As you all probably know by now, we were chosen as the 2016 March of Dimes Ambassador family for the Los Angeles area. We’re just about done with our role, but we had one last event to attend: the March of Dimes Celebration of Babies. The CoB is an annual lunch and awards ceremony where members of the entertainment and health communities come together to raise awareness and, most importantly, money. For the 2016 Celebration of Babies, Mike and I were not only invited to attend, but I was also asked to speak.
I’ve spoken at several March of Dimes events this year, so I wasn’t nervous about speaking at this one. I have my speech basically committed to memory at this point, but I still always bring notes with me because I’m afraid that the one time I don’t, I’ll be overcome with emotion and forget everything. So when the March of Dimes people told me I would have a teleprompter, I was relieved. I also should have thought, “Hmm, a teleprompter, that’s…really fancy.” But no, I didn’t.
When the day of the lunch arrived, I was more concerned about it being Mike’s birthday than anything else. I am so grateful to him – he doesn’t like March of Dimes events (they are really hard, emotionally), but he always goes to support me. I spent the entire drive thanking him for coming and promising to make it up to him, and it was only when we pulled up to the hotel that the lunch was at that I realized we weren’t at just any hotel – we were at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, the fabulous hotel Julia Roberts and Richard Gere stay at in Pretty Woman.
Mike and I were quoting movie lines as we walked into the ballroom, and then we stopped in our tracks because the room was gorgeous – and ENORMOUS. There were so many tables with so many chairs. I looked at Mike with wide eyes and he said, “You can do this, you spoke at the March for Babies in front of 20,000 people, this is nothing for you.” This is why I am so glad he comes along with me to these things.
After getting the lay of the land from my March of Dimes friends, Mike and I went out into the lounge area to wait for everyone to start arriving. As I was chatting with a M of D employee, she suddenly said, “Give me your phone, let me take a picture of you guys right now.” When she handed my phone back to me she said, “I thought it would be cool if Reverend Jesse Jackson photobombed you.”
Uh, yeah, that would be cool.
We also got to actually pose for a few photos ourselves.
I knew that Jennifer Hudson was going to be receiving an award at the lunch, but I didn’t really consider that there would be other famous people there, too. But suddenly, I started seeing a bunch of awesome people, like Elizabeth Banks, Monica Potter, Bryce Dallas Howard, Kelly Rowland, Ellen Pompeo, Nick Cannon, and Derek Hough. From our spot in the lounge, we could see them all arrive and pose for pictures on the red carpet. And that is when I started to feel like I might throw up.
When I said as much to Mike, he replied, “Since when do you care about famous people?” and I was like, “UH since ALWAYS?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m from LA so I follow the unspoken “notice them, but leave them alone,” rule that we Angelenos live by. But I get excited when I see someone from one of my TV stories in real life. Also, these are people who are paid to talk really well, and the idea of speaking in front of all of them suddenly made me really nervous.
But not like, so nervous that I couldn’t eat the first three courses of the lunch, plus a bread roll. A girl’s gotta eat.
There were three awards given away at the lunch. The first award went to an amazing doctor, Mary Kerr, who specializes in high risk pregnancies. The women who presented the award to Dr. Kerr were Ellen Pompeo and Monica Potter, aka Meredith Grey and Christina Braverman.
They both got teary as they spoke about Dr. Kerr, and I thought about all the times these two women made me cry when I watched them on Grey’s Anatomy and Parenthood. I whispered to Mike, “I’m going to get a weird form of payback when I make both of those women cry in a few minutes.”
After a stretch of time that felt impossibly short but still agonizingly long, I was brought backstage to prepare to give my speech. While I was back there, I met Nick Cannon, who was the emcee and was wearing the most amazing sparkly shoes I’ve ever seen on a dude in my life. I stared at them for a minute, wondering if they’d fit me, and then it was my turn to go on stage.
The speech itself is a blur to me. I was able to focus and not stumble over my words, although I did notice some familiar faces as I looked around at the audience. Usually at events like this, the “Fund the Mission” speaker has had a happy ending, so the audience is always very shocked when they hear about Maddie. Even though we didn’t have a happy ending, we still had seventeen wonderful months with her and that’s what I emphasized in my speech. I also told everyone that I won’t feel successful until premature birth isn’t a worry for my own children, and I’m hopeful that with continued research and innovation, this really could be an achievable goal.
As I made my way back to my table after my speech, several people stopped me to say they were going to donate in honor of Maddie, which always blows me away. I enjoyed watching the rest of the Celebration from my seat, including when Jennifer Hudson was honored for her work with MoD.
When the event was over, Mike and I hung back a bit to let the crowds exiting thin out. When we eventually made our way to the valet line, I started digging through my purse to find my ticket (I am notorious for losing them), only to look up and see Monica Potter standing in front of me. “Your speech was…wow. Can I hug you?” As we hugged, she told me about how March of Dimes was her dad’s favorite charity, and after he died she decided to make it hers, too. She was so incredibly kind and gracious, and she was also crying a little bit so then I cried a little because I can’t see someone cry and not also cry and what is my life? When she walked away, Mike said, “That was like watching a scene from Parenthood.”
I found out yesterday that the Celebration of Babies lunch raised $1.4 million, and that my Fund the Mission appeal brought in more money than any other appeal ever – even more than when Chris Pratt spoke at the same event two years ago!
Maddie continues to do amazing things.