on work
“My work is so unique that having a baby opened up a new creative outlet for me. Not only could I talk about the science of space, but now I could talk about the science of childhood and pregnancy.”
Now a parent, Emily’s kid-focused content resonated with her personal life. She still works as hard as she did pre-baby, but now she finds herself more productive during the day since working after daycare hours isn’t an option.
Emily doesn’t take on as much work that requires extensive travel without sufficient pay to match. She’s embodying what all working moms strive for – she knows her worth, her energy levels, and when she needs to take breaks.