Can we have children as opera singers?
„YES, WE CAN“!
I am always quite surprised when young female singers ask me if it is possible to have children as a singer.
I admit that having children and managing a singing career at the same time is not for cowards. But it can be done!
The first question you should honestly discuss with yourself is:
How big is your desire to have children?
Life without children
You might have decided to live without children. This decision does neither mean that you are not a full woman nor that you are a cold-hearted monster. You just chose not to have children, Basta – no explanations needed! You can be an amazing aunt, friend, life-example…
When is the right moment to have children as a singer?
The answer is: Never and always. Yes, you will probably lose one production during pregnancy or after childbirth or both. So you will need some back-up-money and a partner (or somebody else) who will take care of your child when you go back to singing and our crazy schedules.
But: the child/the children will stay in your life, and you considerably raise your chances to have grandchildren one day – I know this will seem ridiculously far away, but I can assure you, that having grandchildren is the biggest thing on earth – again IF you want kids in your life.
When you have decided you want children, don’t put it off too long. Going to parents‘ meetings at kindergarten or school will become more and more annoying the older you get, so if you have found the right partner, go ahead – it might not happen on the first try.
Pregnancy is a physically demanding process – most of us still sail through it without experiencing major vocal problems, others have trouble singing – the hormone-change is vast. I have two girls (adult women now). During the first pregnancy, I was just fine, and during the second one, I started to have vocal problems. I tried to ignore them because I was already freelancing and the only one making money for the family. During the production of Damnation de Faust/Berlioz in Amsterdam, (Marguerite was tricky for me anyway), rehearsals became more and more difficult and stage fright kicked in. I only sang one good performance (why, I’ll never know – hormones!) and other more or less very mediocre ones. I was very ashamed, too afraid to talk to my agent and also hoped things would „somehow“ get back to normal. Thus, I made life unnecessarily hard for myself. I was never invited back again and the agency lost interest.
Why I am telling you this? Be aware of the fact that things might become uneasy and build a good relationship with your agent so, IF problems occur, she or he can help you out of the contract.
Breath and support
During your pregnancy, try to be very aware of what you do with your breath and your support so that you can find it again quickly after birth.
Every birth is different, and there are hundreds of good books. Recently I have heard about a method which seems exceptionally efficient for singers. A young singer just had her baby with the help of this online course and is convinced that it helped her a lot during birth and after.
Only in German, I’m afraid.
When can I go back to singing?
Most singers try to go back to singing as early as possible after the first child because singing is part of our identity, and we miss it when we stay away from it too long. Besides, we don’t want to show any weakness and become a „problem“ in the ensemble or for your agent.
But: if you can afford it – allow yourself more than three months, your support and your vocal folds will be very thankful! Pregnancy softens your whole body. You CAN sing earlier, but it might sound a bit shaky, thin, or weak. Not something you would like to demonstrate in public….As most singers confirm: you feel back in your body when the baby is six months old, the vocal benefits of the pregnancy and childbirth will show after nine months when you will find the voice fuller, rounder and more luminous than before being pregnant.
Voice lessons to re-adjust to the new body
The muscles you use for support did some hard work during giving birth or having a cesarean. Consider taking voice–lessons with an experienced teacher before going back on the stage. As I mentioned before: pregnancy is a HUGE thing for the body; breastfeeding can be rather tiring; not all children sleep through the night (actually, most of them don’t). As a mother, you will experience that your system creates a considerable amount of extra energy. However, the first months can still be quite exhausting – even more so when there is already a little one around when Nr 2/3 arrives. Most of us also experience that the brain is slightly „foggy“ in the first months after birth – not something you would like to show to people in the theatre.
Having children as member of an ensemble
Let’s be honest: the economically safest way to have children is if you are a member of an Ensemble at an opera house. In Germany, the law provides the possibility to take „Elternzeit“ (parent-time) for 12 months. The parents can split this time, so the singing mother could stay at home for six months and then go back to work as the father/partner stays at home until you have found a „Krippenplatz“. Having said that: as soon as the word „pregnancy“ comes to your mind, start looking for a Kinderkrippe.
Having children as a freelancer
If you are a freelancer, wish to have children but are afraid it will harm your career:
Ask yourself very honestly whom the career is for – the immortal singers are very scarce, and a generation later, even the professional singers have forgotten or never heard the names of the singers‘ generation before them. If career means singing significant roles with competent colleagues in good houses, go for it! But if a career means becoming immortal, this might not be a good enough reason to deprive yourself of having children!
How can I manage a freelance-career with children?
You will don’t worry! As I said in the beginning: having kids and a career is not for cowards, but it can be done!
You will need somebody to take care of your child as soon as you go back to singing. Ideally, your partner/the other parent can provide quality-time for the offspring. If you have parents nearby, who dream of taking care of their grandchildren – lucky you! Enjoy and overlook the fact that their methods might not always be the same as your own.
If you have no family nearby, there are several solutions:
Au pair – advantages and disadvantages
- You need an apartment which is big enough to give your guestroom to the Au-pair-person
- There will always be a third person in your household, often somebody who is like an older child with her/his uncertainties and her/his own character.
- Your child/children will sometimes (hopefully) like that person a lot (keep your jealousy to yourself)
- Your child/children might complain about the Au-pair: try to establish a relationship of trust with all the parties involved – not always easy!
- The Au-pair arrives in September, it takes until Christmas to get used to each other and, in June, they usually leave. Saying good-bye can be painful sometimes. My daughters claim that it opened their horizons to deal with different people from different cultures…
- Last, not least: your relationship should be very stable, before inviting a young woman/young man to live in the house with you…
If you are fine with all this, go for it. There are several Au-Pair-agencies. Passing through an agency has the advantage that they will help you find a replacement if ever things won’t work out. There is also Granny-au-pair, mature women who would like to work as an aupair….
You will find links at the end of this article
Somebody flexible who can come when needed
After several au-pair experiences (some very good, others not so good) I had found the ideal solution for us: a young woman with a little son was looking for a job. She lived in my house when I was gone and had free time when I was at home – difficult to find, but something like this might also be a solution.
Be flexible and creative!
School – The end of liberty
The end of liberty will start as soon as your kids go to school! You can take them along to whichever city, country, and continent until then, but when school starts, consider settling to one place so they can experience some stability.
If you are a freelancer with (very) high fees, you might want to send them to the international school – they could still travel with you and attend the school in another place; the question is what this will do to the social life of your children….
Daily life in the theatre when you have children
Remember that there are people in the theatre who might not share our joy and excitement:
- those who cannot have children for medical reasons
- those whose life-form doesn’t allow them to have children
- those who once decided not to have children and are now too old to go back on their decision
- those who make the planning and fear that you might stay at home every time your kids start sneezing.
Share your happiness with colleagues in the same situation, but maybe avoid rubbing your joy into the faces of those who have a different life.
Pain and tears
Having children and a career will bring some painful moments into your life (yes!):
- Your child might be sick when you are gone – a terrible experience!
- You might not be home for
- the first tooth
- your children’s birthdays
- their first day at school
- their school-concerts…
If you are in a family-friendly production and the premiere is still some weeks ahead, you might talk to the assistant stage director and find out if they could maybe let you go for half a day. But be aware of the fact that all these moments mentioned above are not valid reasons to have a day off, so the answer might be „No“. UNLESS the free days are in your contract…
If nothing works out – swallow your tears and try to remember the positive sides of our profession:
- Your children can grow up in the theatre world – fascinating, funny, entertaining.
- They can travel with you to foreign places and see the world.
- As my youngest put it one day when I left very heavy-heartedly: „It’s ok, Mama, you know how boring other mothers can be?!“
You can make an extra little birthday-party later or offer a school-activity when you are at home. Quality-time is what counts, and it doesn’t have to always happen „on the date.“
The agency and your partner – the vision of your career
Talk to your partner and to your agent to make sure that you all pursue the same vision of your career.
If the agency knows that you would like to reduce to 2-3 contracts per year for now, they can adjust. However, an agent that has moved a mountain to get you a contract in China will be frustrated when you tell him that actually you don’t want to leave the continent as long as your offspring is little.
Singing mothers and fathers are the most organized people on earth – talking to other singing parents will make hardships easier to overcome– there is a very helpful facebook-group „singing mama.“
Believe in your natural force and in the strength of your child/your children. I’m sure everything will work out then!
Have a good time and see you soon for my next BLOG!
Here are the links:
Vom Ton zum Lohn, Donatus-Verlag ISBN: (13) 978-3-946710-00-4
facebook: singing mama