I’ve been struggling with thoughts of work and staying at home with my kids (also known as work) for a while now. There are moments when I am totally at peace with our set-up — Zach heading out to his job each day, myself at home with our boys. And, I feel really fortunate because it’s what I wanted to be able to do. But, I also pictured working from home while I was at home with my kids. And, for quite some time I was freelance writing. Within weeks of Radley’s birth, I was back finishing work projects, (my choice, not my editor’s — he advised me to take as much time as I needed) nursing Radley to keep him settled and sleepy while I spoke with chefs on the phone, staying up late transcribing interviews, then writing to meet publishing deadlines.
I loved my work. It was a dream job of mine — I had been testing recipes, learning to style dishes for photoshoots, interviewing chefs and writing about food. But then we moved. My husband wanted to show me a place that he had loved living in at one point in his life, near the mountains. Slowly but also swiftly, my work began to diminish. I continued to write but found myself racing to deadlines. Unpacking boxes, figuring out a new city and growing a second baby all took up extra time and without a sitter and with my husband busy working his way up at a new company, my articles lost their place in the importance of our everyday. I didn’t bring in enough to warrant paying someone to help me. If my husband couldn’t be the one to help, then there wasn’t an option that made sense to me. The recipe testing and food styling of course ended once I left the publishing company in Ohio and eventually, so did the food writing. I would take on small projects — fact-checking, writing short, quick articles, database filling. It made me feel like I was still doing something I loved, even if it was just a version of what I loved on a reduced scale.
Even though I chose to pull back from these things, I feel unsettled when I think of the journey I imagined for my food writing. I am also unsettled when I think of my music career. Shortly before deciding to start a family, I had found a comfortable place with music, one I felt I could really work forward from. I was writing, constantly performing, ready to record my next album, making great connections for collaborations. I had a three week trip planned as an artist on board a train ride across Canada. Here I was, writing about food and performing music in a city that I loved, and now I was pregnant. I couldn’t have been more happy. I honestly believed I could keep it up once I gave birth. And then I remember quite clearly the moment I learned that newborns nurse every two hours and proceeded to cry on the way home from that birthing class. At the time, I at least lived only three hours from my family, but still, I was either going to need someone to help me or my plans for work and raising babies at the same time was going to need to change.
Four and a half years later we have moved from city to city, living plane rides away from family. I am pregnant with our third baby. I write this blog as the one constant project that I have continued (albeit with hiatuses) over the past three years. In this time I also started and stopped recording sessions. After Radley was born, I was writing lullabies and constantly updating my music website — “New album in 2015!” “2016!” “2017!” I recorded some of my best demos in a small closet in our Salt Lake City condominium weeks before Ace was born. But, it turned out to be another set of demos, and another update on my website that never came to fruition. Eventually, music became so painful to think about, I not only stopped playing, stopped sitting down at the piano which is one of the most soothing and inspiring experiences for me, I also stopped listening to music. I just couldn’t do it without thinking of the ways in which I was no longer engaged in something that had been a part of my every minute for a long time. It was at the same time that I transitioned to easier articles with the publication company. Some months, I would take on larger projects, but muting the phone during interviews with business owners as my children wailed in the background eventually had me settling on a monthly newsletter that I can now write in my sleep. This diminishing of things that I love and felt proud of worked its way even into everyday tasks like cooking. I was so inspired writing about food, that when I lost that, it too went the way of music. I rarely wanted to cook and rarely became excited about food, a complete departure from who I had been since a kid. Trying to find my footing, I veered off into other directions that I was interested in, taking an online course and building a journaling app. I have multiple drafts for children’s picture books. I started writing and recording a podcast. It has been this up and down, this stop and start over the past few years. Trying to find my place and then feeling I need to step back. Because, I end up feeling overwhelmed. I want to be immersed with my boys right now, accomplishing motherhood in the ways I have set out to do. It doesn’t mean my dreams and career goals have stopped entirely — I keep a long list under the title “Career” on my rolling to-do list, but, I don’t always know how to balance it just yet or more importantly, how to motivate myself to return. We have recently moved home, a plan that we felt would help us find balance and it is starting to. I am cooking, and cooking exciting things. I sat down for a minute at the piano the other day. And, I have started back contributing to this blog.
I think this is the dilemma — being OK with the pause or being OK with parceling out time to return to work, passions and hobbies. My expectations of doing it all at the same time have been too high.
Which makes me endlessly fascinated with women who are running their own businesses, be that artists, women with their own professional practices, shop owners and plenty of other professions. Especially when they don’t have access to maternity leave, which, most women running their own businesses don’t.
Crissi Cochrane, a musician from Windsor, Ontario, is one of these women. Crissi, who writes a soulful blend of pop, jazz and R&B songs, has continued to find great success after the birth of her first child, a beautiful little girl named Adeila. And, I wanted to hear Crissi’s thoughts on motherhood and self-employment. I knew it would be inspiring, and it very much is.
Thank you, Crissi, for your honesty, clarity and encouragement.
Talking with Crissi Cochrane
Can you tell us about your career?
I’m a pop/soul singer-songwriter from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I’m 29 and have been performing since I was 15, growing up in the beautiful but rather remote Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, on the East Coast of Canada. I spent a few years in Halifax after high school, studying Music Business and releasing my first studio album, and then moved to Windsor in 2010. My music underwent a big style change following the move – I used to be more of a folk/pop artist before getting to know Motown, jazz, blues, and soul.
Did you work throughout your pregnancy?
I actually played more shows in the eight months that I was pregnant than in any other eight month stretch in the rest of my career. I figured that, being self-employed, I had to save up money to cover my maternity leave, so I worked as much as I could. I played 64 gigs, wrote 16 commissioned songs, and did a TEDx talk (I was very newly pregnant at the time of the talk and was so worried that all the nervousness would make me miscarry! I was so relieved that we made it through and that I actually did a pretty good job!) I was lucky to have really enjoyed being pregnant, and I didn’t have too many ailments, aside from most of my shoes not fitting and suffering a bit of carpal tunnel in my hands from swelling (which, fortunately, did not interfere with me playing guitar). I was worried that it would be hard to hold a guitar with a great big pregnant belly, but it was completely doable, the guitar just ended up being angled off to the side. I played my last scheduled gig on a Saturday at the end of May, and then went into labour the following night, so I performed right up until the very end.
What age was your daughter when you returned to work? What were the deciding factors on the timeline for returning to your career?
I returned to working from home almost right away – she came three weeks early and I had outstanding song commissions to finish, so I was back into writing and recording within two weeks. When she was really little, she could nap through anything so long as I held her. I’d strap her to me with a baby wrap and record my vocals, and she wouldn’t make a peep. Or maybe she’d make just a little sigh or a snuffle here and there, which was easy enough to edit out. I had a CBC reporter come to my apartment to interview me once when Adeila* was about a month old, and we did the entire interview with her asleep in the baby wrap. It was the only way to guarantee she’d be quiet enough for us to record.
I went back to performing when Adeila was about two months old. She came to my first couple of gigs with me. I was a bit anxious about how it’d all go, but we’ve been taking her out somewhere almost every day since she was about two weeks old, and she really enjoys being out, and generally behaves really well. I think I was mostly worried, in the beginning, about where I’d go to nurse her. I managed to get by without giving anybody a peep show, but solving that little problem at each gig was a curveball for sure.
*pronounced a-DAY-la; it’s a variation of Adele. The woman in Gustav Klimt’s famous painting “Woman in Gold” is Adele Bloch-Bauer, and her name is pronounced this way. There’s a great movie about the painting’s history, starring Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren.
What was the transition back to work like for you? What went well?
I feel so fortunate to have a job that I can mostly do from home, or when she’s asleep. I played a show around the holidays, and I think it was the first time that I felt I had fully returned. I put baby to sleep at her normal bedtime, got dressed up, called a cab, and went out to play the show. It was the end of a crazy week – we had finally moved from our apartment of eight years into our very first house just the day before the show, and the move was so protracted and chaotic that I barely had time to rehearse at all. But I think it ended up being one of the better shows I’ve ever played. I was just so relaxed and in my element. It felt very surreal to look out at a room of quiet faces and know that my baby was sleeping peacefully in her crib at home, and to think of how wonderful it is that I get to be a mother and do this too.
What was difficult?
She hated the bottle for the first few months. I played some gigs that she couldn’t be at, and those nights she would just give my husband hell the entire time I was gone. It makes you feel special, but also very sorry.
I also found it really hard to get dressed up for gigs, since none of my clothes fit anymore. My pre-pregnancy clothes were too small, and my maternity clothes were too big. I felt frumpy and matronly in everything, and I am absolutely miserable when I feel heavy (even though I really didn’t gain that much extra). You’d think I should know better than to have a baby if I wanted to keep on being this vain, but image is a big part of being an entertainer. And that miserable feeling is healthy for me, because it’s what motivates me to change things. I’m not quite back at my pre-pregnancy weight, but I’m close enough that it (mostly) doesn’t bother me anymore.
I also found it difficult to adjust to my time not being my own anymore. When you’re in a creative headspace, you really want to stay there as long as it takes to flesh out an idea, but a baby very quickly requires you to snap out of it. I hate leaving a task unfinished, and learning how to do that has been a big challenge for me. (I’m dreading that she’ll wake up right now before I get to finish editing this interview for the fifth or sixth time.)
While you were pregnant, I am sure you had a plan of what you thought you might do for starting back at work after you gave birth – did your plan change in any way postpartum?
Before she was born, I thought I might be ready to go back to gigging as early as 6 weeks postpartum, which is the bare minimum of recovery time, but I wisely refrained from booking anything from the beginning of June to the end of August (baby being due on June 15), just in case I had a cesarean and needed more time to heal. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that, but I’m so grateful I blocked off my summer because I didn’t want to play any gigs when she was so little. There was no reasonable pay that was worth leaving her, even for a few hours. I just wanted to stare at her all day.
My first gig postpartum was at an outdoor festival with my band, The Family Soul – I play flute and sing back-up vocals, and there are seven other people in the group (including my husband, Mike, the bandleader), so they are more than able to carry on without me. I was so anxious about how the day would go, so I planned to perform just one song as a test run for returning to the stage. But Adeila was so content, napping in a blanket in my friend’s arms, that I stayed onstage for twelve songs. She was such a good baby for those first gigs. I played a wedding when she was four months old, and she missed all of her naps and met a hundred strangers, but didn’t cry once the entire day.
What would you say were the keys to success in getting back into the rhythm of self-employment and balancing it with new motherhood?
Two things: letting go of my “to do” list, and teaching the baby to nap.
I live for my “to do” list. It’s like it’s the entire direction to my life, one day at a time. I love crushing a “to do” list and I feel pretty grumpy if things sit on that list too long. But with a newborn, I didn’t have enough free time to get more than one or two things done in a day – especially with all of our friends and family wanting to come and visit the baby. I was so grateful for all the love and kindness, but each visit would take up the entirety of my free time for the day, which meant forgoing a lot of basic things like showers, meals, laundry, and relaxation, and it went on for WEEKS. All of my baby blues stemmed from being unable to balance my “to do” list with the well-meaning but exhausting visits, and feeling so guilty for resenting visitors when they were bringing so much love and gifts for the baby.
So I shelved my “to do” list for several weeks, and somewhere in there I had a chance to read a magazine in the bath (this is my happy place), and I read an article about changing one’s “to do” list into an “enough” list. As in, “if I just do one or two things on this list, that will be ENOUGH.” And I’ve been running my life this way ever since. Somedays I really do get just one or two hours to take care of things, so I really can’t be too ambitious with my list or there’ll be a squalling baby and my blood pressure will go through the roof and I’ll break every drawer in the kitchen.
The second half of balancing motherhood and self-employment for me was teaching the baby how to nap. She napped in her bassinet pretty well for the first two months or so, but after that, she would only nap if someone was holding her. A baby wrap helped, but there’s only so much you can do while wearing a baby (for example, you cannot play guitar). I was trying to get everything done once she went to bed, but by nighttime I was too exhausted to do anything. And then some days I just HAD to get things done and she wouldn’t get to nap all day, and as a result, she was getting sleep-deprived. Eventually I caved and bought one of those sleep program e-books from Little Ones. It’s supposed to help you teach the baby how to self-settle and fall asleep on their own, and that was a complete fail for us, but at least it taught us that a baby her age should only be awake for two hours at a time (oops) and gave us a few tricks to get her to take her naps in her bassinet. It worked, and I was finally able to work during the day again.
Canada has a pretty great parental leave policy compared to some other countries – did maternity leave apply to you in any way? If so, how?
The Canadian government does offer maternity leave through EI for self-employed people, but it didn’t seem like a good deal for me – I’d have to pay EI on all of my earnings for the rest of my career, but the maternity leave itself would only provide me a couple hundred dollars at most. Effectively, it would cost me way more money than I’d receive. So I resolved to just get back to work as soon as I could. The great thing is, even when I am working, I’m only ever gone from home for a few nights a week, at most. It’s completely manageable with my husband taking care of our daughter anytime she can’t just come to the gig with me.
Did you ever consider being a stay-at-home-mom, or did you know for certain you would return to your career shortly after becoming a mom?
I feel like I am a stay-at-home mom because my job removes me from home so infrequently. I’m so glad I get to be with my daughter all the time because this time is going by insanely fast. EVERYONE tells you this, everywhere you go – it will go by so fast and you won’t even remember what your little ones were like at this stage. I feel so lucky that I get to do my job and be with my baby all day. Sometimes I’m so afraid to die but I tell myself it’s only because I have so much good in my life, and I’m grateful for that.
What advice would you give to a mom who is currently pregnant and wondering about the transition back to work, whether she be self-employed or employed otherwise?
This is oddly specific advice, but they say you should tickle a newborn baby’s feet after you lay them down for a nap, so that they wake up for a moment, and then fall asleep on their own. That way, they get used to falling asleep on their own, instead of relying on you nursing/rocking/shushing them to sleep. Oh my god, my life would be so much easier if I had’ve been doing that since day one. My baby nurses to sleep, and she still can’t fall asleep without me.
And here’s something that’s not exactly advice, but just something to keep in mind. Hospice workers say that one of the most common regrets people have on their deathbeds is spending too much time at work and not enough time with their family. I think that unless you have a job you are crazy in love with, or you have a really important life-or-death job that the world requires you to do, try not to miss out on how adorable the baby days are. And if you really can’t get away from work, just try your best to make sure you get at least one amazing moment with your baby each day. The best part of my day is any time that we are making eye contact. I feel like I see so many adorable baby pictures online, and they look so perfect and incredible, but real life isn’t that way – it’s messy and loud and exhausting, and it’s nothing like the pictures, not until we make eye contact. And then it’s like we’re in a little dreamland together and nothing else matters.
Oh, and I guess I’d say, do your best to keep your phone away when you’re spending time with your little one, so you can really be present with them when you’re not working. I’m trying to use my phone only when the baby is napping, and if I need to use it around her, I tell her what I’m doing on the phone so it doesn’t look like I’m just zoning out and ignoring her (even though she doesn’t know what I’m saying yet, it’s a good habit to get into).
What thoughts do you have on finding balance in maintaining a career and being a parent? It’s a topic that is often talked about and the topic often veers towards mothers and their feelings of guilt, stress and uncertainty. What is your truth about finding balance in it all?
I think of balance in this regard as being like a teeter-totter. It’s rarely ever standing still in the middle, perfectly balanced. Some days are going to be more about my career, and some days are going to be more about my baby. And that’s totally fine, as long as there’s a balance. Right now, my husband is working full-time and I don’t have as much work on the calendar, so I’m taking care of the house and baby (like a 1950s housewife, but totally loving it). I’ve got an album in the works right now, and I know that once it comes out, the balance will swing the other way and I’ll be spending more time working. But it’ll be a good thing for everyone because dad will get to spend more time with baby, and I’ll get to keep fulfilling my artistic desires that are at the core of who I am. And that’s the kind of mama I want my baby to have.
Any last thoughts that we haven’t covered?
I’ll just plug a few things! I write custom love songs – if you tell me about someone you love, I’ll write and professionally record a song just for them. There’s more info about that on my website at http://www.crissicochrane.com/customsongs
I’m working on a new album which should be out later this year, but in the meantime you can find my last album Little Sway on Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play, and everywhere music is streaming or sold online.
And you can find me on social media – I’m on Twitter and Instagram @crissicochrane, and I’m also on YouTube (youtube.com/crissicochrane) and Facebook (facebook.com/crissicochrane).