ON STAGE | with Melissa Reiner
VIOLINIST and WRITER - Melissa and I worked together in London when we both where non mothers. Since then she finished her novel, started another one and, well, had a baby. Interesting, beautiful and talented Californian woman, here is her story.
" I didn’t want to become a mother, which is not to say that I never wanted it. In fact in my 20’s, I taught violin to a few young students from seemingly happy families, and I yearned for a family of my own. Someday. But as I grew older and had a series of unsuccessful relationships, the idea of children appealed to me less and less, receding in the distance like many other abandoned plans. Besides, I was an artist, a violinist, to be specific, living in Los Angeles! Where some of my work was dependent on looks as well as talent, and I was often booked for gigs at the last minute. Flexibility is key as a freelance musician, something that seemed to be the very antithesis of childrearing. I did see colleagues balance work and family successfully, but not many of my musician friends were having kids.
At the ripe age of 36, I decided to abandon my native California for London, and almost immediately met the man who would become my BabyDaddy. Despite being much younger than me, he had very strong opinions on the Child Question, i.e. he wanted one. Preferably more than one. But I was far from on board with this plan, mostly due to my career. Many more of my female colleagues in London seemed to have children, and I was doing less live TV and pop work (which is primarily looks and age dependent) and more film score recording, symphonic work, and West End shows, none of which seemed to care if I gained 20 kilograms because of a baby. But it still required me to be flexible with timing and available without much notice. And touring to places like Russia, China, and Africa was incompatible with taking care of a small baby. After working so hard to build a career as a violinist in two different cities and having opportunities to perform around the world, I wasn’t ready to curtail that for a child. I worried that I would be resentful of the baby, that I was too selfish, that I would be lonely. So I kept telling my partner that I was unsure and couldn’t commit to having a baby, and it caused problems in our relationship.
After years of soul-searching, as I turned 40, I decided that we should try for a baby. But the pressure to get pregnant at that age was stressful, and I didn’t want to spend the money or put my body and psyche through IVF. After trying naturally for seven months, my partner and I decided to adopt a dog, and oddly enough, that was the weekend our son was conceived. I continued to take every high-paying gig that I could, even playing on the X Factor in a tight white dress at four months pregnant (luckily I wasn’t showing too much). I worked right up until three weeks before my due date, and then I turned down everything after that, not wanting to be the girl whose water breaks in the middle of a concert.
My pregnancy was easy, my delivery was not. But after 16 hours of labour, not enough painkillers, and the anesthesiologist getting stuck in a lift, I had an emergency C-section and my son Finnegan was born, healthy and adorable. Luckily, my recovery was good and within seven weeks of giving birth, I was back at work, recording the score for the latest Tim Burton film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. And a few weeks later, one of my colleagues generously gave me the opportunity to be one of his substitutes for the hit West End show, Kinky Boots.
It’s been eight months since the birth, and I am trying to take every good job offer that I receive. As a musician, I’m lucky that I don’t have to make the choice to work or not work; I can choose to commit to the jobs I want. I also have a Masters in Creative Writing, so I’m beginning work on a new novel and attempting to spend more time writing while I’m at home. Yes, it feels like we always need more money, but my partner is not a musician and has a steady job, so it is much easier to figure out a budget when one of us has a regular salary. Childcare is an issue, since I didn’t want to leave the baby with a stranger until he was at least six months old, but between my partner asking his job for a bit of flexibility and occasionally asking family or friends to help, Finnegan has been looked after and loved. To be honest, I wish I was getting more work than I’m being offered, but that is the perennial complaint of most freelancers. And every morning, when I see the face of my son light up as he greets me and the new day, I am grateful for the time we have together while he is so young and soaking up the world.
Even though I have had a bit of postnatal depression, I am trying to remain positive and think of new ways I can expand my career (and lose the last 2 kilos of baby weight!); in a way, I am automatically less selfish and self-centered because my son must take top priority over everything. While that can be exhausting and many mothers feel as if they lose their sense of self, I have made an effort to maintain the essence of who I am, in work and all aspects of life. I manage to see all of my friends regularly, most of whom do not have kids, and Finnegan has been the guest of honour at many a fabulous party. Now that he is older than six months, we try not to keep him out beyond dinnertime, so my partner and I are attempting to do more entertaining at home, or we take turns going out with friends at night. And I did find an excellent babysitter, which is helpful although of course an expense.
Ultimately, it is a new chapter in my development as an artist and a human, and everything about it has been overwhelmingly positive. I must admit that I had such low expectations for motherhood, that my son with his sunny temperament and good health seems like the easiest baby in the world. And of course I never would have given birth at all if I hadn’t had a partner who wanted to create a family with me and who has been incredibly supportive of my needs and the baby’s needs. My son can only inspire me to be more creative and happy with my music, my writing, and in my relationships with those I love. Like the heroine from one of my favourite books for kids, I feel as if I have left behind the grey skies of my former world and entered an adventure in glorious technicolour. All I have to do is hold my son and follow the road."
Melissa Elena Reiner