Amber Tamblyn | 2018 MAKERS Conference
Amber Tamblyn shares an intimate story about Election Night as part of the Real.Life.Stories. live performance series at the 2018 MAKERS Conference
AMBER TAMBLYN: It was the night of the 2016 election, and the energy inside the Javits Center in New York City was charged with excitement, anxiety, and a wild, ferocious joy. I was standing in a small room of fellow Hillary Clinton surrogates and supporters, surrounded by men and women who had spent literally years working on her bid for the presidency, which we now knew we were about to win.
I stood in a circle smiling and laughing with two of my best friends, America Ferrera and Amy Schumer. You may have heard of them. We all happened to show up to the occasion wearing matching white pantsuits complete with white blazers, looking like some cast of a new primetime medical drama on an all-new San Bernardino Medical, Friday nights on NBC.
America was drinking champagne Amy was double-fisting two plastic cups of chardonnay, and I was enjoying a lovely cup of Maalox because I was extremely pregnant. Mary Steenburgen, a longtime friend of Hillary's, arrived with her husband Ted Danson, and we immediately locked eyes from across the room.
Mary had played my mother on a TV show a decade prior and was the woman who introduced me to Hillary Clinton. For years I had followed her political career and listened to her speak at events. She had encouraged and inspired me to speak up and out as a feminist. She grew to be a powerful symbol of what women can grow up to achieve, of what I hoped to someday achieve. Look at me. Look what I achieved. Nasty woman.
I ran into Mary's arms and we began to cry with happiness. Bams, your breath is so minty-- that's my Arkansas accent. It's not right-- she said, and we pulled apart and wiped our tears away. Did you just brush your teeth? Yes, I did, I said, with peppermint-flavored antacid. We laughed and hugged, and tonight was the night. It was our night. We were going to see the glass ceiling finally shatter.
But it wasn't long before everyone in the Javits Center started to realize it was not going to be the ceiling shattering, but rather our hearts. A giant television in the middle of the room began to report the ominous news that Hillary was losing. The energy in the room shifted from uplifted and celebratory, partying and taking selfies, to quiet, focused on the TV, our phones tucked back in our pockets.
I found myself sitting across from Mary, once again locking eyes with her, only this time they were filled with sickening fear. I swigged more Maalox. My baby shoved its foot in my ribs as if to foreshadow more pain was on the way. Katy Perry anxiously chewed on a celery stick. Lady Gaga anxiously chewed on her leather riding crop. The Clinton staff huddled in corners whispering . Kate McKinnon, who earlier had been the life of the party, now stood quietly by herself overlooking the balcony. Below her were a sea of thousands of heartbroken faces, husbands and wives and kids in pink pussy hats, farmers who had driven in from neighboring states, drag queens in blond Hillary wigs, a Nick Nolte impersonator. I didn't even know those were a thing.
Devastation began to drop a heavy anchor in my body. I knew where it was all heading and so did everyone else in the room. Some people tried to cheer each other up by saying, she hasn't lost yet. Don't worry, don't worry. There's still a strategy. There's still some time. There is still a path to win. But the words rang more and true as the night went on. And eventually the Clinton staff delicately told the room that we wouldn't know the full results until the morning, so we should all go home and get some sleep.
People grabbed their totes and Birkins and briefcases and quietly began to pack up. In the elevator ride on the way down, my friend Lena Dunham grabbed my hand and said, it's going to be OK, baby. It's going to be OK. It was past midnight, so Mary and Ted offered to drive me back home. We were all very emotional, and it was well past my pregnancy bedtime, which on any other night would have been 8:30, 8:31 lights out.
But on this night it was different. We were stunned, numb. We rode in the car in silence. Mary finally broke it by saying, the last time I was in this much pain was when my mother died.
Early the next morning, I rolled my giant albino walrus stomach over towards my phone and looked at it. I grabbed it and there it was, the news. Hillary had won the popular vote, but ultimately, by a large number of delegates, lost the election. I lowered my phone, touched my stomach, and stared at the ceiling, dazed. I wondered if Hillary was somewhere in some hotel room doing the exact same thing, wondering how she would bring herself to get out of bed at all.
I got on the subway to head to a meeting, but the world felt like a tableau of itself, a frozen painting of sorrow. It had shattered overnight and every face around me was a slivered shard. I looked at the people across from me on the train, and they mumbled. They were numb and stared back, eyes red and swollen.
My heart began to pound as a dark realization swam over me. I was going to bring a baby into the world, and not just any baby, a girl. And not just any world, this world, the world of Donald Trump. My heart sunk as I quietly thought to myself, maybe I don't want this baby after all. Maybe I can give her to Canadians or to a nice family in Sweden. I mean, they have amazing furniture. They probably make amazing parents. I just couldn't bear the thought of bringing a girl into this new world. I knew I loved her more than I could bear and wanted to protect her from any of this.
My heart began to pound and I felt lightheaded. I stepped out of the train-- waddled, rather-- and felt my legs quiver beneath me. My stomach lurched and I began to sweat. Something wasn't right. I began to climb the stairs at the Columbus Circle exit and a deep, piercing pain slithered through my spine. I grabbed the railing and groaned. My god, I thought, this is it. I'm going into labor. I'm going into fucking labor in a subway stairwell.
I couldn't catch my breath, so I sat down on the step halfway up the staircase. I was breathing hard, clutching my stomach and crying. And a homeless man emerged from around the corner carrying a plastic bag of fruit. Oh, shit, it's going down, he hollered when he saw me. A few more people stopped and came to my side, checking to see if I was OK. And all I could do was gasp and wheeze and cry.
Listen, the homeless man said to bystanders, I can help cut an umbilical cord if anyone needs me to. I have beard scissors. I just need some Purell if anybody has some handy. My god, I thought. This is it. I'm going into labor in a fucking stairwell and a fascist is president and a homeless man is about to cut my cord with his beard clippers.
Siren cue on point. Someone had the good sense to call 911, and soon an ambulance arrived/ the paramedics put me in the back of their ambulance and began to ask me questions. Ma'am, do you think you're going into labor? I don't know, I don't know, I said between attempts to catch my breath. Either Hillary Clinton's loss just broke my water or Donald Trump's election just gave me a miscarriage.
I took a breath. I don't want her, I cried to them. She deserves better than me. She deserves better than this The paramedic placed an oxygen mask over my mouth and began to take my pulse. The homeless man who had been standing there the whole time at the foot of the ambulance doors pulled an orange out of his plastic bag and placed it on the edge of the stretcher before quietly walking away.
They took me to the hospital, where it was quickly discovered that I was not going into labor. I wasn't even going into contractions. I was having a massive panic attack. I called my birthing doctor and she instructed me to come directly to her office immediately. When I walked into her suite she took me by the hand and brought me to her room, said, OK, kiddo, she said in her tough accent. Give it to me. What's going on?
When you become a mother, people to tell you to expect many things. Expect to be exhausted all the time, to lose a lot of sleep, to never have sex with your husband again, all of which is true, especially if your husband was a Bernie supporter. But no one ever tells women how incredibly vulnerable it is that you live in a perpetual state of rawness, of constant fear for your child and the life that child will live or miss out on or never get to live at all. No one prepares you for the type of love you experience because it cannot be described.
I tried to gather my thoughts I told her, Hillary's loss was not just about the loss of a fucking candidate I admired. It was a critical loss for Americans' identity. It was a robbery for womankind. Her loss was a projection of all of our losses as women throughout history, a culmination of our collective sacrifices, our abuses, our disparities, our silences, our injustices. Hillary was the cherry on top, symbolic of all that we had fought for and lost for generations.
Dr. Maron, I have no idea how to raise a daughter in that kind of loss and that kind of void. I don't know how to love something that much, so much that it owns me. I'm confused, estranged from myself and this world. I'm losing it. I'm fucking losing it. Come on, you gotta have something. Can I take-- can I have something like an anti-anxiety pill or bourbon or Ryan Gosling? I just don't want to feel so much all the time.
OK, kiddo, you done? She said to me. Listen, we're going to do something right now, OK? We're going to do something for you and that worn out soul of yours.
She held a heart monitor up on my stomach and told me to pull out my iPhone. She proceeded to tell me that I could do whatever I wanted to do all day long. I could torture myself by reading the news. I could watch the inauguration. I could read Twitter. Go nuts, she said. But I want you to do two things every morning and every night, every morning when you first wake up and every night before you go to bed, the first and last things you do every day. I want you to play this recording for yourself and remember your own capacity to love, how deeply, dangerously, and daringly we all choose to love in this world, no matter its cruelties.
I began to cry. I love her so much, Dr. Maron. How do I know if she loves me back? This is how, she said. This.