The 38-year-old Dubliner had daughter Ella two weeks before she sat the Leaving Cert. Now the pair co-host a weekly podcast where they discuss everything from blended families to college life
Comedian Emma Doran was just about to sit her Leaving Cert when her first child, Ella, was born. Thirteen days before the exams began, to be exact.
“I was 18 when I got pregnant,” she says now. “The summer before I headed into sixth year, myself and a friend went down to Courtown to get jobs. We went down and obviously fell in love with Courtown, because I was pregnant in about four days. I had those four days of freedom, and that was about it,” she laughs.
Emma who turns 38 at the end of this month, and Ella, now 19, co-host the weekly podcast You’re Grounded, in which they discuss everything from Emma’s parenting skills, to blended families, Ella starting college, and generally what is going on in their lives, including a ‘tell me something I don’t know’ section.
In fact, she reflects, Emma, who was one of several comedians who made names for themselves during the pandemic thanks to her hilarious Instagram videos, has never really experienced adulthood without being a parent. “I try and look at it positively. I never fully had my own adult life independently without being a parent. For a lot of my friends who were in their late-30s coming to parenthood for the first time, it was a huge adjustment. I don’t really know any different.”
It took her a while to tell her parents, about two and a half months. “I knew somewhere in my head that I had to tell them, because it wasn’t going to be real until I did. I have loads of gaps in my memory from that time. I think it’s because I was on autopilot — I wasn’t fully functioning.”
Slowly, she began telling her friends the news. “I think a lot of people were just like, ‘Thank god it’s not me’. One of my friends said, ‘Congratulations, you’ll be a great mom’. She was the only one that said that to me. She could ring me now and need to get rid of a body, I’d be like yeah. It meant so much to me.”
The only daughter in her own family, after her exams Emma remained living in her parents’ home when she went to college to study business and arts management at IADT, with her mother providing childcare.
“Obviously they were very supportive. It’s always difficult to have two mothers in a house. She was very conscious of the fact that for her it would have been very easy to just take over. She didn’t. Even when I was doing my Leaving Cert, I’d come home after doing an exam and she’d hand Ella to me.”
During her entire time in college, Emma spent only one night away, in Galway, for a project in fourth year. She describes the difference between her and her peers at that time, in part due to her present-day responsibilities, in part because she was determined to do well, and create a good future for herself and her daughter.
“I felt pressure to do well in college. My mam was minding Ella. My life was so different to my friends’. In college, I used to think of myself as Cinderella in a way. We’d go for the end of term nights out, and I would do an Irish goodbye because I’d know I would be up in the morning. I didn’t have any relationships when I was in college. I think I was actually still healing from what had happened.
“Every so often I had to check in with the male gaze — I’d have a smooch, and that would satisfy me. ‘Right, I’m still attractive’.”
She was very conscious of trying her best to be a good mother. “Because I thought society was judging me, because I was a younger mother. Then I kind of copped down the line that everybody feels like that, as a mother. Whether they’re young or old, they have an only child or six kids.”
At the time, she was hugely focused on getting herself into a position where she could be self-sufficient. Emma, who now has two younger children, sons aged nine and seven with her partner Shane, couldn’t imagine adding to their unit. “When I had Ella, my main focus was definitely to get myself set up. I wanted to be in a situation where I could be financially independent by myself, and I didn’t need a partner. As far as I was concerned it was me and Ella; that’s all it was. I thought maybe down the line when she was the age she is now I might meet someone. I couldn’t even think to myself how you would negotiate introducing somebody else in.”
She met Shane in her early 20s. They were together over half a year before she introduced him to her daughter, who was then five.
“I was very… yeah, we’ll see. But they actually ended up getting on great; they’re great mates. The two of them slag me.”
It can be daunting introducing someone new to the family unit. “At some point you have to take a plunge. Do I think I’m going to be with this person for the rest of my life, or until she’s an adult? It is scary. But then it is also lovely to be able to share that with somebody.”
On the podcast, Ella and Emma discuss blending families further. Ella spends time with her father in Wexford and his wife and two younger daughters. “She goes on her holidays to Wexford and has a lovely life. Back in the day you’d be worrying about things getting so complicated; you have more children, her dad has more children. But she’s never known any different. I would have been worried about it because the only family I really knew was the mam, the dad, that kind of buzz. But I think it’s great.”
She worried before having her second baby how it would affect her daughter, then used to having her mother, and Shane, to herself. They had moved from Emma’s parents’ house into a home with Shane sometime after Emma met her partner. “After 10 years of having it all to herself, now there’s going to be a baby.”
In fact, Emma says with a smile, the whole thing was very straightforward. “After the first time having a baby, Ella, and doing the Leaving Cert and all that, I don’t think I recovered for a few years. So when I went to have babies again it was like a breeze compared to it.”
Ella enjoyed being a big sister and Emma wasn’t stressed. “Doing it with a partner, and you’re an adult, and you’re not living at home with your parents and doing the Leaving. Easy.”
Looking back, she can see how she struggled at times, understandably.
“You’re closed off, you’re trying to protect yourself. I would say probably a little bit depressed. And lonely obviously; loads of people around me, but you do feel like a bit of an alien. You’re in lots of conversations about nights out, and people being tired, and you feel like strangling somebody. What are you tired for? I’ve a three-month-old at home.”
She felt the podcast would be a nice thing for them to do together. Ella, who is now studying psychology, used to appear in some of her sketches when she was younger. “We just have a little chat once a week.” The dynamic between them is sweet. Emma is laconic and mouthy and funny, Ella veers between gently mocking her mother and clearly adoring her.
“I think I’m probably a product of my own parenting. I was the youngest and the only girl, so I always felt like my parents were really, really strict on me. I’ve gone the opposite with Ella. But she is completely different to me,” Emma laughs. “She doesn’t drink, she doesn’t smoke, she’s very responsible.”
Emma began doing stand-up when she was on maternity leave with one of her sons, having always wanted to do something involving performance. She had started drama in fifth year. “I’d looked up in the Yellow Pages this drama club that had an agency…and then I got pregnant and whatever, and you feel like you have to go and do something proper.”
Recently, after much deliberation, she gave up her full-time, nine-to-five job in copywriting to become self-employed and pursue comedy. As she describes it, the job can be surprisingly parenting-friendly.
“Sometimes it’s tricky, and sometimes it works well. Most of the time I have to be there for eight or nine in the evening; my kids are done and dusted for the day, so I can go out. But then at the same time you’re always up the next morning.” It depends on what kind of life you want, she adds. She is happy not to go on long tours abroad.
“I couldn’t do stand-up if I didn’t have the partner I have. I go out sometimes four times a week, hanging out with men in pubs. On paper to a lot of people it probably wouldn’t sound great. But since I left my job, I’ve never had more freedom. I’ve never been able to work as hard because I’ve been able to slot it in around my life.”
You’re Grounded is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all usual platforms