No Right Time: The Harsh Reality of Being a Mother in the Music Industry
I didn’t stop to think how it would impact my career, but everyone else had already decided: I was out of the game.
Sian Anderson is a DJ and presenter at BBC Radio 1Xtra and VEVO, a director of her own marketing and PR company Sightracked, a UK rap and grime tastemaker, and an established journalist. She also recently became a mother. We asked her to write a feature about the pressures of having a baby in a music industry, where the notion of working hours is meaningless and the pressure to deliver is immeasurable.
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The time to start looking for a husband, buying a house, having kids and doing life stuff is 27, right? Back when I thought this, I still had a few years to be young, carefree, and make my mark in music. Then, one night in 2015 – when I got home from a friend’s dinner that I'd admittedly had a few too many at – I discovered I was pregnant. That was the end of the 27 theory, and, tragically, the start of sobriety. I was about to become a mother.
I realise, now that I have a three month old son, that the ‘right time’ is when it happens. Think what you like, but there is no way of preparing for motherhood. Practically, of course you can: I got straight to work getting a driver's license, buying a car, cot, pram, letting my employers and employees know I was having a baby, and getting my finances in order. I was repeatedly warned by the few mothers-in-music I knew, that it was practically impossible to raise a child and have a career at the same time, but it went in one ear and out the other. I was going to do both.
Now, you know when you’re typing on an iPhone and autocorrect guesses what you’re about to say next, to the point where it’s finished your whole sentence for you and all you typed was "Hi"? That’s how my mind works. My mind is an iPhone 6. I understand exactly what needs to be done, so let me get on with it. I just need an example of how it was done before, the tools to do it again, and a deadline. It got me as far as I was, ten years into the music game with some awards to show for it. So, you can imagine my horror and discomfort when I stood at the Hoxton Hotel in London, eight months pregnant, for my baby shower. Surrounded by babies of friends I hadn’t taken the time out to go and see because I was busy “being a creative”; being told “Hey, hold her,” by a friend of fifteen years, whose two month old baby I’d never met.
Where was the manual? The instruction leaflet? Steve Jobs? You can’t just give me your human being to hold – what if I drop it? What if it throws up? What if it poops? I was panic-stricken, palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy. I wanted out of the situation, but everyone was watching. My friends and family were all looking perplexed at me as though holding a newborn baby was the easiest thing in the world. The only people with a look of horror mirroring mine were my music industry friends. That’s pretty much when shit got real and I realised: whoa... I’m having a baby.
With less than two months to go, I couldn’t ignore that (nieces and nephews included) I’d never changed a nappy or fed and bathed a baby before. Knowing who was number 1 on the iTunes charts, which singles were top of the radio airplay charts, and how to operate the new version of Serato were not saving me here. I was about to sink.
In the back of my head I don’t think I ever truly believed the midwives were going to let me walk out of the hospital with a newborn baby and just expect me to take it from there, get it right, raise a man. It still felt like some sick joke and that someone was going to jump out and say: “Just kidding, we sent fairies to help you for the first year.” The reality is, I was terrified of failure in this area. All I knew was music, everything else was meant to happen at 27.
I didn’t stop to think how it would impact my career, but everyone else had already decided: I was out of the game. The mothers in music I knew had nothing good to say about the work/life balance, and a good few men had the cheek to tell me to my face that I "wouldn’t be coming back to work at all." It scared me how few women there were in music with children, and how many examples people were spewing at me about women who completely quit the industry as a result.
I kept telling myself that I was different, that I’d already broken the stereotype of young, black, college dropout girls from South East London, but, deep down, I wasn’t so sure. For the first time in a long time, I doubted myself. How would my employers and employees treat me if I disappeared for months to have a baby, only to come back and only work two or three days a week? In an industry that works around the clock and demands your time and expertise 24/7.
Sleeping was never really my thing. I was already a night owl from all the DJing. So, I worked right through my pregnancy, with my last radio show being two weeks before my due date. Two weeks after my due date, the little man arrived, in an experience I can only describe as traumatising. At the beginning there’s this excruciating and repetitive routine of waking up every two hours for a human being to swing off your boob. I did those first two weeks on overdrive alone. Nothing was real; everything was dull routine; there were no expectations of Sian Anderson, except from the cutest little human in the world. It was easy. The two weeks after that? Not so much. Shit got real.
I started thinking about myself. I had three stretch marks – I know right, lucky bitch! – that needed attending. I had a mop of hair that hadn’t seen a drop of water in weeks. I had chipped and ugly fingernails and none of my clothes fit me. One thing you don’t read about so much in the baby books, is that you also get bored. Baby was great, so great that for the first time in my career, I genuinely contemplated packing it all in and spending the rest of my life with him. But motherhood was also very repetitive. The cleaning, the feeding, the nappies, the creams, wipes, bibs, and small plastic bags. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I missed writing, I missed raving, I missed DJing, I missed action. Two months after giving birth, I decided to go back to work, for two days a week.
Going back to work was sweet. You smile sweetly, loads. Wherever you go colleagues will ask you, “When are you bringing the baby in?” And you think hard. You think about the hour it takes you to get him ready before bringing him out the house, about the likelihood of him screaming the whole way through the trip, about the possibility of someone picking him up and smothering him in a scent of their sickly perfume causing him to vomit down his adorable outfit. But you smile sweetly and say, “Soon… soon.”
People do the condescending head to the side as they avoid looking directly at you and ask, “So… what’s it like being a single parent?” And you think about the fact your son's dad has given you zero child support and seen him an impressive total of four times in his twelve weeks of life, and instead of jerking your head slightly to the side, ferociously dragging them to the floor in an animal-like attack and scratching their eyes out with the nails you had to cut because they were dangerous around the baby, you smile sweetly and reply: “It’s hard, y’know, but you just get on with it and make it work.” Because no matter what negativity or trials you face during motherhood, you just get on with it. You make it work.
Of course, getting work wasn’t as straightforward as smiling sweetly. Now, everyone wanted reassurance that I was going to be available 24/7, to be at the forefront of their campaigns. Reassurance? I couldn’t give them any. This was okay for some clients, who understood and trusted my team to deliver for them, but others were understandably skeptical. I visited all of the major labels one day to catch up and offer my two pence on campaigns I’d seen whilst I was away. Surprisingly, I got a few job offers, based on me tearing the crap out of stuff I’d seen completely flop. It seems like as long as you remain good at what you do, and passionate about what you’re doing, people will find a way to accommodate your situation.
Three months into the routine, my little man was getting his personality, finding out how to work his hands; laughing, teething (nightmare), and I was finding it harder to leave home on those two days a week. I didn’t want to miss a thing. That’s when being a mother in the music industry became a harsh reality. Going back to work had given me a new level of understanding towards the lack of mothers in music, because it’s hard to leave the person you love most in the world for lengths of time to sit in a boardroom, to be fixated to a computer 9-5, or to be on numerous unnecessary conference calls. Leaving my son for hours with the sole intention of getting money didn’t feel worth it. I seriously contemplated packing it all in and shouting the government to pay me back my hard earned taxes to sit at home with my son and do F-all.
Instead, the whole process taught me that time is super precious and it shouldn’t be wasted doing any old thing or working on any old projects. I learned to take on only the very best jobs, and artists I believe in so much, that I don’t mind leaving my new bundle of joy to work with for a few hours a day. In the midst of the madness I found a different energy, a different purpose. Being a mother in the music industry isn't easy, but no matter what anyone around you says: it is not impossible.
I want there to be more women in music who can comfortably experience living their dream and motherhood at the same time. Recently, I set up a mentoring and work experience scheme called One True Calling with my best friend Julie Adenuga, where we help young people make their first steps into the industry, teach them to take old traditions with a pinch of salt, and carve their own path. Giving back has always made me happy, but being able to give back, and use myself as a case study for other young people, that’s a double happy whammy. One that I hope empowers anyone who has been scared of choosing between a career and a family. If you want it, you can do both.
So yeah, that’s me, Sian Anderson. DJ, journalist and presenter by night, marketing executive and PR twice a week by day, but above all: very happy mother.
You can follow Sian on Twitter.
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