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Blog by award-winning composer Kati Agócs

 

HOW TO BE AN ARTIST AND A NEW MOTHER: TEN PRACTICAL TIPS

Kati Agocs

An artist often fears that her creative life and career will take an enormous hit when she has a baby. No matter what discipline they are working in, new mothers who are concurrently building lives as artists share many similar challenges. Eighteen months after the birth of my daughter, my life as a composer is thriving, deepened by my family life.  It helps that I had a strong work ethic, and had refined many of my writing methods before she was born. But it hasn’t been easy. Here are ten things that worked for me in the first year.

1.     Get back to your creative work soon after you give birth. It’s harder if you wait.  While you obviously want to enjoy your baby to the fullest, in order to be a whole person and do your own work, you need discipline, whether you’re a creative or a re-creative artist. That discipline is strengthened by practice. Even if it doesn’t feel like you’re doing much, each time you work (or practice your instrument, or whatever it is you do) contributes to getting you on track.

2.     Feed the baby your own milk for six months or more. It builds the baby’s immune system, and you’ll have fewer interruptions and cancellations from him or her getting sick (not to mention amazing health benefits for them later in life). There are all sorts of ways to make this work, from traditional breast-feeding to pumping partially or exclusively.  As long as the baby gets your milk, the benefits are there.

3.     Find and cultivate people in your creative circle who have been there. Here is one important example: Line up a lactation consultant recommended by someone from within your circle a few months before your due date. Breast-feeding is easy for some people, but can be very difficult for others. If it’s your first child, you won’t know until a couple of days after your baby is born. Learning from sympathetic colleagues can even be a great networking opportunity.

4.     If you have to pump in order to feed your baby (like I did for at least some of the time!) be creative about it. Get one of those hands-free bras and get used to pumping at your desk. You can get those emails (and the other busywork for your professional life) done while knowing you’re doing the best for your baby.

5.     Get a jogging stroller. Life with a new baby is chaotic. Physical exercise makes you feel better about yourself, and helps you to gain control (or the illusion of it!), which contributes to building the discipline you need to do your work.

6.     Get comfortable with full-time child-care, if you can find a way to afford it. There are lots of debates about this, but remember that you are setting an example for your baby. I believe that your child seeing that you have a vocation can only be a positive thing. The only way to finish commissions and keep up your creative activity and presence anywhere near what it was before you had a baby is full time child-care. If you’re making money from your creative work, the returns will be higher in a shorter amount of time. In my experience the result is a baby who is very social, comfortable around people, but still loves her parents best!

7.     Integrate your baby into your creative life. Let yourself be inspired by the experience. Bring him or her to work occasionally, and let the people who know your work get to know her as well. People will see the whole you, and appreciate you more as an artist. Share your excitement about your work with your baby.

8.     Learn to ask for help. Many of us are extremely independent, accustomed to being in our own spaces and doing everything ourselves. You may have pulled a few all-nighters and handled some tough deadlines, but a baby is more challenging to take care of than anything you’ve done so far. You can’t handle this one on your own! Articulate your changing needs to your significant other. With family, find ways to let the new baby help redefine things that you were not happy about before. 

9.     Set small, realizable goals for the first year. For instance, I found it helpful to work on a slightly smaller scale. For me this meant song-length compositions instead of extended architectures. Longer structures were hard to fulfill both while pregnant and while sleep-deprived during the first year, because the brain has trouble maintaining and forging continuity. I know that this is a common phenomenon from talking with other composers who have given birth. Someone needs to do a scientific study on it.

10. Sing to your baby. It made me feel musical even when I was not working. This is wonderful for babies - -it trains their ears and gets them phonating, since they love to imitate what they hear. Soon your baby will be singing along with you. There may be no sounds in the world more beautiful.

-Kati Agócs (8/2013)