The labor pains began 4:30 a.m. on Mother’s Day. By 9:45, my sister became a mom for the third time. I was there when little Steven, the size of a flugelhorn and as wrinkled as a prune, glimpsed the world and breathed his first whiff of air.
No symphony, no jazz solo, no piece of Earthly music could ever sound as beautiful as his first gurgled cry. Babies. I want one, two, even a trio would be absolutely great. But I may have waited too long. The anti-baby mantra began when I was in school. “You have plenty of time,” teachers told me. “Wait. Get your career going first…” That message was especially hammered into women brass players competing for an equal place beside men. Sometime that mantra changed from waiting to have a baby into an either/or position: either you have babies or you play professionally, but not both.
Ironically, as more corporate companies focus on being family friendly the anti-baby mantra lingers yet in the world of music. I’ll never forget a conversation I had while on tour in an all-women big band. Riding to a gig in Florida we talked of topics of life: finding a soulmate and having babies. Out of more than a dozen of us that day, I was the only one who said she wanted a baby. In fact, one childless-by-choice bandmate even gasped at my
longing, saying: “Why would you do that and ruin your career?”
Months earlier, another woman musician soured on a friendship, made what she thought was a caustic remark about a recently married musician in the band. She hoped that the woman would start “spitting out babies” and quit the music scene. Although I was dismayed to hear both comments, I wasn’t surprised. A year earlier an article from a jazz organization in England gave written advice to young women wanting to become jazz musicians. At the top of the list was the credo: don’t marry but if you do – do not have children.
It was a female brass player in a rehearsal – a mother-to-be – who showed me that brass players can and do have babies. Marissa Benedict, a trumpeter in Maiden Voyage, the Los Angeles-based all-women big band, was in her eighth month of pregnancy. This woman was belting out trumpet lines while looking like she swallowed the proverbial melon.
During that same rehearsal her husband, a saxophonist, brought in their two other children. Far from being over, her career was enhanced by her view of life outside of herself.
Ballads became a little sweeter, she said. Practice time more concentrated, more disciplined. Concerts more precious because of who was listening. Or who wasn’t kicking invitro, she added with a laugh Women brass players can and do have children because women can do anything they want in today’s world. Since then, I’ve met a few more brass playing moms, but they’re still rare. Sometimes, it feels like it’s other women, not men, who have the most unliberated views when it comes to motherhood and music.
One final note, waiting to have babies until you’re in your thirties or early forties could also mean never having a child. Six million American women
have already discovered the disease of infertility hits older women first.