What is it like to be a musician and be on the road while pregnant?
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It’s not something everyone gets to experience. At first glance, the concept seems immensely difficult. How can you keep a creative life going while caring for someone else? How can you tour? How can you even hold a guitar in your third trimester?
There are a lot of questions.
We reached out to three accomplished musical mothers to get some answers. Here, find out what Shana Cleveland of La Luz, solo artist Tekla Waterfield, and Julia Massey of Warren Dunes have to say about what it’s like to create and raise a child, all while being a kick-butt musician.
When Shana Cleveland, the frontwoman for the California-based dreamy surf rock band, La Luz, found out she was pregnant, she’d just arrived back home after a European tour. She was late, so she took a pregnancy test.
“It was just like, ‘Oh, okay! Pregnant, huh?’” Cleveland tells American Songwriter, with a laugh.
For her, it was a surprise, but it was exciting to her and her longtime partner, Will Sprott, who is also an accomplished touring musician—both solo and playing with groups like Shannon and the Clams. The two had moved to the California countryside together and while they weren’t sure up until the pregnancy test turned blue if they would have children, they knew that if they did, the home they chose would be a good one for it. Cleveland, who says she loved being pregnant, took it all in stride from the moment she found out.
“It was a nice surprise,” she says.
La Luz is a beloved touring band. They’ve toured the world. The group made an LP with Ty Segal. They’ve had a song in a Miller Lite commercial. But nothing about any of this worried Cleveland when it came to the future of the group as a mother. She loves a mystery. As an experienced touring artist, she’s used to dealing with big tasks in real time. To be planned, in a way, is impossible. Instead, you must be ready. Grasping this bolstered the soon-to-be-parent. Cleveland was also well-equipped for pregnancy and oncoming motherhood because, as she says, she is inspired by the unknown.
“It felt psychedelic, in a way,” she says of her pregnancy. “That was surprising to me. I feel like pregnancy is often discussed in gauzy, pastel terms. To me, the experience of pregnancy felt very dark in the way that the unconscious could be described as dark. It’s this feeling that something is happening and somewhere inside of myself I understand it, but I don’t consciously understand it. As an artist, that was exciting.”
Cleveland, who is also a recent breast cancer survivor, says pregnancy inspired her to write a lot of songs during those nine months. In an important way, being pregnant brought her closer to her sense and understanding of nature. She and her budding family live in the country. But the process of growing a human being inside of her made something even deeper about it click.
“I am a human being, but also I am this blade of grass,” she says. “I am the wind. It’s all going to sound very woo-woo, but to me, that was what pregnancy was. A sort of woo-woo awakening. Like, oh here I am, this little speck in the universe. Totally out of control—you can’t control pregnancy. It’s the ultimate mystery.”
Cleveland didn’t give much worry to how her pregnancy and impending parenthood would impact her career. While “mom guilt” is a very real thing, she says, she carried herself with confidence, openness, and a sense of familial support. She’s been a successful touring artist for more than a decade now. She knows how to adapt. If the van breaks down in Wyoming, it’s about figuring out a path forward. She says she felt “very prepared” for pregnancy as a result of her vocation, in that way. Furthermore, her parents are musicians and the legend of her childhood is that her mother’s pregnancy pushed her parents to stop touring. Cleveland knew she did not want to do that, herself.
“I always felt like, ‘Why would I do that?’” she says.
Cleveland appreciates the positive impact being partners with another musician has on her role as a parent. If she had found herself with someone in a more common job—say, someone who works 9-to-5—there might be concern about whether or not she should feel comfortable going back out on the road. Gender roles, and all. But she and Sprott have a terrific partnership, a fluid understanding of priorities, both in raising their young son and furthering their careers as artists. Musicians, unlike most other people, know that going on tour isn’t an excuse for party time. Instead, it’s a job and an important one. So, Cleveland and her partner don’t waste time bickering about any of that. Cleveland’s mother also lives with the parents and their young son, making it that much more of a network of support when it came to touring and being a musician.
“I toured in all three trimesters of pregnancy,” she says.
She remembers a flight home during her eighth month and thinking: it’s time. When she finally came home, she felt good spending a month preparing for the arrival of her son. After the birth, gigs began pretty quickly for her. She’d booked another European tour three months after her son arrived and she and Sprott took him on tour with them. She asked her doctor and musical moms if they thought a three-month-old would do okay on tour and, in fact, she was told “they’re very portable” at that age. (Cleveland laughs at that anecdote.) Today, she and Sprott keep a detailed calendar and, so far, things have worked out with both their schedules. For Cleveland, pregnancy was inspiring. So is motherhood now, from its reintroduction to fantastical kids’ books to the portal it provides to understanding the world in new ways.
“I think that if you are an artist,” Cleveland says, “it’s kind of this indispensable window into another life. Just to have that ultimate closeness with this new being and to see them learn everything about the world. You get to see the world in a new way through their eyes and, to me, that’s just been awesome.”
Tekla Waterfield and her husband, musician Jeff Fielder, talked about wanting to have a child for years before they decided to go for it. And the two found out their journey was beginning in March of this year. Waterfield’s reaction?
“Excitement and hope and good feelings,” she tells American Songwriter.
The duo, who collaborate on Waterfield’s albums, among other musical projects, are Americana artists. Waterfield is a talented songwriter and performer, and Fielder has worked with songwriters like the Indigo Girls, Mark Lanegan, and members of Pearl Jam, playing any number of instruments. To manage their lives as artists, communication has been key. During her pregnancy, the two continued to play and perform. For the most part, Waterfield says, those nine months are enjoyable.
“I really had a good time,” she says. “It suited me.”
Waterfield kept a regular schedule while pregnant, which included walks, working out, eating well, and music. There were a few difficult moments of mood swings, she says, but for the most part she “was one of those women that enjoyed” pregnancy. She and her husband had planned for it for several years. Waterfield, who recently just gave birth to a two-month-old girl, is 41 years old. She recognizes that is on the older side for starting motherhood, but she’s prepared for it. Prior, she’d wanted to keep the option of motherhood open but she also wanted to devote time to her love of music and her career. She did that for a decade, concertedly.
“It’s a different kind of life to be an artist,” Waterfield says. “For the past 10 years, or so, I’ve been just like, ‘No, I can’t have a kid. I need to have the ability to be flexible and free and do this life.’”
When she and Fielder decided to undertake the new challenge of parenthood, they knew it would be a major shift for both of them. They would now be prioritizing a new person above themselves in many ways. At the same time, there is a real responsibility to keep earning a living. Fielder, who often travels for his job as an artist, will have to begin that again and Waterfield knows she will spend much of her time raising their new daughter. These are the compromises that they came to together, planning for the baby. Yet, Waterfield knows that she’ll need time to keep her art in its proper groove. It’s a balance—a new balance. But one she’s thought about and is ready to embrace.
“I was in a place where I was ready to shift a little bit,” she says.
Obviously, the health of the mother and the baby becomes paramount as soon as that pregnancy test turns blue. So for a career that largely has to do with nightlife, changes had to be made. Waterfield embraced home life more. She was no party animal to begin with, per se, but bars and late nights dwindled anyway. She and Fielder did do several daytime gigs geared more towards families, as a result. She’s looking forward to next summer, too, when outdoor shows come back in the afternoon sun. While pregnant, Waterfield was inspired to write music, as well. She wrote about what it would be like to play less of it. About what that might do to how she’s remembered by those around her. She wrote a song about her baby, wondering what she might act like, and look like.
“Now,” she says, “I sing it to her and that’s really kind of sweet.”
It’s hard. On one hand, Waterfield knows much effort and energy must be dedicated to her newborn. But there is also the question of how much of her own, individual life can remain in the picture. It has to remain, of course. And it will. But how, exactly, that happens takes some thought. She will always have the mind of a creative person. So, while she must shift gears now to some degree, how will her new life as a mother look? She’s on the road to figuring that out. Part of that journey involves introducing their child to music.
“It’s inevitable,” Waterfield says, noting the home studio, instruments everywhere, and family of musicians that are her daughter’s new kin.
The last gig Waterfield played before giving birth was around her seventh month. Just holding a guitar can be difficult when doing so, let alone everything else that comes with being pregnant. She and Fielder recorded in their home studio in her ninth month, too. At the time, she noticed some difficulty with her breath support while doing vocals. She was running out of breath quicker, she says. As of now, with their two-month-old in tow, Waterfield isn’t sure when gigs will get back going in full. She is set to perform at a beloved and prominent Seattle venue in early January, though. She wanted to give herself a goal to get back out there. At the same time, she has that gnawing worry that every new parent has about leaving her child, even for a few hours.
“It’s a little crazy,” Waterfield says. “She’s two months old. She’s teeny-tiny. Everything revolves around her.”
As a new parent, she’s okay with taking things day by day. It’s a difficult territory to navigate, even if it is lit with love and adoration. To wit, after giving birth, Waterfield dealt with serious, scary bouts of exhaustion. It can be easy to forget to take care of yourself when you’re so consumed with caring for another human being you’ve created. A music career, too? Lordy. But there are little gifts to be had along the way, too. Like one recent afternoon over the holidays when Amy Ray of Indigo Girls stopped by to say hi to Waterfield and Fielder. Ray asked them about the baby, Waterfield about motherhood. Fielder told Ray she had written a song about their daughter. Ray asked to hear it and Waterfield, albeit a bit nervously, obliged. That’s when Ray invited Waterfield to perform a song on her holiday livestream to her thousands of fans. Waterfield said yes, happily.
“Jeff did everything he could to make sure that worked out,” she says. “He knew how important that was to me. It was a total honor.”
Waterfield spent years establishing herself in the Pacific Northwest and beyond and now that she’s a parent, she has that foundation whenever she wants to dive back into playing gigs, recording and doing promo, and everything that comes with the job. Now, though, she’s happy and ready to focus on her new baby. Her advice for those that might follow in her footsteps? Prepare.
“Talk to friends, talk to other mom musicians,” Waterfield says. “Get insight. So if you do make the decision to be a parent you can feel like you’re prepared as much as possible. It’s a wonderful thing and it’s a lot of work.”
As a performer, Julia Massey, the frontwoman for the beach-pop band Warren Dunes, can play two keyboards at once, while singing and engaging an audience. But as a mother, she juggles much more. Massey, who found out she was pregnant in the spring of 2014, had planned for it with her husband, musician Jared Cortese. But in another way, there is no planning when it comes to parenthood. Despite this, she was joyous.
“I was elated,” Massey tells American Songwriter, “because I’ve always wanted to be a mom.”
But while some enjoy pregnancy, it was somewhat brutal on Massey. It was an “amazing biological experience, amazing to watch unfold,” but at the same time, it caused her to walk with a cane in the latter stages because her hips hurt so badly. Her child was “extremely active” when he was in the womb (he remains rather rambunctious today). Massey says it was fun to get to know his personality early on. She played her last show before giving birth in her eighth month. The cane she got that night got her through her final pregnancy phase and it’s since become a big part of family lore. Furthermore, Massey says, because she knew early on she wanted to be a mom, it was a point of early conversation between her and Cortese.
“Jared and I talked about it for years,” she says. “As soon as we met each other, he knew I wanted to be a parent. And he wanted to experience it, too. But we’re both musicians, both on the path. We have a very strong desire not to have our careers upended by being pregnant and raising a kid.”
The two shared “lots of talks,” making sure as much as possible could be put in place ahead of time, from a permanent rehearsal space to anything else that came to mind. In the early part of their relationship, the two played in separate well-liked bands in the Pacific Northwest. Now, they’ve combined their powers, so to speak, to perform together (with Cortese’s brother Dominic) in the beloved family band, Warren Dunes. It was important to keep as much control over that group as it was to realize they had no control over much else after the baby was born. And while she was pregnant, Massey just tried to keep all the plates in the air.
“I just kept the train chugging and on the sides noticed how the fetus was responding to my lifestyle,” she says.
Cortese and Massy kept their amps on normal levels when they practiced. They didn’t stop playing gigs until later in her pregnancy. In this way, they wanted to prepare the newborn for the music-filled lifestyle he’d be brought into.
“I noticed every time we practiced or went to a loud show, that was the only time he went to sleep,” Massey says. “Otherwise, he was fully active, moving around, kicking constantly. Music was the only thing that calmed him down.”
While she was pregnant, Massey was undergoing a transition from playing songs with the guitar to playing keyboard. Having a pregnant belly pushed her over the edge and she became primarily a keys player. Today, she plays two at a time, arms outstretched at her sides, singing into the microphone almost like a hummingbird in flight. It’s stunning stuff. She says she got back to playing those gigs about two months after giving birth. Well, that was her first performance—a single song. But it was the beginning of her career kicking off again. She soon played more, and the band toured. Massey and Cortese bought their son noise-canceling headphones. Music was a way of life for the family.
“The other day, I played a show at Washington Hall,” Massy says, chuckling. “It’s this big, beautiful venue. The show went great, the audience received it well. My son was running around backstage between my set and the next artist and I heard the sound guy ask him, ‘Aren’t you proud of your mom for doing so well?’ And he just looked up, like, ‘Why would I be proud of my mom? This is just normal life for us.’”
She’s happy that was her son’s reaction. Music is in his bones. Nothing to be surprised about here. It’s woven into his life like mittens from a grandparent. That reality is aided when both parents are entrenched in music. Cortese knows Massey’s needs and vice versa and all of it cascades around their boy. Nevertheless, it’s easy to be worried about parenthood. There is so much to understand, learn, deal with. But fear shouldn’t impede anyone, Massey says.
“If you can take fear out of the equation,” she says, “things work out.”
For Massey, her biggest concern when it comes to the idea of parenthood now is the chance for mothers and fathers to have time to grow their creativity—truly, themselves—and to have the time to do so. That’s why her band is using money they make from shows and songs to create grants for parents who can use it to help pay for childcare. Parents should be able to keep their creativity, sanity, and community intact. It’s called Warren Dunes’ Many Hands Project. It takes—dare we say—a village. Why? Simply because pregnancy and parenthood are impossible to predict.
“You can’t plan this,” Massey says. “But for anyone thinking about it, I say go for it!”
Photo by Suzi Pratt/WireImage