This is a concise list of things that I found the most tricky to navigate as a new mom with a career.
- operating on lack of sleep. This is not an all nighter - this is an every nighter....
- prioritizing feeding at all times (even at work).
- balancing teaching schedule and duties with increased number of doctors appointments.
- working a 14 hour day. (leave house at 6 AM , teach from 9 AM to 7 PM, back at home by 8 PM)
- having energy / dealing with fatigue of mind and body.
- remembering all the tools needed to teach, take care of myself and mother a child each day.
The aspect of balancing my work with being a new mom that needed the most attention was lecture preparation. In Fall 2022, I was teaching Orchestration and Form & Analysis at the same time. These two courses, in particular, can be real bears to teach because they require so much research and each class session is 80 minutes. Both a broad view of score studies, repertoire knowledge *and* detailed examples that clarify the larger materials (think learning how to label forms or how to voice chords for winds) are necessary to make sense of these large topics.
To tackle the 'problem of prep' I decided that powerpoint presentations would work best for me.
I don't normally use powerpoint but I chose to use them during this unique time because:
- I could work on them anytime of day or night
- I could work intermittently, as able, but still be moving forward with the work.
- I could build something slowly that was still effective.
- I could showcase more music because it used fixed materials.
- I could build a logical flow to the material and build out complex areas with different kinds of examples.
The only major downside to using powerpoint was that I had to capture all the music myself. I did this with Camtasia and recorded the video with audio and embedded it as a movie into the powerpoint presentations. This was very time consuming but essentially 'doable when sleepy' and worth it in the end. In hindsight, I feel that adding a wide variety of musical examples really added a lot of interest to the lecture content, although I am curious to see if the student agree.
This preparation, took consistent, although unscheduled, effort. 5 minutes here, one hour there, 15 minutes there, 30 minutes, 7 minutes, capture this, find that score... The longest stretches of work time amounted to about one hour - but beyond that it was mostly piecemeal throughout the day - working when my daughter was settled.
The hour stretches were worked while my daughter slept .... so I had a good hour that I could work through about 3 times a day. Then, once my husband got home, I could work at night...
When I was pregnant, I honestly thought I'd be able to work while alongside my daughter but at this stage of her life thats not really possible. As she grows and can play independently, that seems more and more likely - but for now, working while she naps (or when I have a helper in the house) is best.
This was honestly very stressful for me. I am used to working without time limits and this adjustment was a significant shift in my workflow.
I really wish more moms (and dads!) talked about strategies for work/baby balance more openly.
I don't feel as though I've even added the 'life' part back into the mix yet, lol!
Maybe I can balance 1) work and 2) life and 3) baby in 2024?
What about you? Have you experienced anything like the 'problem of prep'? How did you manage it?
Let me just clarify a little, that I'm sharing my motherhood journey because I hope other working moms (especially those in music) can see that not only CAN this be done but that it IS being done. And, in truth, it has already been done - just like so many other aspects of motherhood, behind closed doors.
As I write down these experiences, I'm aware that some might seem ridiculous and uninteresting to many - but I'm the kind of person who does (and did!) a lot of research and as I looked for ideas about how to navigate and ultimately reconcile the 'problems' of motherhood and musicianship. I didn't find very much and that alone can be scary and disheartening because, at least for me, you can feel like an outsider when you go through something very important that not everyone shares.
So in the spirit of creating resources for new professional moms or really anyone who just needed to take a minute off and then return, these are some of my experiences.
I decided to return to work at the beginning of the Fall Semester because I thought that would be easier to just bite the bullet. If I had taken FMLA, I would have had to return to work at week 7 of the semester - just near the halfway point. My thoughts at the time were that making the transition back to work would be difficult enough, no need to make it more difficult by adding in a cold start to the classroom that already would have a 'flow' by the middle of the semester.
I have been a music theory professor for about 15 years now, and yet - in my six week postpartum world - I was very nervous to return to work. This nervousness wasn't because of teaching but mostly because of the planning that went into me being able to do my job.
These are real examples of the higher anxiety issues that I encountered and had to overcome when I returned to work:
1. I had to bring what let's just call 'feeding stuff' on a daily basis, figure out how to manage all the materials needed, (and their cleaning) for that as well as schedule that around my course and workload. (This was a main focal point because we had some trouble on the food front at first and I was very worried about maintaining our good progress)
2. Organizing childcare, my sister had a baby 4 weeks after I did. So when I was returning to work, we were also trying to help her do those early home and caretaking needs that new parents need. Without my mom, returning to work would not have been possible. Which made me realize how invested WHOLE FAMILIES are in working moms. Its not just me that supports my work, my daughter does, my husband does, my mom does, etc. We all contribute to my working. It is a group effort. [There is a lot to talk about here, so I may circle back around to this in a later post]
3. Driving a car. This may sound silly but I was actually worried to drive. My work is 1 hour and 15 minutes from my home, one way. Fun fact: Six week old babies sleep very often throughout the day (and night) but they don't sleep very long. So I was up every 2 and a half hours at night (and all day) with the baby. Driving a car, on a highway, that distance, with my brain in such a mushy state due to lack of sleep made me very nervous at the time.
4. Finding time. Before baby, I put many hours into my work, and those hours were largely irregular. I don't mean that I don't have a routine or schedule when it came to work (I did of course) BUT I could open up my hours (or flex) any time I needed too. For example, if I was working on a project that needed more time I could simply say, "oh I want this to be better, I'll work on this a bit more" ...... that really changed.
After baby, I have to plan my work ahead with a fine toothed comb, at least that was my approach to the first semester of school, I'll talk more about this in the next blog post.
So, true story - coming home from the hospital was a scarier than I thought it would be. Simple little things, like how to get baby into the carseat and buckle if safely and driving on the road felt like large tasks at that point along the road to recovery.
While I was in the hospital, I got an email from Virginia Tech inquiring about a piece for a conducting etude book. I talked it over and decided to participate in the project as a good first post-natal excursion back into composing. So I signed the contract for a piece that would be due in December of 2022.
Once we got home, we were very happy to be there and not have to move around too much while we found and settled into our new routine as a family. In hindsight, I remember this time as being a smooth transition but I also remember struggling with feedings and lack of sleep as being very real struggles. Even now, 6 months later - I sleep 4 hours maximum in a single stretch at night.
So those were the main challenges - sleep and food. Thankfully, my mom was there to help us and she helped cook and clean the house so we could focus on learning more about what the baby needed.
In all honestly, recovery took quite awhile and thats ok. When I got home, I made the mistake of focusing on the baby so much so that my pain meds got away from me and I really struggled for a few days. Once we realized the issue we were able to fix it but yes the learning curve on parenthood is very steep and immersive! That '4th Trimester' was all about food! (still is! lol)
6 weeks after delivery I turned 40 and the semester started. I chose to go back to work and not take maternity leave. (more on that in the next post)
Since my last blog post a lot has happened! LITERALLY ONE DAY after my last post, I had my beautiful daughter and became a mom AND a composer! I've been collecting my experiences from the last 15 weeks privately, searching for a narrative to share with my readers.
My daughter was born during a planetary parade of 5 planets!
An auspicious day indeed :) Her birth was a surprise. We did not know at the time that she would be a girl and it was one of the best surprises of all. A precious moment <3.
Although 3 planet parades are common - 5 (or more) planet parades are much less common. A planetary parade like the one my daughter was born in won't happen again until 2041!
We were in the hospital for a few days and headed home to recover and get to know each other a bit.
Very happy to say that I've just completed a new piece for Trumpet and Piano called BAJA MIDNIGHT.
This piece has been a dream to work on with my colleague Dr. Daniel Kelly, who commissioned this piece. He has asked that the piece be inspired by Film Noir, which has been a very fruitful source of inspiration for me. I imagined the uniquely dark black and white lighting of classic Film Noir cinematography styles and tried to reflect that in the music. Throughout the score, I have various scenes that create a narrative for the music (one of my favorite poetic aspects of composing). Examples include sections marked "Smoke", "Hero Today, Gone Tomorrow" and "Silk Stocking"
So far, I've received wonderful feedback from this collaborative effort and I'm looking forward to how this new project will unfold!
This piece will be premiered in January 2023! Stay Tuned!
Welcome to Blog entry Number 1! The 2022 teaching year has recently ended and I am beginning a new creative project. I am currently a 34 weeks pregnant, alongside spending the majority of my time as a composer and academic. I am discovering that pregnancy is unique in an academic environment and I thought I'd share my experiences in hopes that it may enlighten and encourage the wide variety of experiences women have when working in the arts and other academic disciplines.
Over the past two years, women's issues (especially women composers) have received more and more attention. Most of this attention is focused on representing women composers in the concert hall and commissions. This blog is built in that same spirit of caregiving, inclusion and representation.
I hope you enjoy following me through this experience and, as always, I appreciate your encouragement and support! - JB