Playtime for moms

Awash with pain, the woman raises a fist in the air and belts out her mantra: “My body rocks!”

Later, she repeats the words – in between grunts and moans and tears of agony. “My … body … rocks,” she practically whispers as the muscles of her uterus contract yet again. “My body … My body …”

“Rocks!” This time, the words of encouragement come from the women around her.

“Your body rocks,” they chant along with her. “Your body rocks!”

The scene is one of the most memorable moments of “Birth,” a play based on more than 100 interviews with mothers who gave birth between 2000 and 2004.

New York playwright Karen Brody compiled their stories into the birth experiences of eight women – experiences that include both home and hospital births, doulas and doctors, midwives and monitors, epidurals and episiotomies, pitocin and planned C-sections. The play shows how low-risk, educated women in America are giving birth while emphasizing the need to respect the choices mothers make as they bring their babies into the world.

“Birth” – which is being featured this month in dozens of communities throughout the country – will be performed in Spokane Saturday by local actresses and mothers who hope to share Brody’s message. The performance, along with the “Rent Tent” birth fair, is part of “Birth On Labor Day,” a grassroots, global movement to make maternity care mother-friendly.

“This play doesn’t say that there’s only one right way to give birth,” said Ivory Coghlan of Spokane, one of the local directors of “Birth.” “All births deserve respect and all mothers deserve that respect, too. It’s about exposing people to the culture of birth. … My hope is that people will walk away from this realizing that they have choices.”

Without judgment, the play showcases the experiences of eight women – from the stay-at-home mother of four and the no-nonsense career woman to the feminist lesbian in her 40s determined to have a doctor deliver her baby in the hospital.

Women in the United States are dying from childbirth at the highest rate in decades, the Associated Press reported last month. While the risk of death is small, experts believe the rise is due partly to increasing maternal obesity and a jump in Cesarean sections, which now account for nearly 30 percent of all births.

“Maternity care today simply isn’t mother-friendly,” Brody said in a press release. “In many communities, pregnant mothers are faced with few options that support low or no-intervention birth choices; in other communities, women feel they went with the standard medical care and were treated poorly. BOLD encourages all people attending performances to learn the truth about childbirth, understand where power lurks in their maternity care system and make informed birth choices.”

This weekend’s local BOLD event was spearheaded by two Eastern Washington mothers – Teresa Schock of Spokane and Miranda Gordon of Chewelah. Both women were profoundly affected by their own birth experiences and wanted to bring women together to discuss the issue of maternity care.

“I wanted to spread the word that there’s a range of options for women,” said Gordon, who has given birth both at home and in a hospital. “It’s not to advocate for natural childbirth or homebirth per se, but look at how women are being treated and to raise awareness at the growing number of C-sections in our industrialized nation. … Women have so much wisdom and knowledge that are innate and it’s time for us wake up and realize that this is about us and we don’t have to give control to someone else.”

About 20 women from the area are helping Gordon and Schock put the event together. Half are involved with the play, which will feature the talents of Kate Vita and other local performers. Proceeds from the Spokane event and others throughout the country will benefit the Global Maternal Child Health Association and other organizations that work to improve maternity care locally and throughout the globe.

When she first read the script for “Birth,” co-director Mary Eberle broke down in tears. “Why are women treated this way?” she asked herself. Already passionate about the subjects of birth and women’s rights, the play and the BOLD movement made Eberle even more determined to share these women’s birth experiences with others in Spokane.

Although some of the stories in “Birth” are heartbreaking, others involve humor and are full of hope.

“My body rocks,” the birth mantra of Amanda, one of the characters, resonates soundly with many of the women involved with BOLD.

“So many experiences in birth and in life often happen with the support of a team,” said Coghlan, who will give birth to her second child this winter. “We don’t have to go into this alone.”

Virginia de Leon can be reached at (509) 459-5312 or virginiad@spokesman.com.

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