I did this thing yesterday where I got the chance to perform as a 2016 cast member of Chicago’s Listen To Your Mother. It’s this motherhood series, movement really, where real people get the chance to tell their stories. These are not trained mom actors, rather real women (and men) that choose to stand up in front of an audience and speak their stories. Listen to Your Mother shows happen in 41 cities around the country, and are the glorious brainchild of author Ann Imig.
I worried about my piece from the second that I wrote it, sobbing in my basement office. Too ashamed, my first draft omitted much of what my final piece included about postpartum depression. I sent this first version to fellow ChicagoNow blogger and friend, Meggan who writes at Trans Girl at the Cross. She’s a LTYM alum and no stranger to traveling difficult roads. She encouraged me to write my motherhood story in the first place. Though she will tell you that she “kicked my ass into writing” she very gently supported me, making sure that I was comfortable taking my story further.
“It’s good, but I feel like you aren’t telling me something,” she said.
She was right. I couldn’t tell my whole postpartum story yet, but I went back and added the truth. I decided to talk about my explosive rage, my inability to control my emotions and my desire to kill myself. I cried when I submitted my piece, before and after my auditions, and many times in the car thinking about reading my story on stage. I promised myself not to cry during the various readings because I was stronger than what had happened to me. I made pretty good on my promise.
I read my piece in the middle of the show, in front of a room of strangers, and in front of the people that I had hidden so much from, but who had always been there for me. The three people who knew the whole truth were there too, my parents and my husband. The lights kept me from seeing their faces, but I felt them all up there with me. I imagined the beautiful faces of my boys as I let my story out.
I returned to the loving touch of every one of the cast members and producers. I was truly enveloped in loved (and there was some much needed hugging before I went on too—Sid—I’ll never forget your compassion). Each of us told our stories that day.
Motherhood never looked so strong, or so beautiful.
I was almost equally nervous about my story’s reception as I was about speaking it. I was worried I was the “buzz-kill” of the show, the let-down from the high. I worried about the stigmas attached to PPD too as I headed out into the lobby to find my friends and family. I was told that some audience members may comment that they liked your story, or thank you for presenting. I wasn’t prepared for what would be said to me. There were SO MANY gentle touches on the arm to say thank you, that I did a great job, or that they liked my story. There was more: hugs from women I’ve never met, a thank you from a therapist who said my story could help others, and a gentle whisper from an older woman who said, “You saved a life today.” And still more. Stories, stories from women who found me in the lobby or the bar. There were stories about women who endured PPD without treatment. There was a story about a sister who took her own life while suffering from postpartum depression. These stories, all of them so touching and beautiful, deserve the same voice mine was given, but many will never be spoken again because of the shame associated with them.
The moment that had one of the biggest impacts on me was a young audience member, right around my age (heyyo!) who found me near the bathroom. She looked me dead in the eyes, and just said, "Thank you.” I knew; she knew. She started crying and said, “I thought I was the only one. Thank you for telling me I wasn’t.” We held each other and I promised her that it gets better. I promised her because I’m sure. There are a million points of light in the darkness if you look for them.
I was seeing my lights yesterday. Friends, family, and other authors I respect, all told me my story was okay. And this stranger, shining bright in my memory, burst light into the darkness. She will always be a light for me.
I thrust my story out of the dark, not fully sure what I was doing. I knew, despite my self-doubt, that it needed to be told. I’m no more brave than any woman who’s spoken up before. It takes the same courage to speak your truth to your partner, family or therapist, as it did to say it onstage. I’m just lucky that Melisa and Tracey (the LTYM Chicago producers) believed that I could tell my story, and that they let me have the microphone for just a few minutes to do so.
Thank you to all my family, friends, fellow Stable Mable Sarah, castmates, producers, LTYM mama Meggan, fellow bloggers, and LTYM alum for lighting my day up. You all, indeed, are a million points of light, and I’m thankful for each one of you.
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