The other night, after dinner, my husband and I decided to play music for the fetus. We picked out a few of our favorite records, hooked a pair of studio monitor headphones into the record player, and began our baby’s musical education.
I’m the music teacher of my rural Maine island’s tiny k-12 public school and my husband and I are both musicians. We have a recording studio in our house, and spend all day surrounded by music, from beginner band to my husband unwinding with his nylon string guitar. I’m sure some of that filters through the amniotic sac and impacts the baby’s day, but we wanted to tailor a musical interlude to the baby.
I reclined on the couch and stretched the headphones across my 22-week belly. First up: Kraftwerk, Radio-Activity. We waited until the spoken introduction–a little ominous, I felt, was over and switched the audio into the headphones. The baby was quiet and still until the bass synth kicked in. She kicked, too, nailing the right headphone dead on.
“She likes it!” I was delighted that a 22-week-old fetus could have such impeccable taste in music. We listened to the rest of the song, and each time the low keyboard appeared, she became active.
“What should we put on next?” asked my husband. I chose the B-52s self-titled album, mostly for the song “Planet Claire.” Claire is pretty high on the baby names list. The baby was quiet again through the high-pitched introduction, but as soon as the organ and voices moved into the mid-range she started up again, wham wham wham, against the right headphone. We listened to the whole album A-side, all the way through Rock Lobster. Her responses were consistent, as was my husband’s and my excitement every time she kicked.
When people ask me how the pregnancy is going, I tell them how the baby is asserting herself as an individual, with precociously good taste.
“She likes curry, chocolate, and the sound of the farfisa organ,” I like to say. “She loves the B-52s!”
I’m sure I’m not the first mother to ascribe meaning to their baby’s in utero kicks and spins. But I’m also aware that I’m assigning her responses meanings that please me, and make her similar to me. I also like curry, chocolate, and the sound of the farfisa organ. And the B-52s. If she were kicking during the chorus of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” a favorite of my students, would I interpret her movement the same way? Or what if she became active when I smelled bacon?
So not kosher, for so many reasons.
This little girl is going to grow up to be whoever she’s going to be. She may go through a princess phase, no matter how badly I want her not to. She may want to hang up a poster of teen idols; she may want to build robots. Or both at the same time. She might be a picky eater. Maybe she’ll identify really strongly with her Ashkenazi roots, or perhaps she’ll see herself as Guatemalan. Or an islander first and foremost. Perhaps she’ll spend her teen years hunting, fishing, and riding four-wheelers with her buddies. Or she’ll start a punk band. Or become a serious pianist.
None of these possible futures are dependent upon her reaction to my favorite albums, broadcast to her through my stomach. And if I decide that her kicks mean something, I just have to not be disappointed when her opinions change as she exists separately from me.
For now though, it’s fun to share our favorite albums with our little girl and see what makes her kick, whether it’s because those are the frequencies that make it through the layers of skin, muscle, fat, and amniotic fluid, or because she does in fact have impeccable taste.
Maybe next we’ll see how she likes Devo.