Updated: Apr 30
Last week, as part of National Women’s month I wrote a blog post about 10 amazing businesswomen who had built million-dollar businesses whilst raising small children. And to continue on with the celebration of women’s month, in today’s post I will be sharing examples of 10 inspirational celebrity women who managed to build high profile careers after becoming mothers, showing that it is still possible to chase your dream career even though you have a little one to look after. These women work in different sectors and have used their talents to bring entertainment and joy to many people worldwide.
Whoopi Goldberg is an American actress who has brought us many film classics such as Ghost, Sister Act, and The color purple. She is also a comedian, an author, and talk show host, giving her one of the most varied careers in show business. She began her acting career in the 1980s and got her big break in 1985 for her role as Celie in The Color Purple, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, and won her first Golden Globe Award. Since then she has won an Academy, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony Award for her outstanding performances (1).
Prior to her career in acting, Whoopi gave birth to a daughter in 1973, Alexandrea Martin, who has also become an actress and producer (2).
J. K. Rowling
British Author and Philanthropist, J.K. Rowling was a single mother when she was trying to get her now infamous book Harry Potter published. After she earned a degree in French and Classics in 1986, Rowling took on a few roles, but sadly in 1993 began to see herself as a failure; her marriage had failed, and she was jobless with a dependent child, but she had described her “failure” as liberating and allowing her to focus on writing. In 1997, after experiencing many rejections, things took a turning, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was first published, and the rest is as they say history.
Rowling’s story is certainly a "rags to riches" one in which she went from living on state benefits to being reportedly worth $1 Billion in 2016 (3). The seven Harry Potter books have sold a total of 400 million copies around the world and are published in 55 languages, and have even made it in the Guinness Book of world records for the best-selling book series for children (4).
Dascha Yolaine Polanco is a Dominican actress. She is most notably known for portraying the role of Daya on the Netflix hit show, Orange Is the New Black. Dascha was always aspired to be an actress from an early age but hesitated at first, instead she pursued a bachelor's degree in Psychology (5). She had her first child at 17. In 2020, she told People magazine that though she didn’t work to keep it a secret, she didn’t go round telling anyone at her college that she was a mother, and felt self-conscious about it, despite putting on a brave face (6). After graduating, she began working in the healthcare industry with the intention of becoming a nurse. She was working in hospital administration at while studying nursing when she gained the courage to pursue acting again and registered herself with an acting studio. She attended BIH Studios in New York, and while there was signed by the talent agency Shirley Grant Management. Her first acting credits were minor parts in television, before landing her big break in the hit show Orange is the new Black.
During the same interview with People magazine, she opened up about the financial and personal struggles she faced from having a child at a young age. She said
“One night, my best friend's father said, 'What you're doing is horrible,' and he embarrassed me in front of everyone. I'll never forget that. But I was making the best decision that I could. I knew that having a baby was going to make my life harder, but I was also determined to turn every obstacle into a blessing.”
Shirin Neshat is an Iranian visual artist, who has been described as a groundbreaker who has inspired many other Iranian artists, especially women, to develop their practices and find a wide audience.
After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1983, Shirin spent 10 years working with Korean artist and activist Kyong Park run a non-profit art and architecture organization. Shirin would later marry Kyong, and the two had a son in 1989. During her time here, she made art pieces of her own, but at the time, was intimidated by the New York art scene, feeling dissatisfied, destroyed her pieces.
In 1993, Shirin began to seriously make art again, starting with photography. Her works are politically engaged and explore the place of Muslim women in Middle Eastern societies. Her art pieces have been widely recognised and have toured in many solo exhibitions around the world, selling for £25,000 - £100,000 ($34,250 - $137,000) apiece. She has earned herself a number of accolades including a Silver Lions award, a Golden Lion award, and a Praemium Imperiale award (7).
Pearl Thusi, is one of South Africa's most influential actresses, she is also a model, television host, and radio personality. Self-nicknamed "Mama Panther," Pearl has a reputation for being a fiercely proud mother, though motherhood did come unexpectedly for her. She was studying speech and drama at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg when she fell pregnant by her then boyfriend, and subsequently dropped out of University to give birth to her daughter in 2007 (8).
Even after having to take a hiatus from her dreams, Pearl has managed to make a name for herself. She has a career that boasts of many notable roles including her feature in the BBC/HBO comedy-drama, The Scorpion King: Book of Souls, as well as the lead role in Queen Sono, Netflix’s first African original film (9).
Fleur Adcock is a New Zealand poet and editor. She obtained her graduate degree and went on to complete her post-graduation in 1956. In 1952, she married Alistair Campbell, and gave birth to two sons, Gregory and Andrew, but sadly the couple divorced in 1958, she was just 24 years old at the time. Determined to create a career for herself, Fleur took on work as an assistant lecturer of Classics, then as an assistant librarian. She also took on two creative writing fellowships in the UK; the first at the Charlotte Mason College of Education in Windermere and the other one at the universities of Newcastle upon Tynne and Durham (10).
In 1964, her first poetry collection titled ‘Eye of the Hurricane’ was published in New Zealand, and since then she has written many collections of poetry such as, Tigers (1967) and High Tide in the Garden (1971). Fleur’s work has since reached worldwide recognition, and she has received many honorary accolades including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2006, and the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to literature in 2008.
Genevieve Nnaji is a Nigerian actress, producer, and director.
She doesn’t bring up her personal life often, but Genevieve give birth to a daughter when she was 17 years old (11). In 1998, at the age of 19, she was introduced into the growing Nigerian film industry with the movie Most Wanted, and things took off from there. She has amassed a huge portfolio of film credits for her roles in well over 141 films (12).
In 2013, she won the Nollywood and African Film Critics Award for the Best Actress in a leading role, for her part in Weekend Getaway, and in 2011, she was honoured as a Member of the Order of the Federal Republic by the Nigerian government for her contributions to Nollywood.
Anne-Sophie Pic is a French chef. She is the daughter of chef Jacques Pic, and grew up at her family's restaurant, Maison Pic. In 1992 at age 23 she set her eyes on learning the family business, but this suddenly came to halt when her father passed away 3 months later. Having to quickly rise to the challenge of learning without her father by her side proved to be tough, and in 1995 the restaurant lost a star rating. Anne-Sophie and her husband implemented some changes, and later on in 2007, she managed to regain the lost star back for the restaurant. She went on to open two more restaurants, and has continued to build her popularity. Through the tough times, she was raising her son hence why she warrants a place on this list.
In 2017 the Financial Times reported Anne-Sophie as the only female chef in France with three Michelin stars, and one of only five in the world (13).
In 2021 People With Money magazine reported Anne-Sophie as the highest-paid chef in the world, pulling in an astonishing $82 million between February 2020 and February 2021 (14).
Sofía Vergara is a Colombian-American actress, television producer, presenter, and model. And best known for her role in the sitcom show Modern Family.
1991, at age 18 Sofia married her high school sweetheart, and later had a son in 1992. The couple later divorced, Sofia later moved to Miami. She took on various acting roles but her breakthrough role came after nearly 20 years in the industry in the form of Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on the American television series Modern Family in 2009. Since then, she’s graced many magazine covers, and endorsement opportunities (15,16).
She has been named by The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard as one of the most influential Latin women in Hollywood, and in 2017, 2018 and 2019 was named as one of the highest earning TV actress by Forbes magazine (17,18,19,20).
Nadiya Hussain is a British TV chef, author and television presenter. She rose to fame when she won series 6 of the Great British Bake Off in 2015, and gave a heart-warming speech.
In 2005 aged 20, Nadiya met and married her husband, and they welcomed their first child in 2006, and their second in 2007. In 2010 whilst pregnant with her third child, Nadiya pursued an online degree course, and was on course to become a social worker (21). It wasn’t until she entered and won the Great British Bake off in 2015 that her career in culinary arts began to take off. Her cook books and cookery shows have gained her many awards including the Royal Television Society award in 2017, and the Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards in 2018 and 2019 (22,23).
In 2016, Nadiya was asked by Buckingham Palace to bake Queen Elizabeth II's cake as part of her 90th birthday celebrations (24).
The stories of the women mentioned in this list are all good examples of why I think mums shouldn’t let go of their dreams. They serve as great models of the type of achievements that can be obtained despite life’s challenges. As you can see, for many of these ladies, it did take time before they reached celebrity status, but they eventually got their props in the end.