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My Body Rocks: A Playwright, Mother and Activist Discovers Her Power - From Sankalpa to Play

Author // Karen Brody

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My Body Rocks: A Playwright, Mother and Activist Discovers Her Power
From Sankalpa to Play
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From Sankalpa to Play

The first time the symphony of mothers’ voices emerged, I was driving my boys to a park. Raffi was playing in the car’s CD player, and an argument about a blue ball was brewing between them. Suddenly, I applied the brakes and screeched to a halt. Both boys went silent, waiting for my scolding. Instead, I pulled out a napkin from the glove compartment and started writing down dialogue. For the next five minutes, I wrote on every napkin in the car.

“Are we going to go to the park, Mommy?” Jacob asked.

Feeling guilty, I quickly wrote one word on my hand: play. Then I drove them to the park.

Play? I had never written a play, never thought about writing a play. I could not imagine, with two small children and a husband who traveled overseas all the time, how I could ever write a play. Sure, I was a writer— I could see writing a book about childbirth—but plays were definitely not my genre.

Back in yoga nidra class, I continued to focus on my sankalpa. By the end of the practice one day, again feeling open, my body lying there like a limitless blue ocean, serene as a morning mountain mist, this sense— not in my mind but in my body—came to me: Nobody’s going to buy your book, Karen. Write a play about childbirth and change the world.

The next morning, as I walked my kids to a nearby park, I asked a neighbor, who wrote grants for a local prominent theater company, where to go if I wanted to write a play.

“The Playwright’s Forum,” Gary responded. I went to playwrightsforum.org and signed up immediately.

The voices of the mothers I interviewed now flooded my head every day, and especially just after I practiced yoga nidra. I remember a session with Robin in which she had us dive into awareness of our thoughts and images, and I had explored my belief that I could not write a play because I was not qualified. She invited us to “locate a belief about yourself that you are working with in your life. Where and how do you feel it in your body when you take this belief to be true about yourself?”

I felt the belief that I could not write a play deep in my throat.

“Now bring to mind the opposite of this belief,” she suggested. “Where and how do you feel it in the body?” I felt I can write a play in my heart.

“Alternate several times between these two opposites of belief.”

I cannot write a play. I can write a play. I cannot write a play, I can write a play.

Like magic, I entered that scrumptious feeling of emptiness again. I was totally open, a boundless ocean, my beliefs morphing into a completely unexpected place where my thoughts were unchained and neither belief was true.

That evening, mental handcuffs now off, I went to my computer and began to write a play about childbirth.


Birth of a Play

Over the next six months I wrote Birth, a play about how healthy, educated mothers were giving birth in America. I wanted to present a portrait of real birth stories from the mother’s perspective because there were so many statistics on childbirth that showed cesareans were rising rapidly, for example, but few stories from mothers. My intention in writing Birth was to make sure this period in history did not go by without clear documentation on how mothers are giving birth and to raise awareness about the current birthing climate so mothers know their birth options. It seemed unbelievable to me that so many important plays have been written on women’s history and the politics of women’s bodies, like Eve Ensler’s The Vaginia Monologues, but no serious plays existed on childbirth, an act that an average of 4 million mothers in the United States participate in every year.

I chose eight birth stories from my interviews of mothers and fictionalized some stories to make the piece work as a play, but I primarily wrote the exact birth story of each woman. The stories in the play range from a planned cesarean, to a mother who wants natural childbirth, to several mothers who want epidurals. Jillian, a character who tells all four of her births in the play, starts off with a birth she did not want and ends with exactly the birth she always wanted. Showing the audience how she got there—that one bad birth experience does not have to define your entire birth history—is what I love about her story and the message I want every pregnant mother to take home. I think the message in the play of the importance of knowing your birth options and rights is why since 2006 so many communities around the world have been using the play as a theaterfor- social-change piece to raise awareness and money to make maternity care better for mothers. Similar to V-Day’s mission, Birth is being used to revolutionize the way communities view childbirth and respect women’s pregnant bodies.

Every week while I wrote my play, I attended Robin’s noon yoga nidra class, moving from a mommy busyness in which, some days, I felt completely out of my body, to a yummy state of bodily presence I had never been able to sustain before. I wrote while the boys napped, and in the evenings I workshopped my play in a church basement with a group of playwrights from The Playwright’s Forum who, though completely dumbfounded by the topic of childbirth, often refusing to believe the scenes I wrote of mothers’ firsthand accounts of being coerced into having cesareans, began to profoundly hear the voices of the women I was writing about, and to cheer them and me on to completion.

On tougher parenting days—for example, when the entire family came down with flu and high fevers while my husband was away on business—my sankalpa anchored me.

Write a play and change the world of childbirth, Karen.

The play had its first reading on a frigid evening in December 2004, in a small rehearsal hall on the campus of George Washington University. The purpose of a first reading is to get feedback on your play. With this in mind, I printed fifty invitations and posted them around Washington, D.C., at mother-related organizations and yoga studios. I hoped to see 20 people in the audience. To my surprise, the place was filled with more than 70 mothers, many with babies in slings. A mystery was unfolding, and I soon realized that not even I was in control of its power.

Eighteen months later I started Birth On Labor Day (BOLD), a global movement to inspire communities to use my play, Birth, and BOLD Red Tent birth storytelling circles, to raise awareness and money to improve maternity care. Our slogan was “Be BOLD”—a shout-out to mothers everywhere on the importance of knowing all their birth options, not just the traditional hospital choice. In addition, I created a School for Birth Visionaries, which includes a certification program for birth workers teaching pregnant mothers empowerment tools like yoga nidra to help them connect with their bodies, find their authentic voice, and take action to have their best birth.

These days my passion for yoga nidra has developed even further. In 2010 I got trained as an Integrative Restoration (iRest) yoga nidra instructor. I am now what I like to call a Nap Activist, showing women and especially busy, overwhelmed mothers how to use yoga nidra to live a conscious, vibrant, sexy life that matters.

My yoga nidra practice led me into my body to my true self, and out popped a play, a movement and a mission. Not bad for an expensive nap.


Pathways Issue 35 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #35.

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