Frederikke Kampmann opera singer soprano

Happy Mother’s Day

How would you feel about having to chose between having children and having a career? Or what about getting let go because “you aren’t supposed to look pregnant”? Or what about this: living with fear of your employer finding out that you are pregnant because you might risk getting fired if you can’t fit the costumes anymore. Or not getting paid for work you were supposed to do, but now can’t anymore because it takes place at the same time as your due date? What if someone encouraged you to have an abortion because having a baby would interfere with your work?

These seem like absurd scenarios that would take place in another time, but these are nevertheless stories from artists around the world that I have collected in order to make this post. And this, not surprisingly, is causing artists to fear parenthood. Because where will I find the time to practise after the baby arrives? And will the industry forget me?

My name is Frederikke Kampmann, and I am an operatic soprano, I am 36 and a mother of two. There. I said it. I revealed the two things many women in the operatic industry are afraid of talking about; being older than 30 and having children. Today, because it is Mother’s Day, I would like to focus on the latter. There’s something problematic about the female voice being in its prime in the late 20’s/early 30’s if you also want to combine family and career. So, God forbid you “waste” your voice’s prime time, taking a year out of the calendar, and don’t you dare take more if you want more than one kid, amiright??

As artists we have all heard about these stories. And they invoke a fear in us – a fear that if we get pregnant or express an interest in wanting to have a family, we will not then be taken serious in also wanting a career. There’s a sort of non-spoken rule that you can’t have both. Because if you don’t dedicate your entire being to your career well, then you must not want it enough – and there’s always someone out there wanting it more (is what we are being told).

In my stories on Instagram on Monday, I asked what your biggest concerns were regarding wanting to start a family and here are your top 5 concerns:

(I have saved all the answers in my highlights on my profile)

Top 5 concerns about parenthood as an artist

  • Number 5: “People will think I don’t care about my career”

This is a classic. Personally, I haven’t been told this directly. But I have felt how people are busy assuming the I, or my colleagues with children, are  no longer available either to travel, or just commit to a production over a longer period of time, just because we have had children. Instead of giving us the offer and allowing us to figure out the logistics ourselves, I have had the feeling employers just assume we can’t do it “because we have children”. I was once asked in an audition how my newborn was doing. My “newborn” had already turned one. So, not so newborn. I like to believe that the panel member asked me how my kid was doing to be polite, but a part of me can’t help but feel that they asked me to find out about my availability. To sort of get confirmation that I wasn’t available, because I have kids. Not surprisingly, I still have not received any job offers from this particular employer. In my career I have met women who never had children because “there weren’t ever any right time.” Some of them regretting this decision (if you are sitting with these thoughts, PLEASE read this post all the way till the end).

  • Number 4: “I feared that the industry would forget me and I would have to start from scratch”/”I would disappear from people’s awareness and they would forget about me when I came back”

I have personally struggled with this so much. I once heard a story about a colleague who was considered for a role, but when her name was mentioned the casting director said “but isn’t she on maternity leave?”. Her child at the time was five years old. I know that in multiple cases people will NOT be forgotten, but this really invoked a fear in me, that I had to “stay in the game” and start singing again as soon as possible after giving birth, because otherwise people would write me off on maternity leave forever.

  • Number 3: “Just simply not having the time for managing my profession”/”I wouldn’t have the time to practice and therefore would never win a position”/Loosing the for this job much needed and from the business expected independence”

This was a fear that showed up multiple times when I was doing my poll on my stories. And being a mother of two small children, I honestly don’t get much practise done, but I have two pieces of advice I can offer on this one: Get creative and efficient with your practice sessions (you won’t believe how much you can get out of 30 minutes all of a sudden!), and “it gets easier”. Such a cliché, I know. But nevertheless it’s true. A Male colleague of mine (yes, I know the title of this blog-post focuses on mothers, but combining family-life and career is not only problematic for women in this industry) wrote in my inbox:

“…Another thing is the lack of acceptance in this industry of having a family, and the lack of acceptance that you as a parent want to make that priority. There isn’t room for that. That is a big challenge”

I have experienced having to fill out forms when arriving at auditions to state my civil status, and I have always been advised to state that I was single, especially when I was approaching my thirties. Because otherwise I would signal that I might be interested in having children soon… I don’t think it’s hard to understand where the above mentioned fear is coming from. Why would an opera house need to know about my civil status?! How could this possibly matter as to weather or not I’m a good singer??

  • Number 2: “What if I give up on my career because kids become more important?”

Here’s the thing about this one: I get it. Honestly I do. A fellow soprano currently finishing her maternity leave (underlining the word finishing!) shared this in my inbox:

“Thank you for focusing on this! Here’s my story: One of the hardest parts about finding out I was pregnant was because I feared that my career would end before it had really begun. The thought about taking one full year out of my calendar was very stressful, not to mention the fear that I would possibly change my priorities and not even WANT to sing anymore (something that has been the most important thing and a huge dream of mine since I was a child). This gave me an identity crisis… Because who was I, if not a singer? … I am [now] on my way back in the game, because I can’t help myself! But the fact is, that my priorities have changed and my career isn’t the most important thing for me anymore. And I am actually totally ok with reaching this conclusion, and I have decided that it will be possible to combine family and career.”

And honestly I couldn’t agree more. She continues:

“I feel like it is also important to say that I auditioned pretty close to my due date … the panel consisted of mostly women and they were so sweet and supportive, and they told me how awesome I was for showing up and not hiding my pregnancy. Of course I was preparing to put my career on hold for a little while, but that is just the consequence of being a WOMAN (!) and it is important that we don’t let it hold us back to think we have lost “the game” in advance. At the end of my audition the asked me to contact them when I was back from my maternity leave. That gave me hope and it was a sort of light at the end of the tunnel, when I, during my maternity leave, was starting to loose faith in ever getting back.”

  • Number 1: “I worry not to have progressed enough with my instrument before and not having the time after”

All of you worried about this. All of you voting in this particular poll. I used to worry about this, and I still do sometimes. But let me finish this post by quoting one of my colleagues and fellow mothers who commented on my post:

“[becoming a mother] makes you stronger, more in touch with your inner voice, your body, your inner child… It makes you work 10 times more efficient, it puts things in perspective, makes you less intense, less eager but in the end more focused. You take less bullshit, nor for low paid work. Your voice grows richer, you have felt groundedness which you have never felt before and you know EXACTLY what your pelvic floor can do. It turns you into a richer and more interesting human being because you don’t live for just yourself anymore. Don’t get me wrong: I have had all these doubts that you mention… but these findings prevail in the end!”

I completely agree. And if you are waiting for the right time to get started? Consider this:

“I’ve waited, and waited for “the right time” (because there was always work, productions, concerts, possibilities that I couldn’t let go) which resulted in multiple miscarriages simply because my body is getting too old…all because of the pressure of the singing business. There is never a right time!! You can be lucky but you will always have to make sacrifices. We have to make sure to tell our hesitant colleagues that it’s all worth it”

Let that last bit resonate with you for a while. And Happy Mother’s Day! <3

1 Comment
  1. Awesome article… takeaways: mothers become more efficient, they get better voices and understand their purpose in the industry with more perspective. Happy mother’s day Frederikke!

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