The first time I met with my doula, she asked me about all of my feelings and fears about going into labor, about what was important to me. Much to her surprise, I told her one of those things was music.
But she was supportive. She told me I should make two playlists to help set the mood. One should be soft and mellow, designed to help me relax and calm down. The other should be heavy and fast, with music that would elevate my energy levels.
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I thought about those playlists every day in the weeks leading up to my due date. I've always been a playlist connoisseur, starting with mixtapes and moving on to burned CDs before embracing the digital version. They're all important to me, because music has always been a central part of my life. Looking back, I tie different events and experiences to particular albums and sounds. There was the breakup where nothing seemed more appropriate than U2, the death when Pink Floyd helped sustain me, and the intercontinental move as a teenager that was punctuated with punk-rock angst and dissatisfaction. When I hear that music now, I'm not just transported to a different time and place; I also feel the same emotions I felt. I am that person once again. I've evolved, and so has my taste -- but that's no surprise. My relationship with music has always been dynamic. Still, I thought certain things about it would always be true. I couldn't imagine a time when I wouldn't voraciously seek out new bands at small and unconventional venues. I believed I'd always care about the playlist. And my doula and I were talking about a momentous occasion, so I'd clearly have to comb through my music library to ensure that every deserving song was included. There were other concerns: Did I want full albums, or a smorgasbord of tracks? How selective should I be? What would be the soundtrack for the birth of my child? There was a soundtrack when I met my husband. We were at a rave in the Midwest, as I often was during the '90s. I drove hours almost every weekend to see DJs from all over the planet play at roller rinks, warehouses and racetracks. I went to an electronic-music party in a field in rural Iowa and another on a beach in Australia. I also sought out other genres, including rock and hip-hop and reggae and punk, attending concerts in large and small venues alike, feeling like new worlds were opening up in front of me.
Connecting with an artist and a group of mostly strangers affected me in a profound way. So did listening to certain tracks or albums on my own. Music touched something inside of me and provoked deep emotion. I felt as though I was tapping into something vast and indescribable.
I learned more about the collaborators working with my favorite artists in order to find new favorites. I delved into the history of my favorite scenes and marveled at the way talented musicians reacted to certain political or social environments. I shared my passion with friends in conversations and, of course, at concerts.
My husband-to-be quickly became my trusted accomplice in all of it, first as a friend and then as more than a friend. Together we explored the music that stretched all around us. I became interested in the different sounds of distant continents, and he got big into bluegrass. But there were always artists we both enjoyed. We collected ticket stubs and fliers to mount in scrapbooks we swore we'd make someday.
After I left college and began my career, my relationship with music started to change. My husband and I continued to attend festivals and concerts and underground warehouse shows and all kinds of events in between, but it was slightly different. Not only had I generally gravitated from punk rock to trance to drum-and-bass to downtempo, but I'd also started to notice a change in the way music affected me. The emotions weren't as desperate. The need for discovery wasn't as dire. Pregnancy changed my music consumption in a more obvious way. New limits on my energy and time meant I could only go to shows about once a month instead of every weekend. The first show the baby might have heard in utero was Robert Plant at Red Rocks last year, and three weeks before his due date, I went to see Nine Inch Nails at the 1STBANK Center. There's no doubt he could hear that one.
I thought I'd be one of those parents who would find the time and emotional fortitude for weekends spent dancing at all-night parties, no kids in sight. But in the six months since my son was born, I haven't left the house for a single concert. I have four concerts I plan to attend this summer, all at the same venue, five minutes from my house. I've already seen half of the bands playing.
The thought that my relationship with music seems to be changing so drastically frightens a part of me. But change doesn't necessarily mean loss. Maybe this is just another step along a continuum. I sing and drum and whistle for my baby, attending fewer live shows but incorporating more song and dance into my everyday life. And as I've started navigating the waters of parenthood, I've noticed that all of the emotions I used to chase through musical experiences are even more intensely felt in the context of being a mother. The elation and the terror and the frustration are a thousand times stronger.
That connection is changing the way I hear music, too. I play NIN in the car to help the baby settle in if he's fussy -- and nine times out of ten, he quiets right down. I'll be re-experiencing my entire music collection as though through brand-new ears as my child grows and begins to develop musical interests of his own. Some of the music he loves will probably be a product of the music I love, and eventually he'll introduce me to something I've never heard before. We'll never run out of songs.
Have you made your playlists yet?" my doula asked me. We were at her house for our last meeting before my son's birth. I told her I hadn't yet. I was too tired. I had work to do. There was a load of laundry to wash. I had plenty of time, anyway. There was no rush.
When I went into labor a week before my due date, I still hadn't made the playlists, and once the contractions began, I didn't even notice that there wasn't music. I was so certain that the soundtrack surrounding me would be an integral part of my childbirth experience, just as it had been for a thousand other experiences throughout my life. I was wrong about that. But even though it didn't happen quite the way I thought it would, there was still music.
When it was over, I was snuggling my newborn in a bed at the birthing center. My husband turned on Boozoo Bajou's Grains, and together we listened to the familiar strains of one of my favorite albums fill the room.
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