Hands up, who's juggling work/life/mummy identities? Aren't we all? the jigsaw puzzle doesn't come with instructions, and when you're a performer, life-after-baby can sometimes be even more demanding.
Yolanda Brown is a double MOBO award-winning jazz saxophonist and mother to 2 year old Jemima. She's just started touring again in the lead up to the release of her second album and is also an Ambassador for The Prince's Trust. Her husband also works in entertainment and they live in London.
We were lucky enough to catch Yolanda for a breather over lunch and she talked to Clio about how it all pieces together.
What's your favourite thing about motherhood?
Being pregnant gave me good preparation for motherhood and opened my eyes to the very important role that my body plays in bringing a child into the world. I loved breastfeeding and feeling that unconditional love towards Jemima and wanted to be there for her. As much as it’s a learning curve being a parent and the rules shift daily, I think being a parent is very rewarding. I love the idea that you are an example to your child and it’s fascinating to watch her development and how much she watches and learns from her mum and dad.
How do you manage work and family, especially when you're on tour?
Before having a baby, this was the point that played on my mind the most. You don’t know the temperament of the child you will have and it’s not a given that they will fit into your lifestyle. We have been very blessed with Jemima and she has never been a stickler for routine, which works wonders for a baby on tour! I was back on the road with Jem when she was 3 months old and my Dad comes on tour with us and looks after her while I’m on stage. We call him our “Manny”! They have an amazing bond and being able to express my breast milk, made me feel close to her when I had to leave. Now that she is a bit older and at nursery (since 18 months) she is able to stay with my parents and if I have a show within 3 hours away I always come home.
How did you feel as new parents?
Overwhelmed is a good word to describe it! I’d like to think we were very prepared physically and mentally for having our daughter and had done a lot of forward planning in terms of career and what would happen when I go back to work. But nothing prepares you for the overwhelming joy you feel holding your child and the love you have for her and each other. I think we were both shocked by our strengths during labour and how this new chapter came at a good time for us. The identity change was interesting, as we needed to adjust our relationship and roles in our family but we committed to understanding each other and found a rhythm as we went along. We feel it is an honour to be parents and I am glad for the advice we took on deciding what kind of parents we wanted to be before she arrived, as it opens a dialogue for amendments as we go along!
If you could have known one thing before having a baby, what would it be?
That every child is different and that you will have to go with your gut and trust that you know what’s best for your child, even when faced with doctors and midwives! I think the first couple of weeks I found that out the hard way when Jem was not gaining weight along with the chart. I really wanted to stick with breastfeeding and the advice I was being given by day 5 was not helping the situation at all. But my gut was saying 'persevere', and I did. With the support of my husband and parents I was able to trust in what I felt was right for my baby and not give in to the pressures put on me by professionals. I was able to solely breastfeed and eventually her weight increased. But the journey had a lot of tears and self doubt, a horrible feeling.
What's your magic item, the one thing you can't live without?
When I was breastfeeding I would have to be my breast pump! I loved the Medela Swing and was able to build a really good stash of milk when away from Jem and on tour. It could also be battery operated so even if she was left with my milk at home I was able to pump on the tour bus or in my dressing room and keep up my supply.
However the consistent magic item would have to be my iPhone! I loved to use the pregnancy apps and research any questions I had. When Jem was born I was able to record my pumping sessions, make notes on her development and schedules, play her music, note down my feelings and experiences and of course take lots of pictures of my baby girl! I also was able to pair my phone with her baby monitor and tune in and see her when on tour.
Best piece of advice to new parents?
My best piece of advice would be to find a forum where you can talk to mums. We all go through the same thing and have similar thoughts. Being able to hear this in a safe and welcoming environment lets you know that you are not alone and still sane! I found a wonderful group called “Mothers Talking” by Naomi Stadlen and was able to go with my baby and speak about my week or what was on my mind and feel reassured of my feelings and role as a mother. Motherhood can be a lonely and isolating journey, especially in the early stages so it’s wonderful to be able to have that community.
How do you relax and keep being 'you'?
I found that having a baby is a blessing and gave me even more meaning. To be able to add Mum to the list of Wife, Musician, Daughter, Sister and Yolanda, was very rewarding and fulfilling. However I did see the list in that order and ‘Yolanda’ did end up getting the least attention. While pregnant I went to Yoga, Pilates and Aqua aerobics every week right up to the day before being induced. As soon as the Mum role kicked in that all stopped.
Getting back into having ‘me’ time at the gym and spa, watching my soaps when everyone is sleeping (I am a bit of a night owl), enjoying the calm of not being needed helped. Building in socializing time (date night with my Husband, dinner with friends) to my calendar helped me to be able to be me, without a nappy bag for a few hours, it did wonders for getting my identity back. Though I do struggle with leaving Jem. She is very easy to be around so my husband and I do take her out a lot and live life, with her, very close to how we did before she arrived!
Music must be a big part of your home life as well as your job - do you actively try to incorporate it into your daughter's day?
I get asked this a lot and am very much about letting your child discover her likes and passions. Having done a lot of work in music education I do believe that music offers so much in the way of expression, teamwork and creativity. However, she loves music! It is Jemima that actively incorporates singing, dancing and playing into her day and is quite the performer. She will serenade waiters, sing for her friends at nursery and guests at home as well as giving out instruments to her audience and asking them to join in! It is wonderful to see and makes sense, I was on stage until 8 weeks before giving birth and she recognized my set list on tour after she was born by smiling and squirming around!
YolanDa Brown is currently touring the UK on her Biggest Tour yet called “Reggae Love Songs” featuring Special Guests: Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, Mica Paris, Omar, Lemar, Levi Roots and Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes.