by Lisa A. Neilsen
My grandmother tells me of my mother’s birth, how the nurse forgot to teach her, an opera singer, how to breathe. She says the labor lasted three days, because with each contraction she held her breath and prayed she wouldn’t scream. Finally, they pulled my mother out. Now my grandmother says she understands giving birth is the same as singing opera. When the pain starts, you breathe deep, low, the way you sing a middle C. Round, open breaths. You take the pressure from inside you, pull it up till it vibrates in your vocal cords, let it rush from your mouth the way Italian adds agony to the love scene. You keep the sound moving to the final moment when you hear the doctor saying “Now. Now. Here is the baby.” Then you open your lungs, push your breath across a straight plane of sound that moves higher to the highest A. You roll your into a fast trill until, on the decrescendo, your voice fades into the newborn’s cry.