We did it! We made an opera in Russia with a seven month old child in tow and lived to tell the tale. Thanks in particular to the help of Loretta and Tom and the generosity and patience of the Faust Creative Team, I can now say that I have completed my first show following Juno’s birth.
I think Loretta had quite a life-changing experience assuming the role of ‘Mumderstudy’ and I almost wish that I had had this kind of insight into parenthood before Juno was born. We started the ‘handover’ with my explaining throughout the day what I was doing at each stage and Loretta paying very focused attention to proceedings with ever widening eyes at the level of care required for such a small bundle. Initially, Juno came everywhere with me and was (thankfully and somewhat incredibly) impeccably behaved during any rehearsals we attended. We even have an 8 minute video of her transfixed by Faust rehearsing scene 1 and becoming excited by the pastoral theme – now up there with ‘The Wheels On The Bus’ as a cheer-me-up nursery rhyme. Any other work tended to happen after she had gone to bed at 10pm (7pm BST), which fitted in with the director’s return from rehearsals.
By the third day, I needed to attend meetings without the baby and Loretta braved her first jaunt alone with the baby. Thankfully, Juno was asleep for most of the time so Loretta gained some confidence but also quickly and pragmatically realised that there would be lots of tears and they both just had to do their best to survive. Progressively, she took on a few more hours here and there until the day of the shoot when she had her all morning and I started to need to bring my pump to work.
What I hadn’t factored in was how much I would miss Juno. It was somehow different from when she went to nursery as I would have left her in professional care for a fixed amount of time and would be working frantically meanwhile but somehow in a foreign country with her Godmother who, despite having nieces and nephews was still completely new to the process of childcare and maybe my not being as busy that first week somehow meant that my thoughts were on her quite often. So as much as Loretta had to bravely approach the grim prospect of half and eventually whole days with Juno mostly in tears or asleep in a kind of protection mode, having refused bottles and cuddles, I also had to force myself to let go as I realised afresh how much more productive I could be without my attention split between her and work. Nevertheless, I hung on to doing bedtime as I knew that if this went awry, it could mean her feeding all night on my return. As it was, she was pretty unsettled at night anyway (as you might expect with all that was going on) and with a large double bed to myself, I felt the only way was to let her join me. This nearly caused an issue with key rehearsals that I should have been attending threatening to be at night and Ian away for the weekend but as with all Mariinsky schedules, it was subject to constant change and the LD and I were never going to be able to see what we needed to see rehearsed so we just caught what we could.
By the time of the load in to the Theatre and with an evening focus session, Loretta recognised that I needed to be there and she volunteered to do bedtime, which she did admirably under tricky circumstances. We both knew this was the start of my being unavailable for Juno and Tom, my husband, was due to fly in as backup the following day just in time, which was a relief for us both. I sometimes think one of the reasons it takes two to make a child is because it take two to care for one!
The rest of the week saw me missing her even more as I left for work after her breakfast around 10am and returned at 5am and fed her by way of a kind of greeting once I got to bed. it turns out that this kind of separation was unfortunately timed as exactly 29-30 weeks, babies become keenly aware of relative distance and object permanence. In simple terms, this means they know Mummy can walk away and that if she’s not there, she still exists somewhere and therefore call out to her by crying.
Still, we survived. Juno was welcomed by nearly all at the theatre when she was there. She had gained something fo a legendary status by sitting so patiently through technical meetings a month or so earlier and now wherever she went, she flirted and grinned at ballerinas and cloakroom clerks alike, suffering their Russian cooing as much as I suffered their recommendations of how I should be dressing her / wrapping her etc, delivered also in Russian (to me unintelligible) and aided by actions.
There was one very negative reaction to her presence by one of the cast who, despite cooing over her with the rest, proceeded to tell me what a bad place a Theatre and St Petersburg in general was for a baby with its dust and dirt and that I didn’t need to work, shouldn’t sit her like this, should take her for a walk etc. I think Loretta’s hackles rose more than mine at his comments as I have come across this sort of behaviour before but I developed a technique of asking breezily after his own 1-year old son whenever he asked how she was doing.
I am happy to say that I managed to keep up my milk supply (even if it meant pumping during Orchestral Rehearsals on occasions) and my team were very accommodating in lots of ways. In terms of tiredness, it was only when Loretta mentioned that she was tired on the first day or so that I remembered the sense of slight Jetlag that I used to feel coming to St Petersburg, caused not only by the time difference but also by the navigation of the maze-like Theatre with heavy equipment whilst wearing too many clothes and the constant new experiences. For me, this Jetlag had been present for the previous 6 months so I felt no change really. Even when it came to the 5am stints, I didn’t feel so very different from my usual state of perma-tired. In fact, being Juno-free during proved to be a less tiring activity than looking after her. It was only after the show had opened and the adrenaline had ebbed that I really felt the fatigue.
For the premiere itself, we had to get a Russian babysitter in at which point I simply had to put my Mum brain aside, knowing that she would have a good old sob, and just get on with opening the show. I knew it would only be one more day until I was back with her, giving her my full attention after all and that in the grand scheme of things, she wouldn’t remember or be damaged by this one night. And it felt great to be back ‘with’ her the following day.
I stil have some recovering to do and can’t take my usual couple of days to sleep and mong around to get over my show lag so it will take a bit longer but everything does with a little one one tow! So, a bank holiday weekend off then time to settle her in at the new nursery and for me to start work on the next show!