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Sarah Power
The Funny Life Of An Opera Singer
28th May 2017 - A mother and a singer

Hello again! In my last blog I promised to tell you a little bit about what it’s like to sing whilst pregnant. I’ve been surprised by the number of people who’ve asked me how it feels. People are curious about breathing, support and posture, hormones and how they affect the voice, if and how the voice changes and how distracting it might be to sing with a little person kicking you from the inside.

Well, I only have my own experience to go on, although I’m now a member of a fascinating Facebook group for professional singers who’ve had children and I’m gaining a bit of insight.

The breathing is a bit of a challenge and of course it gets harder as time goes by. The diaphragm moves higher and higher along with the lungs and other organs and it starts becoming necessary to lean down on the baby to get the proper breath support. This can result in a few surprised wriggles! The lungs can’t take in as much air as usual and other breathing muscles such as the lateral obliques (roughly located near your hip bones) eventually disappear altogether. You can also experience quite a lot of pain in your ribs and intercostal muscles which makes deep breathing a slightly less appealing prospect.  

I felt quite breathless and light-headed in the earlier months of pregnancy and not only had to practice sitting down but sometimes had to lie down completely to sing. It’s not really something I would recommend but when it’s a choice between that and not doing any practice at all it sometimes has to be done.

Increasing weight and back pain leads to less than ideal posture. My singing teacher recommended that I clasp my hands together behind my back, bringing my shoulder blades together and pulling them down slightly so that I was standing up straight. I also had to use my yoga techniques and imagine there was a piece of string attached to the top of my head pulling me up straight.

Pregnancy hormones did have a certain effect on my voice. As time went on I found the very high, delicate notes more and more challenging while my middle and lower notes were becoming richer. So there were pros and cons. It’s very probable that I’ll retain that richness in my lower voice after the baby comes along and that makes me very happy. I’ve been working to add more richness to my sound so I won’t complain if I get some of it for free.

It may take me a while to fully regain control of my very high notes, although some of my singer friends say it didn’t take them long and they were back singing roles such as the ultra-high Queen of the Night not long after giving birth.

Around about 18-20 weeks into pregnancy the baby starts to hear things and that’s when they start to react to music and your singing. My baby gets very excited when he / she hears a choir or orchestra, especially when I’m standing right in the middle of it all and singing along. Some of the pieces I’ve sung recently seem to have made a big impression, most notably the dramatic Rossini Stabat Mater. I have a feeling that the baby will remember this piece after he / she is born and it might even prove soothing for them – here’s hoping!

And what of the future, of trying to be both a mother and a self-employed singer? I don’t think it will be easy – I doubt it’s easy for anyone, and in particular I think it’s a big challenge for freelance, self-employed people who need to be very flexible, to travel a lot, to stay away from home for long periods of time and to change their plans at the drop of a hat. Freelancers have no benefits, no maternity or sick pay, often no savings, difficulty in securing a mortgage, discrimination when it comes to insurance and uncertainty about what we are going to be doing beyond a certain point. This can leave us anxious, worried about money and feeling the pressure.

Although I love the traveling part of my job it’ll be less practical with a child, and it’ll also be harder for me to agree to contracts that last 2-3 months and require me to be away from home for that length of time.

It’s also harder to be flexible and to change your plans at very short notice when you have a child, and yet this is a big part of a singer’s life. I wish I could say that companies are understanding and flexible and make allowances for your change in circumstances but, with so many amazing singers out there to choose from, they don’t really need to be.

So what can be done? I don’t have all the answers so I can only try to go by what friends and colleagues say. Firstly, be prepared to have a portfolio career. This means teaching, conducting, examining, adjudicating, coaching as well as singing. Some singers even take on flexible, part-time work in other areas outside of the music world such as administration or the service industry.

Concerts and oratorio work are great as they usually only involve one or two days of work (excluding all of the preparation you do at home of course). I love oratorio and hope to do more and more of it in the future.

And when it comes to opera, firstly I hope to have more opportunities to perform closer to home, be that in Glasgow or Dublin, where I have family support. I know for longer contracts that colleagues often employ childminders to travel with them, or the very fortunate few have family members who will help them out in a similar manner. Many singers who are determined, focused and lucky seem to manage to do it, so I’m not going to rule it out for myself.

Only time will tell how it all works out. For now I’m just looking forward to meeting my new baby, to introducing them to all types of music and, in time, to involving them in my world of singing.

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