By Jill Arnold
With a play turning five years old, a brand-new storyline and a mission to put pregnant mothers center-stage through the use of the arts, Karen Brody is ready to celebrate in New York this Labor Day. Brody stopped by for an interview to tell us more.
Tell us about Karen Brody.
I’m a mom of two boys, 10 and 12. From a very early age I believed people’s stories mattered. I grew up in New York City and would go with a friend to the dock along the Hudson River and interview people coming off their houseboats, asking them about their life. By the time I got to college all I wanted to do was go into the Peace Corps, hear people’s stories, write about them, and help them to improve their lives.
I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize in 1988 living in a Mayan village near Punta Gorda with no electricity and running water helping Mayan Indian women. I loved it. But what I loved the most was working with women every day, hearing their stories, and helping them organize how they could lead their best life… from dealing with health issues, income needs, and violence issues.
I was immediately hooked as a community organizer and after the Peace Corps worked on a fair-trade project working with Guatemalan weavers and then went to get my masters degree in Women and International Development at the Institute of Social Studies in The Netherlands. I worked as a community organizer in the United States for a while in low income areas and then went off to Kenya and compiled a book on AIDS. I was always particularly hooked by women’s stories, their resilience and their humor. I loved sisterhood. So I began to write stories about them and to write about mind/body health issues in magazines and a couple of books.
After I got married and then got pregnant I instinctively knew I wanted to have a home birth. People often ask my why and all I can say is that at the time I was very tuned into my body and authentic voice and both told me clearly to have a home birth. My births were beautiful, tough, and powerful. They were filled with sisterhood big-time and they helped to build a confidence in myself that I still haven’t found words for. Mystery is the closest I can find. I found the mystery of me. The nothingness of Being. Does that make sense? It does to me! It’s that place that hurts and doesn’t hurt at the same time; the place you want to run to and run from. It’s the tension of the opposites. To hold that feels like a mystery.
After having my babies I heard so many bad birth stories from educated, low-risk mothers in the playground. I listened deeply to their stories and this deep listening moved me to action. I kept thinking to myself, what if these mothers’ stories are never told? What if the current birth crisis I was hearing in their voices and seeing in the rising c-section rates and other statistics was going to go unrecorded? I was moved to record these stories to honor all mothers and their birth experiences and show what birth is and what it can be for mothers, especially those that are low-risk.
So I wrote BIRTH in 2005 and started the BOLD movement on Labor Day weekend 2006. I love the idea of using theatre to create social change. To me, the only reason I write it to raise consciousness and inspire people to action.
How did your own births affect your writing?
As I mentioned, I had 2 home births. They were both different. One was a long labor, I pushed for 2 hours and thought it would never end. The other was much shorter, but much more painful….back labor….that kind of curse until you give birth labor! You know what really affected me the most? The fact that the entire time both situations felt normal. There were no alarmed looks or negative comments made. I felt totally supported and informed. I want this for every mother. I wrote the play because that “birth is normal” mentality is not accepted by so many. “Birth as entertainment” (a joke) - that’s famliar! “Birth as an illness” - yep, that too! But birth as normal? I thought if I showed childbirth today and enough pregnant mothers and other birth stakeholders saw it then they would see everything birth is and isn’t and they would begin to imagine a world where we treated birth as normal. And by normal, by the way, I don’t mean every low risk mother must choose to have natural birth or a home birth. I mean they would not run to interventions thinking that’s normal birth, they would make birth choices more consciously.
What do you hope to accomplish globally via your efforts?
My goal is to put pregnant mothers center-stage. To listen to mothers voices when it comes to the problems and solutions to maternity care. All mothers count, their voices count, and when we listen to mothers we can make maternity care what it needs to be. I want to mobilize people to support pregnant mothers, celebrate their intuition, get them the safe care in the developing world that they need, and to honor them in this moment in their life. Not just their baby. We’ve got to put the pregnant mom center stage.
The biggest comment I get after the play from people is that they are going to go straight home and ask every mother they know about their birth story. And this time, instead of just saying “How’s the baby?” they’re going to ask, “How are YOU?” This is what I’d like to accomplish too!
Tell us about the event in New York.
BOLD is turning five! Five years ago on Labor Day weekend I put out a call to communities to take the play BIRTH and raise money and awareness using my play BIRTH. That weekend became the BOLD movement. Five years later BOLD has raised nearly $1 million for groups and organizations dedicated to making maternity care mother-friendly. In some communities we’ve raised awareness about a birth center that closed and that community got it reopened, in other communities they’ve started a birth network after the play. This September on the 5th we’re celebrating all of that and saying Happy Birthday to BOLD for 5 BOLD years of putting pregnant mothers center stage. We’ll be doing a reading of the play BIRTH in New York City on September 5, from the brand-new Museum of Motherhood. And even BOLDer, we’ll be webcasting the play around the world for anyone to watch for free. The webcast will be live on September 5 at 7pm ET and then re-aired 10 more times on September 17 and 24!
And even more exciting we’re encouraging people to raise money for a birth network or any birth-related cause by organizing a webcast viewing party in their community! People can find out more here.
We’re giving out a BOLD5 Award to 5 people or organizations who have used the arts to improve maternity care. And we’re honoring Ina May Gaskin for her life’s work and a very BOLD practice of obstetricians in New York City for their mother-friendly approach to maternity care. It’s going to be a great night! And it’ll be Tweeted live throughout the show! People can register for the webcast or get a ticket to attend here. To get live Tweets from the show they can follow me at @boldkaren.
I also want to mention that for BOLD’s 5th anniversary I’ve changed the script and added a VBAC story! I can’t wait for people to see it because I think it shows the road to a VBAC mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. All four areas of our selves that we must travel to change an unhappy birth experience into a more empowering birth. The character Sandy travels this path and really shows how a mother can go from fear to freedom in childbirth. I also hope it educates many to know that just because you had a c-section doesn’t mean you must have another. If you’re a mom who had a VBAC, wants a VBAC or a birth worker I really encourage you to sign up for the free webcast to see this story or organize a showing in your community.