Commercial Appeal, September 25, 2007

Play focuses on mother-friendly natural birth

by Kimberly Baker, Special to The Commercial Appeal

I found out about the play "Birth" from one of my students last year when I was pregnant and teaching a prenatal yoga class.

As a long-term company member of Our Own Voice Theater Troupe, I felt "Birth" matched the company's mission to empower people through theater, as well as my personal passion for pregnancy and childbirth.

Karen Brody wrote "Birth" after interviewing 118 women across America about their birth stories. The play tells the stories of eight, who represent the spectrum of birthing women in the U.S. today.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, the national cesarean section rate is just over 30 percent, and half of women experience labor induction in some form.

Brody's mission is to bring attention to the nation's maternity care crises. She hopes to get women in local communities talking about birth, learning the truth about maternity care, making choices and making change.

When I became pregnant with my son four years ago I reread "Spiritual Midwifery," a book by Ina May Gaskin, filled with stories of women who had their babies naturally in a community called The Farm in Summertown, Tenn.

It helped me embrace birth as a natural process our bodies were designed to do. I was grateful to have an obstetrician who was open and supportive of natural birth.

I had a lot of fear associated with pain, but even more fear when it came to pain management. We ruled out the use of an epidural, because I did not want a needle to go into my spine.

I knew that I was going to have to harness a sense of trust in my body, and acknowledge the gift of intuition to give birth naturally. I would need total support from my husband to provide comfort measures during labor.

We had heard that natural birth in a hospital in Memphis was rare and that we would have a better outcome if we had a birth plan. I began to do some research on the Internet and found that Gaskin had written a new book called "Ina May's Book of Childbirth." I bought it, read it in one night and had a checklist of questions to take to my next doctor's visit so we could formulate a birth plan together.

I am happy to say both of my children were born all natural at Germantown Methodist Hospital with two different supportive obstetricians. I was blessed to have the same labor and delivery nurse at both of my births.

I am grateful to have had a natural birth experience in a hospital setting where my wishes were honored and respected.

Because of my interest in birth and my background in theater, it seemed natural to bring the play "Birth" to Memphis. Our Own Voice is producing the play locally in an effort to get the community talking about how to make birth more mother-friendly.

"Birth" plays at TheatreWorks at 2085 Monroe on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and $8 for students and seniors. The pay-what-you-can matinee is on Sunday at 3 p.m.

A portion of the proceeds will go to support the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services, a national nonprofit organization that strives to make maternity care mother-friendly in the United States.

Our Own Voice is also hosting two events in conjunction with "Birth." There will be a BOLD Red Tent Event at TheatreWorks at 2 p.m. Saturday. This is a free forum for women to tell their birth stories.

A talk-back panel after the show on Sunday features local childbirth experts. The panel includes Dr. Lynetta Anderson, an obstetrician; Sarah Stockwell, a Bradley Childbirth Educator; Melissa Stallings, a doula, and Amy Stewart-Banbury, a midwife with Trillium Woman Care.

Go to or call 274-1000 for more information.

Kimberly Baker has a degree in theater and dance and a master's in early childhood education. She has been working with Our Own Voice since 1993. She is the manager of child life education and movement at Hope & Healing, a ministry of the Church Health Center.