Music & Motherhood

Photos by Valerie Keeler

One night she reaches for a guitar, another night a bottle to feed her child. One rainy afternoon she’s composing music, another she’s writing a grocery list. She holds onto melodies in her mind while hugging her son. She sings to strangers. She sings her daughter to sleep. In the morning she struggles for the right rhymes, the right chords while making her children breakfast, seeing them off to school. Some nights she can only say goodnight to them through the distance of a phone call. Tomorrow the road calls her again and perhaps enough money to get them all by for another month. Their names are Susan, Kristine and Leila and their lives revolve around the intertwining balance of music and motherhood. 

Music has been an integral part of Kristine St-Pierre’s life since she was a child herself, first recording in a studio when she was only six. Now she has her two-year old, Ava, and another one on the way come summer. Before becoming a mother she was active in the growing Ottawa music community and at least touring across Canada once a year. After Ava was born, however, the focus had to shift and her wheels had to slow and those comfortable silences became far more valued.

“I think the main difficulty is finding a balance. Practicing is not that difficult as I can do that with my daughter present – she’ll usually dance while I play or keep playing with her toys and listen at the same time. The difficult part has been finding the quiet time to write and compose new songs. Hence why it’s taken me longer than anticipated to release a new album,” says St-Pierre.

Leila Goldberger didn’t always think shed pursue a career in music feeling she didn’t have the perfect voice, right guitar skills or the kind of image that usually gets promoted heavily in the industry. Because of these trepidations she started later than most, really beginning her career after winning the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award in 2013. With newfound confidence, she was ready to move forward. Before she could ride that wave, however, she became pregnant with her son. Priorities had to change.

“Becoming a mother gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate the timing of things. I had built up some momentum and recognition with the CPSA and while I had hoped to harness that to fuel my creativity as well as my career, it was more important for me to recognize it as proof that great things can happen at any point in your life. There was no need to feel pressured as long as I was being true to myself,” reflects Goldberger.

Susan Odle wasn’t waiting until later in life. By grade eight she was already in her first band and throughout her teens took every chance she could to play. Music was always something to chase, like a car ahead of you on a highway to the unknown, she just followed it to see where it might go. In 2001 she quit a full time job, traded her two door car for a touring van and made that highway her life until a wonderful detour named Ella changed her path.

“It changed everything. Being a mom for the first time takes all your senses, energy, proactive thinking. I truly didn’t realize how long that absolute focus would last,” says Odle adding that being a single mother before her child turned two didn’t help matters. The music would have to wait thirteen more years. She would have three more children.

Touring often can make a musician feel guilty when leaving loved ones behind despite it being necessary.

St-Pierre agrees, saying she hasn’t undertaken a longer tour since becoming a mother. While breastfeeding, being away for longer periods of time is just not possible but, as childcare costs mount, female musicians often have to make sacrifices to provide the basics. Some opt to take other jobs closer to home knowing the risk of being out of the public eye for too long a time. The music industry isn’t for the slow travelers. 

“Motherhood, in a way, equates to unpredictability. Lots of it! It’s a lifelong learning experience and journey, just like our art and ourselves as artists. In the end, I think it comes down to staying true to yourself as a women, mother and artist and not rushing things just because others are ahead of you or because you think it needs to happen now. It doesn't. Every woman and every artist is different and therefore, their journey will be (and should) different,” she says.

Though things may seem daunting at times, Goldberger has found a lot of joy in simply singing to her son Callum. Every night he falls asleep to a lullaby she wrote just for him. St-Pierre has taken to bringing her wee one to shows where she is nearly upstaged, the smiling audience gazing at her dancing toddler. “Mommy singing!” she’ll shout elatedly. For Odle, it seems only inevitable that her daughter will follow in her musical mother’s footsteps.

 “Well, my daughter Ella has been around music since she was born and actively diving in since she could walk, Odle says. “She even makes art out of my old guitar strings!”

Kristine, Susan and Leila all say that a strong support network is key, saying how important it is to have their partner’s back their choices. From being able to watch the children while on a gig to providing kind words of encouragement needed when things seem at their lowest, these relationships are often rocks to cling to or islands in the shifting seas a life as a musician can often be.

As a female artist, having children can often be cause for much soul searching when it comes to continuing your career. For St-Pierre, however, it made her realize that this is her journey and she’s exactly where she's supposed to be. Things to let go of now can always be held again later. Odle says she is who she is because of her choices and having children was one of the best she ever made. June adds that her children made her “want to be something. They made me think of someone more than myself” and for Goldberger her son filled the house with much more love.

“Every day it gets bigger and bigger,” she says. “Most people tend to focus on how challenging it can be to have kids that they forget to tell you how entertaining they can be. Kids are hilarious and adorable. Our house is filled with laughter and so much joy now.”