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"I Didn't Believe The Story That We Were Broken"

As part of our 2022 Season, we wanted to devote significant time exploring ideas for new plays. Our 2nd Exploratory Lab was focused on the history of doulas and midwives in the Black community.

First, here are some definitions:

Definition of doula: Doulas are non-medical professionals trained to give physical and emotional support in childbirth. Doulas offer constant, uninterrupted attention and encouragement to the birthing person.

(source: Black Mamas Matter)

Definition of midwives: The midwife is recognized as a responsible and accountable professional who works in partnership with women to give the necessary support, care and advice during pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period, to conduct births on the midwife’s own responsibility and to provide care for the newborn and the infant.

(source: The International Confederation of Midwives)

We came together as a group of ten artists, including two doulas. Though we met remotely on Zoom, we were able to delve into a really nuanced and in-depth conversation. We discussed pregnancy, birthing and the health outcomes facing pregnant people, especially women of color, which are so often negative. Many people expressed having or feeling fear around pregnancy and birthing, stemming from a lack of candid conversation around it. We also named a tension between generational knowledge - which is often stored with practitioners like doulas and the tradition of midwifery - and medical establishment. Too often they can seem to be operating at odds with each other.

There is a power in generational wisdom that we feel eager to reclaim.

Two take-aways that artists shared are really staying with me:

  • How do we hold the wisdom to birth the way we want to, and to use medicine without it being co-opted?

  • What could this reclamation of this knowledge look like?

We took this conversation and used it to inform a beautiful in-person rehearsal session. We also brought photographs and stories of Black “Granny” midwives into the rehearsal room.

Using a creative tool called The Red Square, developed by Barbara Dilley. The exercise asks participants to create images within a square created by a red string. There are objects - called allies - lined up on the perimeter of the square: a cup of water, a bundle of sticks, a small stool, a piece of fabric.

I am brought back to a quote by Jessica Roach, doula, that we found in our research and used during this exploration:

"I didn't believe the story... that we were broken."

The mere act of calling forth these images, interacting with these artifacts with the goal of calling forth an obscured history and ancient knowledge was incredibly powerful. The continuing work of resurrecting these stories will be an extremely meaningful creative process.

Here are some images from our session:

We will continue building on this work in Spring 2023. We hope you'll follow along on our journey.

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