The classical managers who say pregnancy will kill your career

In the first of her summer reflections, our quartet diarist Anthea Kreston describes how she had to fight the classical establishment in order to get time off to start a family. Those who know Anthea will be aware that nothing would stop her doing what she thinks it right, but we’ve heard of others who gave up having a family – or a classical career – because a manager said you can;t have both.

Here’s Anthea’s column. Let us know if her experience resonates with yours.

This week I have returned to being a mom. Lead parent, stay-at-home, laundry folding, dish-washing, jogging pants and lunch-making mom. As I sit across from my two kids (age 6 and 8), planning the next craft activity or dish for tonight’s potluck, I realize how lucky and courageous I was to take a step back from my career nine years ago and have kids.

Not that it was easy. We tried for years, went through two years of the adoption process after things were looking not good (because I was an unmarried atheist, the adoption options were thin and also shockingly expensive). We ended up finding a small Jewish agency in New Haven. But, as you hear about, with minimal invasiveness (I was unwilling to give myself daily shots in the stomach or spend $10,000 per month supercharging my uncooperative body), finally an embryo clung on for long enough to eventually turn into Baby Number 1.

And, being a super-competitive person (no one can get into Curtis without being almost insanely competitive and brutally hard-working), I had decided that I didn’t need to modify my touring schedule. I thought – Jason is with me, how hard can it be? Not to mention that my manager at the time was very clear that he was very unhappy that I was having a child, that the presenters should in no way even get a whiff that there was a child, I should leave the baby with a neighbour when I went on tour, and how insensitive I had been to get pregnant with a due date right in the middle of the prime concert season (why hadn’t I timed it so I would give birth between mid December and early February? Having an October due date was so selfish). My god – it had taken so long and had been so difficult to get to this point, and now I was getting the sense that this was just the beginning of a whole new world of navigating my life and career.

I performed until 2 weeks before I gave birth, and had a Trio date two weeks after the birth. I was on bed rest for 3 weeks after I have birth, with a natural birth that required many stitches, and our manager told me it couldn’t really be that bad – I could stand to perform, and Jason could drive us the 4 hours to the concert. I got a violin substitute for that one concert, but after that, hit the road just like I used to. By the time our baby was 6 months old, she had been to 25 states (many multiple times), and I knew to travel with more than one Vera Wang dress because of the possibility of my milk letting down during a performance, or a breast-feeding snafu during intermission. Performing on insufficient sleep, with swollen joints and handing my infant to a new stranger every day (who I had interviewed in advance, with an online service which provided background checks) was all worth it. I was lucky. So lucky.

I realized that I wanted to have a second child pretty early – and that this blueprint wouldn’t be sustainable with two kids. So, I told Jason we were going to put our house on the market in Connecticut, give up our university jobs, and move to a small town in Oregon so I could do this properly. I had two years of income saved as a buffer, our manager told me my career was finished – and slammed the door. He said, once you get off the conveyor belt, you can’t get back on. With one child it is possible, but two won’t work.

Jason told me he would quit Trio, that we could find another cellist and I could continue touring. I wouldn’t hear of it. We decided instead to put trio on the back burner – I would rather play 5 concerts a year with Jason then 45 with someone else.

When I look around me, at women in classical music, there is a noticeable curve. If you have a teaching position or orchestra job, you probably have a family (I am in no way saying that people should have kids, or get married/partnered, or that one path trumps another). If you have a chamber music career, your statistics take a huge nose-dive. The prime career-building years are the prime-fertility years. A soloist? Very rare. Very very rare. If you are super famous, it is possible, but a medium-famous female soloist? Hard to find a partner, harder even than that to be able to have a child (forget about two).

So – I know I am lucky. I also took a huge risk, have a partner who is my equal, and knew that if I never played again, I had enough other passions and interests to sustain me intellectually. My advice? Don’t be afraid of that manager, don’t be afraid of taking a chance, do what you want, follow your gut, and you will live a life free of regret.

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    • Hi Robert,
      We found a new one. A woman. We dropped management when I joined the quartet 3 seasons ago, but have been picked up by a German management and a French/British one, both run by women who happen to be mothers…..

  • What an incredible story!! And it reinforces – as if that is necessary – the importance of having the right partner who is there for you and the family all the time. You were lucky with Jason and having two beautiful daughters. Having said that, ‘luck’ is an unfortunate word to use. The nicer you are, the harder you work and the more determined to enjoy life the “luckier” you get!!!

    I have 5 children; one caution. Things will change when they’re teenagers. Be prepared for that!!! NEVER EASY. They will always pull in a different direction; childhood is much easier!!

  • Amazing what managers and others* think a woman is not capable of after she’s already proven her drive and ambition.

    *(e.g. wealthy lenders of expensive instruments – e.g. the well-known story of Dylana Jenson having to return her violin when the owner found out she was getting married)

  • Was never in a field even remotely as demanding and competitive as yours, but your story resonates deeply. After years of trying, finally had a baby (now an adult). During an annual review, the department head (no children – by choice) said that my low rating was due to my disloyalty to the company. When I asked, incredulously, what could have prompted such an accusation, she responded, “You showed your disloyalty by having a child.” The astonishing thing is that she believed that. Thank goodness, you followed your gut and also that you found a 21st century manager!

  • I remember the story of the famous ballet dancer in the 1960s (I forget her name but she was a good friend of Nureyev) who sought an abortion because she thought that she was in line for an important principal role which she would not get otherwise.
    With a lot of effort she got an abortion (doctors could not understand why she would want one because she was married, did not get the role, and fell into deep depression.
    Sacrificing career for children or vice versa should not be necessary in the 21st century but unfortunately it still is

  • You describe yourself as ‘courageous’. You said it!! Its so discouraging to think that women are still battling for the right to have child and a career. Im glad to read how it has worked out and knowing you through these posts I know you will make it continue to work out.

  • Parents should make children their highest priority. Having one as an adjunct to your career is not good parenting. Why don’t you stop touring until your child has grown up? Make room for someone else and be a good mother.

    • Excuse me???? You are the authority here about someone you dont even know personally?? Please dont dump your value system on someone else like this!

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