While I was pregnant (The Audio Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy) my plan was to take off a couple of months off after the baby was born then go back to work part-time for a while. My husband, who also works in audio, planned to work from our home studio. We figured between the two of us we wouldn’t need a babysitter or daycare. How hard can it be to mix and watch a baby?
Things didn’t quite go as planned.
Before having a baby, I thought I’d be better prepared for parenthood than some of my non-industry friends because I had survived studio life. I’ve worked the night shift for years, and most of my career has been irregular schedules and over 40 hours a week. What I discovered, though, is in my pre-parenthood days working a double shift meant you deserve a day off and a cocktail. With a newborn, Golden Time (working beyond 16 hours) is just called Monday. And Tuesday. And there’s no weekend or days off. The recovery time you get really depends on how much help you have – and the sleep patterns (or non-sleeping patterns) of your baby.
It’s true you can have time to yourself while an infant sleeps but in actuality that “free time” can quickly get taken up by basic needs like eating, showering, or catching up on sleep. My grandiose plans for bringing Baby J to work at night or updating my plugins while he slept was never even an option (although some parents do manage to do it!)
The first work project I took on didn’t go as planned. It was a Sundance Film when Baby J was two months old. It took me two weeks to do EIGHT HOURS of sound design. I expected it to be difficult but it went so much deeper than just being sleep-deprived! I later learned about factors like mom brain or mom fog (a real condition due to hormone changes during and after pregnancy). It makes it difficult to focus long periods or remember details. Also, women’s brains change attention when a hungry baby cries (which doesn’t happen to men) The two combined make it incredibly difficult to get into a flow or stay focused on a single task. Like everything else, it gets better over time.
After ten weeks of maternity leave, I went back to work part-time. I could have easily taken off another month, but it was nice to have a few nights a week to talk about compressors and upmix plugins instead of diapers and swaddles. By six months I felt comfortable working from home on occasion. It was only possible with someone else handling child care (husband, babysitter, etc.). Now that Baby J is a year old it’s much more manageable to take on more complicated gigs or even gigs out of town.
I did learn some things that saved me as a working parent:
- Accepting that the first year is hard and tiring and it does get easier as time goes on. It’s a huge life change and an adjustment for everyone in routine and priorities.
- Taking gigs that you find interesting or fun and won’t stress you out (when there’s a choice). It’s incredibly hard to go to work when you’ve got a little person you’d rather be with. It’s even harder when they’re not feeling good (sick, teething, or not sleeping well) and you have a gig you don’t want to deal with.
- Babywearing (when I had to work with baby). This allowed hands-free to do some multitasking (everything from work phone calls to mixing to eating)
- Having a number of people around who you trust. It really does take a village to raise a baby. We have family and friends and hired help (which is an added expense but it ensures getting the work done)
I used to wonder how I would manage to be a parent and having a career or if it’s even possible. It’s definitely possible – it just takes being flexible, patience, and accepting things won’t always go to plan. There’s also times you’ll have to put your family first or have someone available who can in those moments (like an unexpected doctor visit or illness).
The one thing I didn’t expect about becoming a parent is how rewarding it is. I’m still proud of my career accomplishments, but they don’t carry the same significance as they did before. Watching someone smile the first time or recognize that the sound of an airplane means there’s something in the sky is pretty amazing. It’s a challenge but worth the effort.