There's some considerable synchronicity between Troian Bellisario's actual life and her latest film, Doula. Like her character, Deb, the former Pretty Little Liars star had a doula to guide her through her first pregnancy. Bellisario, who is married to actor Patrick J. Adams of Suits and Take Me Out fame, also discovered she was having her second baby during rehearsals for the movie, which meant that over the course of filming she alternated between wearing a prosthetic baby bump (later carved out to accommodate her real-life one) to shooting her final scenes as her own heavily pregnant self. The newborn that appears at the film's end is, in fact, the baby she was carrying: daughter Elliot, the younger of two daughters Bellisario shares with Adams.
But it was Deb's discomfort with the conventions of motherhood and the expectations put upon birthing people that most connected with Bellisario. Doula — now available to stream on Amazon and other providers — sees first-time mom Deb pushing back against the pressure to have a picture-perfect pregnancy at the behest of both society and her pushy partner. (In the film, produced by her longtime pal Chris Pine, said partner takes it upon himself to hire a male live-in doula to replace his mother, Deb's elderly midwife, when the woman suddenly dies.)
"It was one of the most authentic depictions of pregnancy that I had ever read, because my experience during my two pregnancies was not, like, the glowing goddess of fertility," the actress, wearing a "Hysterical Female" T-shirt, tells Yahoo Life's So Mini Ways over Zoom. "I was not floating through the air in a maternity shoot. I was sick and hot and confused and in a crisis. ... Your identity is in crisis. You don't know who you're going to be; you've never experienced having a child before. And so what I loved so much about this movie was that it really just sort of dug into that and didn't shy away from it. And it didn't shy away from showing a woman that was having a difficult time during the journey of pregnancy."
Bellisario's own experience with that loss of identity, coupled with morning sickness and uncertainty about the future, contributed to her opting to keep her pregnancies out of the public eye. Though they attended the 2018 royal wedding of Adams's Suits co-star Meghan Markle about five months into Bellisario's pregnancy with older daughter Aurora, the couple didn't share any baby news until after both their daughters were born, in October 2018 and May 2021, respectively.
The actress remembers feeling unprepared for her first pregnancy, which was a "total surprise." While she and Adams had always planned to have kids one day, having it unexpectedly happen left her feeling like she was going with the flow rather than being in full control of the situation.
"It was just very much like, 'Wow, this is happening. OK, let's go for this ride,'" she says. "But I still felt a little bit like I wasn't in the driver's seat. I was in the passenger seat and the car was moving and I knew, OK, eventually I'm gonna step over and take control of the wheel, but I do not know what that looks like right now."
Given that mindset, the prospect of sharing her pregnancy publicly felt overwhelming and inauthentic.
"I didn't feel immediately, like, I'm pregnant! I want the world to see it! This is my bump. I feel good in my body, I feel happy, I feel proud!," she shares. "I was really struggling. I was scared. I was like, I don't know if I'm ready.
"I knew that there would be a very, very positive response," Bellisario adds, "but it felt like an outward pressure that I didn't want to add to the mix. Being a public figure, I think people expect you to behave a certain way. And maybe I was wrong, but I thought that if I was public about my pregnancy, that then people would expect the bump pictures and expect the updates and expect the 'I'm so happy' and expect the 'this is going amazing.' And I was like, I don't feel that way. I still feel sick and I still feel scared and I don't want to share this right now. So I was really private about it, and then it just kind of became something that I loved being private about, because I got to protect the beginnings of my daughters' life."
While the star had "the queen of doulas" to help her create a birth plan and verbalize what she needed during labor — "as we're learning and talking about a lot right now in the current climate, it's a major medical emergency and you have to advocate for yourself," the actress notes — it wasn't until she actually had her first daughter in her arms that Bellisario fully comprehended the significance of what motherhood would mean to her.
'What was so wild for me was to understand that this was one of the most important people in my life, and I was only meeting her now," she says. "I was 32 at the time. And when she came out, I remember holding her and being like, 'Oh my God, you are going to be like the moon in my sky. You are the most important person that I'm ever going to meet. And it took 32 years for me to get to meet you. Like, this is so wild.'"
Baby No. 2 came with her own surprise: a sudden arrival in the family car — henceforth known as "the Birth Mobile."
"Me and my husband didn't make it to the hospital," Bellisario says of the dramatic birth. "So he became my doula and delivery doctor and delivered our baby in our car.
"I felt like I was on Jupiter," she recalls. "I was mentally on a different planet. I remember the sensation of her coming out and I remembered when my first daughter was in my birthing canal and I was like, oh, this is what it feels like when she's coming out. So if this is happening right now. Even though this was the most excruciating pain I'd ever experienced, because I didn't make it to the hospital, I didn't have an epidural. ... I was like, OK, I know it's about to be over. So like, I might pass out, but I also know she's on her way out, so I'm almost done. And I just remember just, like, non-verbally using every ounce of my energy to communicate to Patrick, like, 'just catch her, don't pull, just catch, I will push' because I couldn't say anything. I think I probably sounded like a demented cow at that point. And he did. He intuited my wishes and he caught her."
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