Are you able and prepared to play the gig? The answer to this question is always determined by your personal preparation and whether you are in shape to play the music. If you are part of the 49.6% of the nation that can bear children, you potentially have a whole new dimension to this question.
I found out I was pregnant with my first child at around January 1st, knowing the next 9 months included 3 months of work travel, gigs, 2 tours with my brass quintet, and the rest of a pretty heavy orchestra season. If I was pregnant, would I be prepared? Both my mother and sister had debilitating nausea for the whole 9 months, so should I expect to have the same?
What can you expect and how can you prepare if you are pregnant and playing the trumpet? We are warned about fatigue, nausea, weight gain, and decreased room to breath, among other things. While every woman will have their own unique set of difficulties in their pregnancy, you can depend on being affected in some way by all of these things. So should you cancel your gigs? No. While your situation for the next 9 months is totally uncontrollable, here are some ways I found to take back control to ensure I was performance ready for every situation.
Are there things in your playing that aren’t necessarily the most efficient habits, but you can live with them? I had no idea what being pregnant was going to feel like, but I knew that any inefficiencies I was currently getting by with would be magnified with all the potential pregnancy discomforts. By the time I was carrying the baby, I was able to correct the chest tension and poor breathing in my playing as it happened, because I had focused on correcting these things for the year leading up to the baby. Carrying a baby makes you feel these inefficiencies so much faster, and in this sense, I would say having the baby actually really helped my playing!
I traveled straight through my first trimester where fatigue is supposed to be the worst. In addition to the travel, I worked long hours at conventions and then hosted dinners and parties afterwards. I never felt the fatigue I was warned about, but I honestly didn’t have time to consider whether I was fatigued or not. You can’t assume or prepare for fatigue, so don’t go into your pregnancy expecting it. Push forward with what you need to do. If you worry about getting tired you probably will get very tired. And when you do feel fatigue, address it and build time into your schedule for extra rest. If you need it, you will figure a way to accomplish it.
In the next 9 months your body will change at a faster rate than you have ever consciously experienced.
This was one of the most surprising things for me during my pregnancy. You logically know it’s going to happen, but as it was happening, it was still totally surprising to me. These two specific changes affected my performance the most:
Waste expansion and weight shift:
This becomes a big deal when it comes to muscle support. As your belly grows outward, your abdomen muscles are getting stretched, and your lower back has to take on a much different role in supporting you. You will either require high wasted support for your belly, or you will prefer a low waste with nothing constricting your belly. For me, I found wearing maternity, high wasted support leggings under my concert outfits REALLY helped my ability to make it through a long show. No matter how strong you are, your abdominal muscles get stretched from the growing baby, and there is more strain on your lower back. If the high waste does not bother you, maternity exercise leggings with waste support will definitely be an asset for those long performances, especially if you have to stand the whole time!
Your ability to breath will change:
This is the one we all worry about. How will I get an adequate breath with a baby taking up all the room in there? I mean, have you seen the pictures of what happens to your organs as the baby grows?!? Fear not… you can still get a big breath. Inevitably, as the baby grows your breaths will become more frequent and shallow. However, while the room for your lungs decreases, the size of your lungs does not. I found I just needed more time to breath. In order to fill my lungs, I needed to start my intake 2-3 beats earlier than I would sans baby in order to feel good about my entrance and not die in the middle of a phrase.
If I had long, loud, sustained and fatiguing passages that would require quick follow-up breaths, I would try to prep for these passages by taking multiple relaxed deep breaths that filled and emptied my lungs in the measures rest preceding my entrance. In essence, I would hyperventilate to prep for my final breath before a long passage of music. This prevented that feeling of air backing up or suffocation, and allowed my follow-up breaths throughout the phrases to stay relaxed and open, not shallow and tight.
There is some science behind this. Freedivers have been using this method for years. Hyperventilation is where you take in more oxygen than your body needs, and as a result your body removes CO2. CO2 is what causes the urge in your body to breath. Doing this repeatedly for freediving is now considered dangerous because you are really not “oxygenating” your blood in prep for the dive, but removing CO2 which is a healthy reminder to breath while under water for long periods of time. However, for a pregnant trumpeter’s sporadic uses for long passages, it allowed my body to stay relaxed enough to take larger, more relaxed follow-up breaths.
The dreaded morning sickness that some are afflicted with and some are not. I experienced food aversions more than morning sickness. There were a few times I felt nausea before performing, mixed with a sluggish dizzy feeling. I had no choice but to play, and was pleasantly surprised that playing the trumpet actually helped make the nausea and dizziness go away. I have also had other brass playing friends express the same experience, so hopefully this will be the case for you too!
Invest in a nice-looking pair of black sandals or wide comfy shoes to keep with you for every concert. I had no foot swelling to speak of until the 3rd trimester. I put on my fancy heels for a morning concert, and by the end of the concert my feet were, without warning, the size of footballs. They stayed that way for a week while I was on tour, with performances every day. Make sure to keep an emergency large foot option for concerts in case you need a footwear change unexpectedly!
As you progress through your pregnancy, your tendons start to loosen. This will not affect your chops, but take care for the rest of your body. I walked regularly, stretched, and was in relatively good shape, but still had some mishaps along the way. Exiting my car one day, my knee twisted as it normally does, but due to the looser tendons, my knee couldn’t handle this normal movement and I pulled something. I could not bend my knee or walk for the next 2 days without a lot of pain. As you are running from gig to gig with your horns, leave time so you do not need to rush. Take the time to be aware of your movements or any new pain that is warning you to change your movement. Pulling muscles is so much easier now, and you don’t want to show up to your gig disabled because you lifted your case out of the trunk too fast and twisted something.
So the gig says they will feed you. You do not know what they will serve, whether it is something you can or can’t eat, or if you are suffering from nausea/food aversions, whether it will make you sick. Always be in control of what you will need to eat. Keep food that you like in your bag, or pick up your own meal that you know will make you feel good before the concert. While on tour, more than a couple times the venue said they would provide food for us before our show and then didn’t. Luckily, I was pretty adamant about picking up food for myself before arriving at the venue, just in case they were providing sandwiches which I couldn’t eat, or forgot to provide food all together. DO NOT play a long performance without properly fueling beforehand. If you don’t, you will most likely get dizzy, sluggish, nauseous, and headachy.
Also, make sure you are getting enough protein. Towards the end of my first trimester I started desperately needing extra protein. During this time, I was handling my last convention for the season. I felt like absolute death. My whole body hurt, I was exhausted, dizzy, short of breath, and felt like I was walking through a tub of Jello everywhere I went. I could not figure out what was going on. The 2nd day of feeling like this, we went to a Brazilian steak house for dinner. I think I ate whatever meat they offered me for an hour straight. After eating that much I would normally feel like I was going to throw up, however instead I felt like I had just been given a large cup of coffee after a restful night of sleep. My body felt so regenerated from the protein boost that I made sure that I included extra iron rich food and protein in every meal for the next few weeks. Eventually, I lost my appetite for beef, but by that point the lack of extra protein at a meal ceased to affect me. Be sensitive to how your energy is changing and what foods you are craving throughout your pregnancy. Your body may be telling you that you need more protein, more calcium, or more water. To just say, “I feel awful because I’m pregnant” will never solve the problem.
It won’t be easy, but then again, you are used to that. Nothing about playing the trumpet is easy=). Stay positive and optimistic throughout. I learned that the things I initially said, “I can’t do this!”, I always found a way to do. The things I found out I couldn’t do were the things that I had assumed would be easy and did not plan for. If you get to the point where you realize you can’t do something, don’t do it. Be professional in the way you communicate that, and people will work with you to help you out. Musicians are artistic problem solvers, and pregnancy is just a whole new level of problem solving. Extra preparation, and sensitivity to what your body needs as it is so rapidly changing will allow you to keep up the same great standard of performance you have always held yourself to.