‘Ro Ro! Ro Ro!’ This is what I hear day in day out about ten times a day. When my daughter wants me to sing Row row row your boat there is no saying no. She will scream this phrase over and over until I oblige by taking her hands and pulling her backwards and forwards whilst singing this scintillating nursery rhyme. When you’ve got a sore throat and a looming concert that’s the last thing you want to do. Don’t speak or sing said the doctor. Fat chance, I thought.
Whilst I was pregnant I had a few offers of work for after the baby was born. There was one engagement which was 6 weeks after the birth. At the time I was unsure whether to accept it or not. So I asked around other singing mums for their advice. ‘ I felt as strong as an ox’ one singer said. She started performing hard core repertoire very soon after giving birth. So I thought why not? I’ve always been a reliable singer with a good solid technique to back me up. Sure I’ll be tired, I thought, but I’ll get my mum to do the night shift the night before the concert and Bob’s your uncle.
How wrong could I have been? I’d been sleeping for no longer than 3 hours at a time for just over 6 weeks. Plus the horror of the longest most traumatic labour known to man. How on earth could I catch up such sleep deprivation in one night? I’d learnt the repertoire when I was doing nothing and pregnant. I knew the dots. I knew I could sing it. (Apart from my irrational fear that if I sang too loudly when I was pregnant I would scare her.) A week before the gig I sang a little bit to check that my voice was still there and that I hadn’t screamed it away during the labour.
The day arrived and my 6 week old baby was being looked after outside the rehearsal room by my mum. She was generally screaming at the top of her lungs the whole time and as a consequence my breasts were ready to explode with milk. However, the rehearsal went well. I was feeling good. It took about three hours. The soprano part was extensive and it was a demanding sing but I sounded on the ball and I was happy. We had two hours before the concert and to my horror I just knew that my singing voice had gone. Five minutes before the concert and I was wondering at what stage do I announce that I think I may be incapable of delivering the goods. My first entry came and I sounded like a horse.
My body just said no. No more energy. Nothing. That’s your lot. Goodnight. My brain was frantically trying to muster something up but it was hopeless. The next three days were spent feeling totally depressed. I couldn’t do it anymore. Will I ever have the stamina again?
My voice did return and I actually came back with a depth and a warmth that I hadn’t experienced before I became a mother. However, before every performance I now relive that horrific memory and live in fear of it happening again. It hasn’t but it’s made me very aware of my limitations and treating my instrument with respect and care.