Playing a Rock Gig While Pregnant: Advice from Mamas Who’ve Done it

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Pregnancy, like playing a rock show, is physically demanding. Your body is expanding, you feel increasingly exhausted and uncomfortable, and simple tasks such as climbing a flight of stairs can cause you to break into a sweat.

But while there’s lots of guidance on whether to go to a loud rock show while you’re pregnant (spoiler alert: most docs think it’s totally fine), there isn’t a lot of advice circulating in cyberspace about playing a show while pregnant. Specifically, it’s hard to find advice on how to adapt to adjust for your changed physical and mental state.

12671868_1683287455292796_3096027642904846612_o

Rockmommy founder Marisa Torrieri Bloom, at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn, plays a gig at six months pregnant in 2012

Fortunately, plenty of moms — including me! — have played while expecting I’ve seen more than a few of moms-to-be armed with guitars, drum parts, and the like play some pretty amazing rock and roll shows. In fact, a couple of moms I know went on tour during their second or third trimester.

Whether you’re thinking about hitting the road for a five-week tour, or playing a couple of gigs before bunkering down for a year of sleepless nights with babes, pregnancy doesn’t have to hold you back from experiencing your rockstar moment.

Of course, it goes without saying that if you feel uncertain about anything, you should talk to your doctor. Since I’m a pretty athletic person, wielding a guitar while standing and singing wasn’t a huge physically exhausting feat during either of my pregnancies — but I definitely needed to make some major adjustments (see #2). But for some people, particularly those with high-risk pregnancies or physical limitations, playing a gig while expecting isn’t going to work.

For those of you expecting mamas who want to play a show or several, here are six tips to follow:

1. Focus on fun first. If you’re reading this blog, you probably LOVE playing live music and rocking out on stage. But depending on the kind of pregnancy you’re having, you may or may not feel like doing much of anything right now. If you’ve decided to play a show because you really really want to play one, try to stay positive as you practice and plan — don’t get tripped up about not being able to do cool backbends or wild acrobatics (if that was your thing pre-pregnancy), or about others judging you for putting on a few pounds. Just focus on delivering a kick-ass show with your bandmates, and the rest will follow.

2. Scale back as needed. Whether you play three-hour sets that rival those of the Grateful Dead, or you play drums, fast and furious, for a punk band, you may be surprised at how exhausted you are after doing something pregnant that you’ve done a million times before with no problem. If you find yourself tiring easily, consider trimming down your set (or skipping the physically demanding songs) so it feels more manageable.

3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! If you’re knocked up, you need to drink more water than usual (The Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women drink about ten 8-ounce cups). And if you’re knocked up while playing an instrument in a hot, sweaty nightclub or bar underneath bright lights, you definitely need to drink more. But water isn’t the only way to quench your thirst. Rockmommy Trish Naudon Thomas, mother of 6-year-old Myla Sol and drummer for The NATCH! and The Fantastic Partnerz, swears by green juice smoothies. “Drinking green smoothies every day not only helped with getting my fill of folic acid, it helped with my energy levels for practice and gigs which was about 5+ times a week,” says Thomas. “I still drink my cherished green smoothies to keep up with my extremely energetic 6-year-old.”

fullsizerender-2

New York City musician Rew Starr sings on stage while pregnant in 1993. 

4. Try to adjust or control your environment as much as possible. You can’t control everything, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adjust your practice or gigging space to suit your pregnant state. Rockmommy Katy Otto, drummer for the band Trophy Wife and mother to a young toddler, suggests planning in advance to make sure you’ll have the things you need, such as access to a bathroom that you can use, again and again, throughout the duration of your gig. “If you have certain things you will need in a venue, such as a non smoking space, make sure to think them through and ask about them ahead of time and don’t feel bad asking,” says Otto. “Don’t feel guilty doing things like getting a hotel room to be more comfortable even if you’ve crashed on floors and couches all your touring life — do what you need to do to feel healthy and good.”

5. When it comes to lugging equipment, don’t be a hero. If you’re used to hauling around heavy amps and carrying string instruments to and from rehearsal, being told to you need to slow down might bruise your ego. However, most physicians believe that the longer a woman is pregnant, the more her ability to safely lift a load decreases, mostly because her center of gravity and balance have changed (plus, the hormones of pregnancy cause a woman’s connective tissue, ligaments, and tendons to soften). New York City mom of two and singer-guitarist Rew Starr says she “gigged pretty much up until delivery,” but had the benefit of only having to tote around a microphone. But for others, such as bass-playing moms with the heaviest of amps, it’s not so easy. If you don’t have other bandmates who volunteer to carry your stuff, ask the venue’s staff to lend a hand: Call ahead to make sure someone will be available to load, unload, and reload your car with your equipment before and after you play. “Asking for help and knowing your limits is OK,” says Starr. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘no I just can’t lug gear.’”

6. Talk to your fans about social media photos. While some women love showing off their baby bumps, others (myself included) would rather keep their pregnancies private, from the moment of conception to the moment after delivery. So if you’re a social media maven who doesn’t feel uncomfortable having photos of your protruding belly all over the Internet, step up to the mic and ask your fans to withhold from snapping pics while you play.

Playing a rock show is a cathartic experience, pregnant or not. By keeping some of these suggestions in mind, you’ll feel great at rehearsals and on stage. Plus, your tiny fetus will probably be bouncing along to the beat, enjoying every moment with you.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

For Trophy Wife’s Katy Otto, Motherhood Inspires New Creative Endeavors — and an Appreciation for Free Time

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

As any new parent will tell you, having a baby shifts your world in unimaginable ways.

Yet there are some new moms, between diapers and deadlines and sleepless nights, who seem truly unstoppable in continuing their life’s journey, babe on their hip, embracing motherhood while strengthening their purpose, motivated to find new meaning in their life, work, and service.

Katy Otto is one of these women.

IMG_2801

Katy Otto with her son David, now 1.

When Otto, the drummer and singer of Trophy Wife, the band she shares with co-collaborator/musician friend Diane Foglizzo, isn’t busy raising her one-year-old son David with her partner, she’s busy creating art and continuing her activism for numerous issues — such as LGBT rights, gender equality, and a focus on parenting that is less about what you have and more about what you do and how you choose to live.

We interviewed Otto recently to learn more about her quest to balance working (at Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania!), music (she also has her own label, Exotic Fever), and motherhood.

Check out our full Q&A  — especially if you’re a rocker mom looking for some good, gritty inspiration on getting your groove back.

Rockmommy: You’ve been a mom for a little more than a year and recently you played your first show in a while. What was the experience like?

Katy Otto: The first show I played post-birth was with my band Trophy Wife in Durham, N.C., at the Pinhook on December 11. My son David was just over six months old. The show was a bit of a drive from where my band lives in Philly, so we took David with us and dropped him off on the way at my parents’ house in Bowie, Maryland. He stayed with my folks overnight for the evening of the show.

The Pinhook was celebrating its seventh anniversary. The space is a queer punk club in the south, and it means a great deal to our band. We were honored that they invited us to play, and while we had thought about waiting a bit more to get out and play a show, this seemed like the right time to do it. I was still nursing at the time, so I pumped in the club (with a cover on) basically just in the middle of the room. It was pretty intense but felt like one of the most punk things I’ve ever done, actually. The sound guy looked a little surprised but rolled with it. Everyone was very accommodating — I stored my milk under the bar by a keg.

The show itself was incredible. We were overwhelmed by the amount of support people in Durham showed us, some even knowing our lyrics. I think it had been the longest stretch in my life I had gone not playing music in front of people since I started as a teenager. I was very nervous, but once our set started, that all evaporated. I felt very whole and like myself being able to be in my element like that, particularly with my bandmate Diane.

IMG_2846

Katy and David

Rockmommy: Are you still creating new music with Trophy Wife, and Diane Foglizzo?

Katy Otto: Yup! Diane and I have written four songs since our last album: two while I was pregnant and two since David’s birth. We’ve been playing out and even traveling here and there for shows. It’s been great. I’ve also been grateful for the support of my partner, family, and friends in helping to provide childcare so I can rehearse and play out. I also play in a four-piece band in Philly called Callowhill that is finalizing songs for our first full length. We have a seven inch/digital EP out.

Rockmommy: Do you think it is more challenging to keep up with the Philly rock scene you were an active participant in now that you are a parent?

Katy Otto: I am not able to go out to shows I am not playing as much, but I still feel very connected to Philly’s underground music community. I moved to Philly six years ago after living in the D.C. metro area my whole life. I am so glad I made that decision. Philadelphia is extraordinary in terms of the music, art, and activism people are involved in. I also know a number of other creative parents and recently did a series of interviews while I was on maternity leave with people on balancing parenting and creative practice. If you are interested in reading them they are here: http://www.fvckthemedia.com/issue63/frontpage

Rockmommy: Do you think mom musicians, in general, have it harder than other musicians (e.g., single men, dads, etc.)? In what ways?

Katy Otto: I don’t think anything is that cut and dry. I don’t think gender is binary. I think there are many factors at play, including the support networks people have, as well as other resources such as money. I have been fortunate in weaving together a strong web of support to allow me to continue my musical practice. I also have very understanding band mates in both of my active bands. There are some aspects of societal gender roles that have meant that, in general, I think there are more challenges for a mother even just perceptually when she is away from her child and out in the world doing things. For example, I’ve had even “progressive” male friends ask me when I’ve been at a show I am about to play if my partner Chris is “babysitting.” It really is mind boggling. I think one time I said, “Who would he be babysitting?” Dads parent their children. They don’t babysit their own children. This is an annoying kind of question, but I also think any single parent is going to obviously have a host of different challenges that I don’t have as a co-parent managing childcare and an outside life, regardless of gender.

I will say that I know a number of cis men in hetero relationships who are musicians who I have seen have a very different experience than I have. They have said to me that becoming a parent didn’t vastly impact their ability to tour, etc., or the activity of their band, but in a lot of these cases I’ve seen that that is because their female partner bears the brunt of child rearing duties. When I did my interview series, I did interview men who play in bands, but I specifically chose to speak with men who I knew where playing a very active role in their children’s lives — including some single fathers. I think the question you pose is complex and I don’t think there is a clearcut answer.

Rockmommy: How has motherhood influenced your music, or creativity in general?

Katy Otto: I view the time I have to play music now as more precious than ever, and I value it as sacred. I feel drive to be out and present in the world, doing the thing that has meant the most to me since I was a teen. I want to have both – motherhood and a creative life. I think there are also all kinds of ways to be a mother, and we can challenge that definition all the time. My bandmate recently got me an awesome book called Revolutionary Mothering. It provides a lot of excellent conversations on motherhood as experienced by queer women, women of color, and low income women. It really has challenged a lot of stereotypes I’ve seen and absorbed in the dominant culture about motherhood since I was a child. I am incredibly grateful for this book and can’t recommend it enough.

I am also only just learning how motherhood will affect my creativity, since I am new to this. It’s been hard to eke out the same space and time to create, but again I feel so grateful when I have it that I think I pour a lot into it. I am interested in building networks and relationships with other mothers and parents so we can pitch in and help each other out with child care and support as we all continue to create in the world. I want my child to be part of a beloved community of mutuality, and working towards that also seems like its own kind of creative practice. I have always felt like community organizing and social justice work, indeed political imagination in general, were urgent forms of creative practice.

I also think my interest in heavy, dissonant music has only continued to grow the older I get. So far I think motherhood has only added to that.

Rockmommy: We always like to ask rockmommies about balance — have you found a way to balance your motherhood, work, and other endeavors? Or is it something you’re still working toward?

Katy Otto: This is a constant work in progress, and I know many other mothers know much more than I do. I have not been afraid to reach out and ask for support, and I’ve been humbled and lucky to receive it. I have a partner who is very committed to an equitable sharing of childcare and other domestic work. We both work full time too, so we’re continuing to negotiate what that looks like. He is very dedicated to jiu jitsu practice, and I try to make sure he has enough time out of the house for that, too. We check in about scheduling regularly. It’s a lot to balance work, creative life, parenting, and time for our relationship with each other. A key has been the help of friends and family. David, my son, has a beautiful array of other people in his life. This feels really positive to me and right for our family.

Recently Trophy Wife played a benefit show for Decarcerate PA in Pittsburgh that offered childcare on site, in a room with sound protection. That was an incredible experience — David’s first trip as a roadie. Part of how it worked was the combination of a supportive partner who understands my need to drive across the state and play music in DIY venues, a bandmate who is incredibly accommodating to a person with a child, and a community that actively supports and welcomes parents. The show was a release for the second edition of the zine “Women in Sound” by Madeleine Campbell. She is a phenomenal human being and you should definitely check her zine out here.

Rockmommy: What is the best motherhood advice you’ve received, which is worthy of being passed along?

Katy Otto: I hold on to something that Ian MacKaye of all people told me, when I had a lengthy conversation with him while pregnant. He basically shared the idea that the single best way for me to parent was to continue being my authentic self. It’s been important for me to know that when I am living in the world as the person I’ve worked hard to be, that will help me be who my child needs. The instinct to parent is in our bones. We can make the roads by walking, as the book I mentioned Revolutionary Mothering emphasizes. We can reject blueprints and paradigms that aren’t right for us, some of which reinforce dangerous binaries and stereotypes. I continue to be inspired by so many of my friends who parent and create with beauty, imagination, and courage — and I’m particularly grateful for all the folks who allowed me to interview them for the series I mentioned before. I hope to keep adding to it, and I hope it can be part of ongoing conversations.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy