You had a baby! Hopefully all the steps you took to continue performing succeeded. You will soon find that the time after the baby arrives is just as unpredictable as before. What degree of recovery will you need from childbirth? Will the baby have issues that will need additional hospital time? How much help will you have in the first weeks? How long will it take to get in shape?
Our little Alfred came 3 weeks early which would have given me some extra time to heal up and get the chops back in shape which was really the best-case scenario for me as I had a busy playing schedule to get back to. However, my journey from Alfred’s first day to now, almost 2.5 months later, has been anything but. Though my delivery and recovery were very smooth, my father became very ill the same week Alfred came home. Though my recovery was smooth and Alfred was healthy, most my maternity leave was spent in and out of hospitals with my father, with little to no time to get back in shape for playing. Even in the best-case scenario, you never know what those first few weeks will be like so plan accordingly.
That said, don’t let others intimidate you with all their horror stories of the first 3 months. As a musician you are trained to adapt quickly in order to perform in a multitude of different circumstances. These same skills will help you adapt to having a new baby around the house, as well as whatever other circumstances arise. Just like learning new music, you will make mistakes along the way, you will quickly learn from them, and move forward. As much as possible, try to stay positive. If you can’t be positive about a circumstance, at least be productive. If you are productive, then you are at least working through the circumstance in order to find your happy again.
Here are some things to think about for those first couple months of adaption:
Plan for your maternity leave:
I would say 6 weeks is the minimum you should take before accepting another gig. Getting back in shape will not be difficult. Done correctly, I would say it should take no more than a week to get back to your normal dexterity, and a couple more weeks after that to build your endurance back.
Plan for the unexpected:
While 6 weeks is the minimum I would give yourself for a performance leave, be careful about what gigs you accept for your return. If possible, request that you play 2nd for the first one or two performances. On the chance that unexpected health or personal emergencies arise, do you know of anybody who can sub for you? Having a list of possible subs ready to go will help you out, should crisis arrive and you need a sub. As soon as I found out about my father’s condition, I took a leave of absence from my brass quintet, and arranged to play second instead of principal on the upcoming orchestra concert, knowing my practice time would be limited. Don’t take time to deliberate if something comes up. I think getting a sub for something you are unable to confirm your preparation for is better for your career than showing up stressed and unprepared. I was lucky to have a fantastic sub take my place in the quintet and a strong colleague in the orchestra who was able to take over my principal responsibilities. Acting immediately to enlist subs gave them the time to be successful as well.
When you get home with the baby, don’t worry about making noise during the day. My husband’s rock band rehearses in our basement, and he scheduled a rehearsal the day after Alfred arrived home. Alfred slept through the rehearsal (though it was so loud it was vibrating the wine glasses in the cabinet!), and learned to sleep through all other music and house noises in that first week. Alternatively, your baby will get used to only sleeping in complete silence if you remain completely silent any time they are sleeping during the day. Which baby would you prefer?
Getting back in shape:
This process can be pretty miserable if you go about it wrong, so be careful to follow these steps! By the time I was able get back to my trumpet on a regular basis, I had not played for over two months. I had two weeks to be in shape to play Stravinsky’s Firebird and Handel’s Royal Fireworks Suite. This is how I did it:
- Get a Denis Wick practice mute (this mute is exceptionally well-tuned, with little back pressure. These 2 aspects are very important in using a practice mute and will promote a focused open sound), and keep your trumpet, with practice the mute, near by so it is convenient to play for those 30 minutes when the baby falls asleep.
- On the first day, just do your warm up using the practice mute. The practice mute will force you to focus your sound, as well as support your weak chops.
- On the second day, and every day following for the next week, play your warmup on the practice mute. Then take the practice mute out and hit a few portions of your warm up without the mute. Slowly, as you are able, start to add in some short songs or etudes to start building your endurance. You can do this with or without the mute, as you see fit. Do not over-fatigue yourself. I would not let myself play more than 5 minutes past the point where I would lose my sound and focus to fatigue.
- After a week, you should feel pretty normal again. If you would like to continue your warm up with the practice mute, by all means do. However, if you would prefer to do your warmup open at this point, go for it.
- For endurance, start expanding the length of etude. I started with a warm up and a couple songs from the back of the Arban book (or lullabies if Alfred was close by) and eventually expanded that into songs and a couple of the Arban Characteristic Study etudes.
Will you be breastfeeding? This is something I really overlooked in all my planning. If you are breastfeeding, you will need to pump every 3-4 hours. When you get back to teaching lessons, freelancing, etc., you will need to make sure you are careful to plan in where and when you will be able to pump. For this reason, invest in a pump that can run on a rechargeable battery. This will allow you to pump anywhere when you are away from home. I use the Medela Freestyle. This has been a lifesaver on many occasions.
You are going to have to step up your organization skills. Sleep deprivation makes it really difficult to keep details straight, so double and triple check your agenda. Make sure to prepare what you need for your gigs a couple extra days in advance, since you are now planning for two!