Karen Brody, brilliant playwright, birth activist and mother of two, gives us a glimpse into her stirring play, birth movement and ‘My Body Rocks Project’ in this week’s blog. We’re excited to present her empowering voice and ventures that are undoubtedly making an impact.
MA: Your journey began with the play, ‘Birth,’ evolved to the BOLD movement, and has led to The My Body Rocks Project. Can you tell me a little bit about each, and how they evolved from one to the other?
KB: I became a mother in 1999, with my first son, Jacob. I had been a writer for the last 10 years, and when I was pregnant with him, I was going to take a break from it. My next project was going to be my son. I had a very profound birth experience with midwives in Little Rock, Ark. — it was a home birth, and it went very well. I was in tune to, and very much in power with my body, and had a lot of clarity about what I wanted. I didn’t know anything about the politics, what the birth culture was, or that women were going into the hospital with their eyes halfway or completely closed, until I sat on the playground with my son. Moms would tell me their birth stories, and I was horrified about how many (educated) women were having bad birth experiences.
I began to interview women about their birth experiences, and thought I’d write a book about it, or at least a magazine article. I was very close to writing a magazine article about it, when the editor told me that her senior editor has stopped the article because he said, “We’ve done childbirth,” which seemed completely inaccurate to me. So, I decided that I was going to write about it definitely, then I just started feeling it as a play. A book wasn’t going to have the impact I wanted, and I wanted to put women’s voices front and center — the experts and statistics were there, but what wasn’t were women. I wanted to put mothers’ voices center-stage.
I wrote the play, ‘Birth’ from the interviews, and it had a really positive response, but not only from the birth community — I realized it was a movement. The stories were really so poignant. Storytelling is such a powerful medium — the impact stays with the audience. I wanted people to go in with one frame of mind, and come out thinking more deeply about birth.
I put ‘Birth’ out in 2006 on Labor Day weekend, for whatever community wanted to produce it. Some 20-odd locations produced multiple shows over the 4-day weekend — it was all over the world, from India to Bozeman, Mont. to Seattle. My goal was to raise awareness and money for maternal care, and BOLD (Birth on Labor Day) has brought in more than $250,000. Everyday, it astounds me how many people are using the play to rally their local community to raise awareness, and to hear mothers’ voices. The power women have in a good birth experience is a moment in the life that they can take, and a make into a forever power center within.
This is where The My Body Rocks Project comes in. I want to help women feel their personal power — in their own lives, in their families, in their communities, and of course, in the world. I help women get to that place through movement, performance and storytelling, and yoga nidra, an ancient yogic sleep technique that’s really a guided meditation as you sleep. The My Body Rocks Project comes from a character in ‘Birth,’ Amanda, who knew she was in power and that her body rocked as she gave birth. She kept chanting, “My body rocks.” When you know your body rocks, your authentic voice shines. You know your options and keep your eyes wide open.
MA: You interviewed more than 100 women to collect stories for your play, ‘Birth.’ What did you learn from those women that surprised or motivated you?
KB: Well, I think I learned a lot. There was a lot more coercion of pregnant and birthing women than I had suspected, and it was very subtle. Many of these women interpreted something a professional said in a negative way — whether it was meant that way or not — and it heavily influenced the women in their birth experiences. I learned that words matter — what we say when a woman is giving birth can influence a woman so much. I also learned that it’s important to keep a birth space intimate and positive, and affirm that a woman can do it. The women who brought that into their birth rooms could achieve what they wanted to achieve. They set the intention, which made it possible.
I also found it so beautiful to hear women talk about how transformative a good birth experience was — until then, I don’t think I had really analyzed my own birth experience much. I knew it was great, but hadn’t thought about how transformational it was. For a woman to have the birth she wanted was transformational and very important.
MA: Why is it important to empower women to share their birth stories?
KB: Well, I think it’s critical that others share their birth stories for a couple of reasons. One is sisterhood. Certainly all mothers are different, but we are all mothers, and if we don’t connect on this level of being mothers, it’s very lonely — we need the sisterhood. Also, to have your birth story witnessed is so profound. I’m finding it so much in the BOLD Red Tents, and then in The My Body Rocks Project workshops. Women thank each other so much for listening to their stories. They need a place, especially because we have such a high percentage of women who experience birth trauma. We need to have a safe place for women to tell their birth stories, so they feel witnessed and honored.
MA: How does The My Body Rocks Project prepare women for birth, both physically and emotionally?
KB: Well, we’re not a childbirth education organization, although I do think it’s a form childbirth of education. We don’t do kegels, but certainly do a lot of movement to prepare for good births. We also help women prepare spiritually and emotionally by ‘walking through birth baggage.’ A character in ‘Birth,’ Jillian walked through her birth baggage, and got to a place where she was in power at the end of the play. That’s what I’m trying to get women to do before they have a baby for the first time, or if they had an experience that wasn’t what they wanted it to be the first time. We need to be empowered to know who (and what) we want at our birth, who (and what) we don’t want, and to know the truth of our body, voice and actions. That’s the mantra of the project — we experience it in the body, give it a voice through storytelling — whatever comes out, a word, a dance — then we commit to an action by the end of the session. It really is magic, because when a woman does the work, she has an opportunity to really be in her power, in a way that is so different than where she was at before.
MA: How have your two births inspired your activism?
KB: I think it was good to have more than one birth, because I said, “This is how I give birth,” then I had another birth and said, “That’s not how I do it at all!” My first birth had a very long pushing period — just over two hours — and my son did swallow meconium, so there was some concern. My other labor was very short, but much more painful. I had horrible back pain, but he came out in about eight minutes when I actually went to push. I experienced a really different pushing stage — I was in a different place.
These two experiences made me feel very connected to women — to mothers in particular — and made me realize how miraculous this moment is, how important it is to believe birth is normal, that women should always be respected when giving birth, and that we must, we must, we must know that our bodies rock. When these things happen, women can have a pleasurable birth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a world of women giving birth in pleasure?
Karen Brody is a writer, activist and mother of two boys. Her critically-acclaimed play about childbirth in America, ‘Birth,’ and BOLD Red Tent storytelling circles are seen by thousands of people worldwide every year as part of BOLD, an arts-based global movement raising awareness and money to improve maternity care for mothers. Brody is the founder and Artistic Director of BOLD. In 2010, Brody founded The My Body Rocks Project, with the mission to help mothers connect with their bodies, voices, and then take action. She teaches workshops around the world and has a private guided meditation practice, focused on helping mothers. Karen can be contacted at: Karen@mybodyrocksproject.com.
We would love to start a community dialogue that empowers women to embrace their bodies, so please share with us: How does your body rock?