“Girls” star and artist Jemima Kirke and renowned doula and musician Domino Kirke discuss motherhood, city living, and their creative career paths.
Though one has cotton-candy-hued tresses and an infectious laugh, and the other an earth-angel vibe and soft-spoken manner—and one’s primarily known as wild-child Jessa Johansson on HBO’s “Girls,” and the other has found her calling as a birth doula—the moment you see them together, the family resemblance between Jemima Kirke and her sister Domino Kirke is abundantly clear.
It’s not just the similarities in their striking faces, or their lilting British accents, or the myriad of intricate tattoos they both have; it’s also the way the sisters act together, whether they’re catching up in Domino’s homey kitchen or fluidly playing off of each during a photo shoot, that suggests a long-standing ease and closeness.
Jemima, 29 (who considers herself a painter first and an actress second), and Domino, 31 (a birth doula and director at Carriage House Birth, as well as an accomplished musician) grew up in Manhattan after spending their early years in England. Domino and Jemima, who also have an older brother and a younger sister, are the children of two parents in creative fields—their mother, Lorraine Kirke, owns the downtown vintage store Geminola and their father, Simon Kirke, is the famed drummer of the band Bad Company (among others)—and were close growing up, sharing a room until Domino was 13. Now, they share the special commonality of being mothers raising young children in Brooklyn while pursuing distinctive career paths.
“[Motherhood] is a point of identifiable-ness,” Jemima says. “We can identify on that. If we ever fight, or don’t understand each other, or can’t relate, there’s always something we can appreciate in each other—that we’re both mothers.”
Domino’s son is 5-year-old Cassius, and Jemima’s children (with her husband Michael Mosberg) are 4-year-old Rafaella and almost-2-year-old Memphis. As you might expect, both sisters very much enjoy the phenomenon of watching their little ones grow. And when asked, during our rainy-day photo shoot at Domino’s cozy Williamsburg home, if she and Jemima ever trade parenting tips, both crack a slight smile and trade knowing glances.
“I’ve sent you emails and articles. I think we’ve both sent each other articles we think are good,” Jemima answers first. “We do it virtually,” Domino chimes in, as Jemima continues: “That’s how I do it with all my friends though—just as a woman or a mother, you don’t want to say: ‘This is what you should do.’ Because no one knows the answer. You just send a piece of information and say: ‘Take from it what you like—or nothing!’ I don’t think anyone should be telling each other what to do.” And to settle the matter with an example from her work as a doula, Domino adds: “I get so many emails from mums who say: ‘Am I doing it wrong?’…So I really make a point of not suggesting, because I know how sensitive it is.”
On the surface, Domino and Jemima seem to be the perfectly imperfect poster girls for the so-called “hipster” or “edgy” Brooklyn lifestyle, but the picture they both paint of their lives—the things they enjoy doing with their children and the challenges they face in sometimes spreading themselves thin among their careers, passions, and responsibilities as mothers—is refreshingly centered and straightforward.
“[My son] loves to draw, he loves Capoeira, he loves his really big classroom,” Domino says of Cassius. “He loves his cousins. He’s really into family and loves knowing that someone’s related to him… He has second-cousins in England and he talks about them even though he’s only met them once.”
In the same vein, Jemima reports inquisitive and mischievous behavior in her kiddos as they start to become individuals. “Rafa is really exciting to be around and [it’s exciting] to watch her. Four is a really fun age because everything she says and does is new—it’s something she’s picked up,” Jemima says. “And Memphis is just—terrible 2s. He’s a regular toddler—he’s loud, destructive, and irresistible.”
While Jemima and Domino make no secret of the fact that playing with LEGOs and making trips to local parks and playspaces are parts of their day-to-day, they also both maintain fiercely defined identities outside of motherhood, a quality that Jemima credits to their own mother.
“What I’ve learned from my own parents is that your child can adapt to your life, there’s a compromise when you become a parent. ‘Mother’ does not have to be my whole identity. My mother brought us into her world,” Jemima says. “I like the idea that kid culture and adult culture can meet somewhere harmonious in the middle.”
To say that their lives are a harmonious mixture of different facets is an understatement for both Jemima and Domino. For starters, while Domino has been a successful musician since her teenage years, for the past four years she’s been immersed in the tight-knit NYC birth community as a director and founder of Williamsburg’s Carriage House Birth, a role she felt drawn to after having trouble finding resources that spoke to her during her own pregnancy, and then experiencing a long, intense labor while giving birth to her son.
“I was always interested in becoming a midwife, then at my own birth I didn’t get the support I’d hoped for, and that changed everything. That’s why I became a doula. There’s such a need,” she says of her first steps into the wild world of birth support. “And I just realized that my labor was so long and crazy that I was really good at supporting a woman in labor—it just felt so close to home… I really wanted Carriage House to be a safe space for women to come and have their needs met.”
Domino went on to turn her natural affinity for birth support into a full-fledged doula agency with her now-partners Lindsey Bliss (a mother of six) and Samantha Huggins. Carriage House operates on a tier-system and has 30 doulas in its fold. Plus, the collective offers prenatal education, postpartum support, new parenting classes, and more, all in an environment that Domino describes as “earthy” and a “one-stop shop.”
“I think for Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Lower Manhattan—we definitely have our demographic,” she explains. “It’s a real blend of hospital-birthers and home-birthers—but we really are catering to the family that wants to get all of their needs met in one spot… So the families that are coming to us, they like the more homey setting, the more organic setting.”
The spirit of celebrating a woman’s individual needs and choices, especially in regards to maternity and pregnancy, is one that Jemima is in synch with her sister on. Many may recall a provocative (by some viewpoints) photo shoot for Vice that Jemima did while pregnant with her son in 2012—and never one to shy away from honest expression, Jemima defends this choice firmly and unapologetically.
“A lot of people (even women!) criticized me, saying [the photos] were vulgar and distasteful… The shoot showed me undressed, untouched up, and in character,” Jemima says. “I wanted to do a shoot that did not do the goddess thing. I’m so sick of the artificial, idealistic, glorification shots of pregnant women… And what’s worse is when celebrities do it [because] it’s just one more thing to make the average woman feel shitty about herself when she compares her pregnant body to theirs.”
In short, Jemima sees no need to sugar-coat her choices; and the same goes for her philosophy on urban parenting as well.
“I do love raising my kids in the city because I feel like the city is so diverse in the types of lives people lead. They’re exposed to so many different aspects of life… You’ve got the parks, but you also have the streets. That’s good for a kid to be exposed to that,” she says. “I think that kind of exposure teaches a child tolerance, openness, and awareness for all walks of life. I would also never want my children to grow up thinking everyone lives as charmed a life as they do. Even the kid in the neighborhood next door.”
It’s a similar line of thinking about the city’s many sides that led both Jemima—who moved to Carroll Gardens from the East Village after becoming pregnant with her daughter because she wanted her kids to grow up with a sense of community—and Domino to consciously make their homes in Brooklyn.
“I feel like Brooklyn is a little more earthy, a little more grounded and spread out. Williamsburg is crazy—but I feel like my kid has a real sense of home, whereas when I lived in Manhattan as a kid, I would go outside and that was my home. I fed off of all the people running all over each other,” Domino says. “So I like to think that [my son] has a bit of a calmer, grounded upbringing in Brooklyn than I had in Manhattan… This neighborhood is like a village. As a single mum it’s really amazing to know that my neighbor has a key to my house and there’s the butcher and the baker—it’s that vibe.”
Brooklyn’s notoriously art-infused ethos also suits the sisters well, as Domino has a quiet passion for music and Jemima focuses on painting. Jemima, who has a BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, primarily paints portraits (often using her children as subjects) and is currently working on some pieces for the upcoming annual art shows in Miami. As stated on her professional website, her work “explores the multi-faceted layers of character within each of the models and friends who sit for her.”
A perfect example is the beautifully evocative portrait of Domino that serves as cover art for Domino’s album “The Guard,” and sits on Domino’s own professional website showcasing her music. And to that point, Domino’s music itself is similarly complex in temperament, a fact that has been shaped by her journey as a mother.
“I don’t have as much ego now, if any! I play music now for fun,” Domino says of how having a child has influenced her music. “Before [having kids] there was a lot of pressure for it to be the thing I do, and somehow I found the balance between being a doula, a mum, and a musician.”
Currently, Domino is working on a record with fellow musician (and close friend) Luke Temple, of the band Here We Go Magic, and they hope to release their project in the spring of 2015. “The record is more electronic than I’m used to. Each song is like a little vignette,” she explains.
In some ways, each piece of the Kirke sisters’ multifaceted lives is like its own unique vignette. With Jemima’s career as a painter and the fourth season of “Girls” slated to hit screens in early 2015, and with Domino busy enjoying her musical projects while developing Carriage House’s newborn care classes and arsenal of post-partum services, it’s easy to envision them as masters of balance, seamlessly jumping from one fascinating tableau to the next. But, as they both carefully emphasize, parenting is usually much more about compromise than about balance.
“When you have a bunch of things you do in your life, or a bunch of things you enjoy doing, or skills, or whatever it is, you spread yourself thin,” Jemima says. “And sometimes things get neglected because I’m focusing on my kids more heavily that day or that week, so I don’t get to the studio. Or I’m working on-set so I don’t get to see my kids. It’s a sacrifice.”
With a sentiment that many city parents can surely relate to, Domino puts the equilibrium between work and family into a lovely context by noting that it helps to be part of a professional community that often feels like family. “What I love about being a doula is the built-in community around it. Birth workers are a very rare breed and we’re a tiny, tiny group,” she says. “There’s no one birth collective that’s better than all the others. We just all have our place.”