December 13, 2015
Ending the Silence: MotherStruck at the Culture Project
Writer and performer Staceyann Chin is no stranger to telling her stories. She blogged about her experience having a child as a single woman, lesbian, and activist for The Huffington Post, and now she has turned that experience into MotherStruck, her latest solo piece running through January 29 at the Culture Project. Directed by Cynthia Nixon and produced by Rosie O’Donnell, MotherStruck also illuminates what the process is like for single women who do not have health insurance or stable finances. Culturadar blogger Shoshana Greenberg talked to Staceyann Chin about the shame women feel when they encounter fertility obstacles, what our society can do to support women who want to be single mothers, and whether writing this piece has helped her find balance.
Culturadar: How did this project begin?
Staceyann Chin: I write about everything, and it just had a communal rhythm. When I started writing for The Huffington Post about [my experience], people starting responding, “Yes, I’m not in a partnership,” or, “I have no insurance,” or, “I don’t know if I’m going to be a good mom but I’m going to try.” It became apparent that it was more universal than I thought. When you have problems with fertility, people don’t say much about it. There’s so much shame. “If you are a good woman, you should be able to land a partner, have a baby, and be a mom.” Most people are very quiet about it when there are obstacles.
CR: Given that there is historically so much silence around women's experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood, what do you think is the value of women telling their stories?
SC: There’s a feeling of not being alone. Women become empowered when we start taking our stories out of the mouths of people who have judgement about our choices or triumphs. As I watch women talk about this with me, I feel them becoming more empowered and hopeful.
CR: As you were going through this process, did you have any people you could look to who had done this before?
SC: I had seen one or two movies about it, but there were so few stories about it. And there were no details. You have this idea that if you have a problem, you go to the doctor and they fix it. There is a gargantuan list of obstacles that you have to overcome to make this happen. I don’t think I’d seen anything like this. You hear rumors of celebrities doing it, but it’s all so secretive. A couple of friends of mine had done it, but often if you’re a woman, you don’t know what questions to ask your doctor because you don’t know what your options are. It’s one of the reasons this story is an important story. It catalogues the process and can be a resource for women who want to seek this path.
CR: What do you think our government and society can do better to support women who want to be single mothers?
SC: We have to start thinking about responsibility for our children as a communal responsibility. It has to be more like a village. Women who have children and put them into society are doing a service to the world. We have to use different language to look at the way people make families. Maternity Leave should be a real part of the conversation. Time off shouldn’t be something shameful. As I navigate my own life as a single mom, I can attest to the lack of support around you. The people I lean on the most are people who offer support to me—pick up my kid, be a part of the voices that inform who she is, be one of the people she can reach for in terms of questions and answers. If you know someone who has a kid and doesn’t have anyone, show up with diapers, or if you have $20, put it on a gift card for one of those kid stores and hand it over to her.
CR: What was your biggest fear about having a child and creating this show?
SC: I’m consistently evaluating whether I’m doing something that’s not good for my kid. Even with the living room protests that we do online, I often ask myself, are they good for her or are they bad? That’s a question you have to ask yourself at every junction. You also have to push yourself to ask, what is good for you? Sometimes it’s a compromise to what is good for both of you. You have to teach the kid that your own happiness is as important as hers. That’s when she learns that her needs are not more important than the other person’s all the time. It’s a mad dance, this weird balance that requires constant evaluation. What worked yesterday might not work today.
CR: Did anything in the writing process surprise you?
SC: I thought that maybe when I finished the piece I would find balance, but being a mom is an ongoing, constant thing. Maybe I work on some answers, and the same questions will arrive in another year or six months. The show doesn’t solve my problem. What it does is chronicle a moment in our history. Hopefully that moment is universal.
CR: As both a mother and an artist, how does one area of your life impact the other?
SC: They live in this cyclic relationship. One affects the other and it requires you to be plugged in and be aware all day long. You have to know when you have to take care of your art, your duties as a mother, and yourself as a person. It requires more of you to be conscious, to be awake, but it probably serves you better in the end.
CR: What have Cynthia Nixon and Rosie O’Donnell brought to the project?
SC: They bring their own stories to it, which makes me feel less alone, and they have a wealth of experience. Cynthia’s a great actor and now that she’s directing she sees a story laid out on the stage, and the audience gets it. Cynthia worked very closely with me in developing the story. It’s an amazing experience to walk among these giants.
CR: Having gone through the process and reflecting on it now, what is one thing you wish you had known then and could go back and tell yourself?
SC: I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. I don’t think I have regrets about any of the process. I’m grateful that I’m here and I hope whatever I’ve learned informs how I move forward.
Posted at 10:02 PM