To have a voice or not to have a voice. That is not a choice one is usually given. From the moment an infant enters the world, it bellows out its feelings. That first cry may be quiet or loud, but it is always rejoiced over. That first vocalization is a sign that all is well with the newborn and is usually greeted with smiles and tears from the listening parents.
But what if, for some reason, there is no voice to be heard? The child is well, but quiet. No sound can be elicited. Certainly, there would be a great deal of concern in that delivery room, and the baby’s well-being would be investigated in all ways.
Now, what if one day, a person’s voice was to disappear? This happens, and has a variety of causes, all very concerning. It can be caused by dysfunction of the vocal cords and musculature. It can be caused by severely affected breath support for speech. It can be due to a neurological condition, whether in the brain itself or in the cranial nerves that innervate the laryngeal area. It can even be due to a psychological condition, termed selective mutism. No matter the cause, the lack of the ability to vocalize compromises a person’s ability to communicate with the majority of people in their world. It sets them apart and limits their interaction opportunities.
In this story, we see a mother faced with a difficult choice. Clearly, she was blessed with a beautiful voice as her gift from nature and have enjoyed it and used her skills to please others. She has not simply had a voice, but a beautiful singing voice, melodic and lovely. Surely her speaking voice is pleasant as well. While Akelen has always appreciated her voice, when faced with the potential permanent loss of any vocal ability, she begins to realize the depth of the meaning of her voice. Speech, yes. Communication with family and friends, of course. Her enjoyment of singing, most certainly.
But the alternative is that her child will never have a voice, not even a little bit, from birth to death. How would a child go through life, without the ability to speak? With a soundless cry? Forever set apart.
This is a situation that some people face, whether in the extreme of no voice at all, or simply a disordered vocal ability. A neurological insult can result in spasmodic dysphonia, a condition in which the vocal cords contract irregularly and spasmodically, resulting in a range from aphonia – no voice when the vocal cords are completely open, to a very strained, raspy voice caused by the vocal cords being clamped tightly together uncontrollably. In typical function, the movement of the vocal cords is precise and smooth, allowing ease of onset of voicing when the speaker wants to produce sound, and precise control through complex conversation. With spasmodic dysphonia, the voice is unpredictable, difficult or impossible to control, and at times the speaker is rendered completely voiceless for extended periods of time. With the variation and unpredictable nature of this disorder, most sufferers also find a significant amount of social difficulty as well.
The opportunity to choose whether or not to have a voice, for oneself or one’s child would be heartrending given the extensive impact the voice has on everyday life.