ON STAGE | with Ingrid
OPERA - Ingrid is an in-house opera singer soloist at one of the major Scandinavian opera houses. She talks about how work meant time for herself, how her body felt connected to her baby and how strange was acting out characters very different from her present being. How much power and energy she could mobilise from within even with lack of sleep and how she couldn't imagine being apart from her baby more than 5 hours. A lovely, honest story. However she prefers to remain anonymous: Ingrid is infact a made up name.
What's your name and where do you come from and where were you born?
Let’s say my name is Ingrid and I am from Scandinavia.
What was your occupation or what kind of work you did around the time you became a mum?
I became pregnant after having worked as a freelance singer (classical/opera) for some years.
Where do you live and work at the moment?
At the moment I’m employed as a in-house soloist at one of the major Scandinavian opera houses and I live just outside the city with my 15 year old son.
When did you start thinking "I am ready to be a mum" ( or maybe not yet) ?
I had been feeling a biological need to have a baby at the beginning of my twenties , but my husband at the time (a freelance artist ) did not feel ready. We divorced about 10 years later . I got pregnant just as I was reuniting with a former boyfriend from a short tempestuous relationship 6 months earlier.
When did you find out you were expecting and how old were you?
I sort of felt it on the same night of the conception that it had happened ( and very early on I noticed changes in my body ) we’d been having had «irresponsible» sex. I was 35 at the time.
How long did you work for during your pregnancy and after how long did you start again?
My last opera role in pregnancy was when I was 7 months pregnant ; we sort of managed to hide my stomach in a big dress (the role could not have been pregnant…). I sang a few places- small concert events - up to 1,5 months before giving birth.
And how much control did you have over when you stopped working and started again?
I had my son in September and was offered a singing job(oratorio) in a different part of the country 2,5 months later. The baby’s father didn’t want me to take the baby up north in mid-winter and I didn’t want to go there without my son , so I dropped it!
I started my first post-birth freelance opera production in February the year after which meant 5 hours away from my child at a time.
Did you get support with maternity pay?
I had been earning quite well as a freelancer the 3 years preceeding giving birth, with meant I was paid quite well each month in maternity pay (almost 100 percent of my earlier wages for nearly a year!)
How was your pregnancy?
I couldn’t drink coffee in the first trimester (was nauseating to me), but apart from that it was quite comfortable and unproblematic.
What were your thoughts about work and did you have something planned, did you stop, for how long?
I «lost» one good opera gig because of it being very close to the time of giving birth, and also the above mentioned oratorio job 2,5 months after the birth. I started practicing slowly about 6 weeks after my son was born.
How was the birth?
The birth was chemically induced and felt quite brutal and tough , my son got stuck towards the end and had to be pulled out by the head gynecologist on duty.
How was your post natal experience?
There was a few seconds of doubt whether they needed to give him life support before he started crying , but after that I felt extremely happy , relieved and in love with the infant. I almost couldn’t believe my luck and joy as I was looking at him next to me in bed during our first night together . Breast feeding was ok , although I never had huge amounts of milk (stress?).
After the birth of your baby (babies) did something change towards how you were thinking about work or when to go back?
It certainly put my professional life in a different perspective and I think it balanced out some of my earlier obsessiveness with my singing.. But work also meant some time to myself and a welcome break from the 24/7 excistence of being the mother to a small child. I remember thinking , though, that I felt lucky not to be forced to work full-length work days ; I couldn’t imagine being away from my baby for more than 4-5 hours at a time.
When was the first training you did after birth. Tell us your experience leading to the first show post natal.
As mentioned above ; I started practising singing 6 weeks after birth , but I didn’t start working «properly» before after about 4-5 months. I think that was the time I also started coming out of the mother-baby-bubble/cloud. It was really nice having colleagues again and starting work – a little strange to having to act a character who was raped , my body still feeling very connected to the baby and feeling it had changed by all that it had been through. It is also very different approaching a premiere with lack of sleep and with lots of organizing up until just before I left for the theatre – no longer your own ego being the main focus . But it was quite fascinating to see how much power and energy I still was able to mobilize from somewhere within !
What you did and how you managed, who helped and how?
My mother came to live with us for a week or two at a time to help me in some periods (although the baby’s father after a while did oppose to her staying so often _ he’d rather I didn’t work…) . I was in a very difficult relationship and was more hindered than helped by him. Sometimes friends helped me .
How much support did you feel like you had for combining motherhood with work? (From partners, parents, friends, colleagues, society at large, government institutions etc...)
Generally I felt lots of goodwill from society and friends , but I still ended up struggling quite a lot to make my schedule work . Also, as mentioned above, because the baby’s father was making life difficult and rarely relieving the pressure put on me. Economically I felt taken care of by our good Scandinavian health care systems and mostly I met helpful people when I needed my employers to be flexible because of my baby. It would have helped my situation if I had lived closer to my sisters and parents.
If you feel like you could have used more support/less interfering what would you have wanted?
I would certainly have liked to feel less alone in trying to make everything work (I hardly ever had time/energy to think about my own needs) – but if the baby’s father (we split up after a few years) had been of greater help or had been supportive, I think it might have made all the difference