Jessica Pressler didn’t actually work until the moment it was time to deliver her baby — but this race to the finish before giving birth deserves all the airtime it's getting.
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The "Inventing Anna" Reporter Didn't Actually File the Story While in Labor
Credit: Netflix

Inventing Anna, Shonda Rhimes' new Netflix show, is about a ladder-climbing outsider who convinced New York's wealthiest and most exclusive to invest in a project that lived mostly in her head. So it's fitting that it might play a bit fast and loose with the truth.

One of the big plot points in the limited series revolves around Anna Chlumsky's character, Vivian Kent, the journalist investigating the story who becomes increasingly obsessed with her subject as she also happens to be becoming increasingly pregnant. In a climactic moment, Vivian's water breaks, and she is seen having contractions in the newsroom as she calls a source and begs her to go on the record so that the piece can be published. Once she seals that deal, her husband (Anders Holm's Jack), helps her waddle to the elevator to the sound of a standing ovation from her colleagues.

That's… not exactly how things went down.

Vivian is based on Jessica Pressler, the journalist who wrote the New York magazine story on self-proclaimed German heiress and convicted fraudster Anna Delvey, aka Anna Sorokin (you may know Pressler from some of her other work, such as the story that inspired the Jennifer Lopez movie Hustlers). Pressler was pregnant with her first child while she was reporting the piece, but she filed when she was eight months along, not in labor. So, unlike Vivian, she didn't have a towel wrapped around her waist out of fear that amniotic fluid would leak all over the newsroom.

The "Inventing Anna" Reporter Didn't Actually File the Story While in Labor
Credit: Getty Images

"The character is very loosely based on me, just to be clear," Pressler tells InStyle. "There are aspects of me in there. I'm sure there are aspects of Shonda [Rhimes]. I'm sure there are aspects of Anna Chlumsky in there… I think that probably some of the writers who worked on the episodes [are in there]." In short, she says: "I think that there are a whole bunch of people's different experiences embedded in that character."

In real life, the story went to press and a deal was made for Rhimes' Shondaland to produce an adaptation. Everything was being finalized when Pressler was in the hospital recovering from having given birth. When she finally had a chance to catch up to the email chains, she apologized for taking so long to respond. Pressler says she received a response from Shonda Rhimes herself that said she should "never apologize for having to care for your children" and that "if you were a man, people would be putting you on the cover of Time magazine for taking care of kids and doing any work at all at the same time."

The reason this revelation — that Pressler didn't work until it was time to go to the hospital and deliver her baby — is shocking at all is that it does seem plausible that someone would. People do it all the time, either because they can't afford not to, because they feel a pressure or urge to work as long as possible, or some combination of the above. I know at least three journalists and one interior designer who did this exact thing. And rideshare service Lyft was publicly shamed a few years ago when it trumpeted how "exciting" it was that one of its drivers kept taking fares on her way to the hospital to deliver. 

"The hustle culture, in general, feels very American to me," Pressler says, mentioning the burnout that's rampant in workers across industries: "just like working until you drop in an intense way and not having a social safety net, healthcare-wise." 

Pressler recalls that people would tell her how "cool" it was that she was going to New York's infamous Rikers Island jail complex to interview Delvey while she was pregnant. Whereas, she says "it's not cool. It's actually kind of fucked up. But it's my job and I have to be working up until the last second. Because that's what this country is like." 

Certainly the external pressure to produce (while reproducing) is well documented among working parents in the United States. For some, the desire to push it to the last second or keep working no matter the risk comes from their own drive. Pulitzer Prize-winning war photojournalist Lynsey Addario covered the worst of humanity while pregnant. Her response to those who questioned her choices was to write a book and an essay for New York Times magazine entitled "What Can a Pregnant Photojournalist Cover? Everything."

But many working parents with competitive career paths can also feel a sense of insecurity about what a work-life balance means post-baby. For an adrenaline-fueled industry, there can also be the pressure to act like a personal life won't get in the way of your career — much like Vivian does in Inventing Anna (coincidentally, Anna Chumsky's Veep character exhibits this same pressure to put aside family life in order to perform professionally). It's something that's been explored in myriad TV shows by, for, and about women, like Rhimes' ABC hit Scandal or in HBO's Sex and the City, which is a good thing. Advancing in your career in the same handful of years during which you're making major life decisions about your family is a juggle no matter the profession.  

"It's one of the deadlines of life; like I'm going to be out-of-commission for several months," says Pressler, who also stresses that she was given a "very generous" maternity leave package when her deadline arrived. Whether or not having a child is a race to the finish in real life the way Inventing Anna tells it, it's a momentous event that deserves all the airtime it's getting.