Midwives Take Manhattan!

Author // Lisa Reagan

Pathways, Families for Conscious Living, BOLD and Ina May Gaskin Celebrate MOM in NYC

Pathways to Family Wellness, Families for Conscious Living, BOLD and a slate of VIPs from the natural birth movement celebrated the new Museum of Motherhood, MOM, in New York City on Labor Day, September 5, 2011. Pathways’ fall issue cover by Lynsey Stone of Pathways reader Rachel Whaley seconds after giving birth was featured in MOM’s history of birth exhibit.

A sold-out audience watched a live performance of the internationally acclaimed play Birth by Karen Brody before honoring BOLD activists and presenting pioneering midwife Ina May Gaskin with a lifetime achievement award. A simultaneous webcast of the play was viewed in 12 countries.

Positioned alongside New York City’s Museum Mile, MOM is the first museum of its kind. MOM’s vision is to be a “social change museum focused on amplifying the voices and experiences of mothers, while connecting the cultural family.”

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“I founded MOM out of love and because it needed to be done,” says Joy Rose, MOM’s executive director. “The vision includes a fully empowered, financially abundant facility that serves the local and global community to study, educate and disseminate everything mother.”

Rose is president and founder of Mamapalooza Inc., a multimedia company that is “establishing a new art form that speaks to the unique and collective perspective of women who are mothers, while sharing this with the world.” In 2009, Rose was presented with the Susan B. Anthony Award by the National Organization of Women (NOW) in recognition of her grassroots activism.

Rose sees the museum as a center for more than interactive and imaginative exhibits; the expansive and welcoming space has already hosted support group gatherings, musical events, local mother and child groups, conferences for presenting academic papers, and the Labor Day celebration with the performance of Birth.

In her endorsement of the play, Christiane Northrup, M.D., has said, “The Vagina Monologues has helped free vaginas the world over—as well as their owners. Now it’s time to do the same for the birth canal—and pregnant women everywhere. And that is the power and glory contained in this magnificent, funny, and wonderfully wise play.”

Birth is a testimonies play by playwright Karen Brody based on more than one hundred interviews with mothers. The play tells the birth stories of seven women, offering a range of perspectives on how educated, middle-class, low-risk women give birth. The success of the play led to the creation of BOLD, for Birth On Labor Day, a global movement to make maternity care mother-friendly by inspiring communities to organize productions of the play. The play has raised nearly 1 million dollars for birth awareness.

Ina May Gaskin accepts a lifetime achievement award from playwright Karen Brody of BOLD.

Brody says she was inspired to write Birth after listening to mothers share their birth stories on playgrounds. “I had both of my boys at home. People ask me if I had traumatic birth experiences, but I did not. But I heard so many women on the playground telling sad stories of their hospital birth experiences and I thought, How can this be true?

“And then I attended a blessing way for a pregnant mother, and one of the older family members told her birth story for the first time. She had never told anyone what she went through giving birth in the ’50s,” says Brody. “I was shocked about the torture of pregnant women in the ’50s and how none of those stories had been recorded. Many of those women were going to die with their birth stories untold. It made me think about the skyrocketing C-section rate today, and what if nobody knows? What if there are women living with their PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] for years and nobody knows? On the other hand, what if nobody knows about the joy they experienced? I didn’t want this birth crisis that we were in then, and we’re still in now, to not be recorded. I thought about writing a book, but I wrote a play.”

Since 2005, Birth has been performed in a wide variety of settings, from a riverboat on the Seine in Paris to a women’s correctional institute near Seattle, Washington. The play has been performed in hospitals and taught as part of the University of Florida at Gainesville’s human sexuality class. “I got to interact with the students after this performance,” says Brody. “Rae Davies, the former executive director of the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services [CIMS] went to talk with them afterward, as the students had so many questions the talk was continued through the next session.

“The play brings up so many emotions for students, and all people—that women could be treated this way and that it borders on human rights abuse,” says Brody. “But they also have a hard time believing that birth could be beautiful. So it is either a joke or a 911 incident. The play shatters so many perceptions. Sometimes they get mad, but some of the audience members say, ‘Thank you, I know my body rocks.’ Some people say, ‘You’re lying. I can’t believe this. I was frightened by the stories.’ This is why all of the plays are required to have post-show discussions with the audience afterward, because you cannot give these people these issues and then not give them an opportunity to talk about them.

Joy Rose, president and founder of Mamapalooza Inc. and founder of the Museum of Motherhood in New York City.

“It is a hard topic, but someone has to write it down,” says Brody. “That is what I felt about this play. What if nobody knows these things? What if pregnant women don’t know? If you don’t know, you can’t change anything.”

The performance of Birth at MOM was especially passionate and moving, as its actors were mostly birth educators, midwives and doulas. Anna Holder, who played the character Lisa, is a natural family planning counselor, childbirth educator and lactation consultant. “I was drawn to Birth for the same reason I was called to educate and counsel women,” says Holder. “So many women would share their stories or listen to my own and say ‘I didn’t know [blank],’ and the stories of confusion, mistreatment and sometimes outright deception were overwhelming. I am a crusader for truly informed consent and empowerment.”

Recognized in an awards ceremony after the play were a number of VIP birth activists: Theresa Shaver, executive director of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood; Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, producers of the documentary The Business of Being Born; Christy Turlington of the documentary No Woman, No Cry and the Every Mother Counts campaign; Debra Pascali-Bonaro of the documentary Orgasmic Birth; and Kirsti Kreutzer and Anna Van Wagoner of the nonprofit Where’s My Midwife?

Families for Conscious Living, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has promoted conscious choice since 1996, was especially proud to be a gold sponsor of the BOLD event, as FCL produced the first theatrical production of Birth in 2005 in honor of the legalization of midwifery in Virginia. In celebration of FCL’s 15th anniversary, FCL and Pathways returned to MOM to co-sponsor a Mindful Motherhood conference on November 7, 2011. Look for photos and information from this conference, and more to come, at our Facebook page or website,

Pathways Issue 32 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #32.

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