Outrageous Fortune star Siobhan Marshall turns infertility struggle into web series – Turning IVF into humor
By Jack van Beynen
Millen Baird and Siobhan Marshall were married in 2015.
The other day, Siobhan Marshall and husband Millen Baird bought a pram, filled it groceries and pushed it around a mall in Newport Beach, California.
They got into an elevator with a woman who had a pram with an actual child in it. It was awkward. They got out of the elevator as quickly as possible.
All going well, though, Marshall - perhaps best known as Pascalle West in Outrageous Fortune - and Baird, of Auckland Daze fame, will soon have a baby of their own to wheel around Newport Beach, where they live. They are expecting their first child in August.
Their road to parenthood has not been a smooth one; the couple underwent a round of IVF to get pregnant. While trying, the IVF experience inspired their new animated web comedy, Slow Pete.
Marshall, 35, and Baird, 44, had a particularly successful IVF process; at the end of the five-day process they had seven viable embryos. But doctors had even more good news for them.
In the web series Slow Pete, Pete is one of Millen Baird's sperm who aspires to make the elite swimming team for "Ejaculation Day".
"They said, we've actually got one more who might be going to make it, we're going to give him another day," Marshall recalls.
"And he actually did make the grade, so we had eight embryos, and then we made a joke about how he's the slow one. That's how the slow sperm idea came about, from that slow embryo."
In its ten three-minute episodes, Slow Pete tells the story of one of Baird's sperm who is trying to be selected for a crack team of swimmers to be deployed on "ejaculation day". The sperm, Pete, is voiced by Baird. Pete is not the sharpest tool in the shed.
"I always seem to gravitate towards these loser kind of characters, I don't know [why]," Baird says.
Baird based Pete's laconic drawl on the way two of his "monosyllabic" Taranaki nephews, a builder and a chef both in their early 20s, speak. "You get like random syllables out of them," Baird says. Pete's catchphrase, "It's all good eh," came directly from the nephews.
The first Slow Pete episode was made for Marshall and Baird's blog about their IVF journey. It was spotted by TVNZ commissioner Amie Mills, who asked them if they'd be keen to make it a ten-episode web series for TVNZ OnDemand.
Her request prompted Marshall to head online to learn how to animate, while the couple also set up a sound recording booth in their wardrobe. Baird says they spent a lot of time in that closet when making the show.
"We sort of wrote up a storyline and then we scripted it, and then we'd get in our sound booth amongst the clothes in our wardrobe, and record it. Then Vorny [Marshall] would animate it over the top of the sound and we'd go, 'Does that work? Nah it doesn't work, change your voice'. So we'd go back into the closet, change it again. Then Vorny would have to change the animation again."
For some, fertility struggles are a private matter - not something to share with the nation, much less in the form of a comedic web cartoon. But Marshall hopes to encourage more people to talk about IVF.
The cast of Slow Pete are all either sperm or semen.
"I think it's quite taboo still, like people have a problem talking about that stuff, and it's happening everywhere, like I know so many people going through IVF at the moment. And it's really hard for people because it doesn't work a lot of the time. We were really lucky that it did work for us first pop," she says.
Baird says Slow Pete's humour is typical of the couple's approach to life. "We kind of fumble our way through life, there's often a bit of adversity and one route is to sort of go with the misery, but we like to go the other route and see the funny side of it," he says.
Marshall and Baird moved to California after their wedding in Fiji in 2015. Their apartment in Newport Beach, Orange County is about an hour south of Los Angeles, where they're regularly auditioning for acting jobs.
Baird says Newport Beach a good area for this next stage of their lives; their apartment is next door to one of the area's best hospitals, and there are lots of other new parents in the area.
They'll have lots of company, then, when it's time to get that pram out again.
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