Interlude: Almost Pregnant

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If you're an english professor, as well as an author, poet, yoga teacher and playwright, what do you do after struggling with infertility? Why, you turn it into a play of course! When Lisa Grunberger heard the ART of Infertility was organizing an art exhibit in Philadelphia, she quickly adapted a book she had written into a screenplay, hired a director and cast, and in a few months put together a performance piece to bring a vision of what her and many other women go through to life.

For tickets to see the play in Philadelphia on November 15th or 25th, click here to go to the Eventbrite page for the event.

Programming for Cradling Creativity also includes:

  • November 18 - Private screening and Skype Q&A session of the film, One More Shot, from 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm at Old City Jewish Arts Center. Created by Noah Moskin and Maya Grobel Moskin, One More Shot follows the struggles they encountered when trying to have a baby. The Moskins explain, “Though we are both in our early 30’s and in good health, we have had to begin a quest to build our family through alternative means and medical intervention as we try to find our own personal answer to the age-old question ‘Where do babies come from?’ We expose the relational impact infertility has on a couple and a family in a raw and honest way.” Tickets available at http://bit.ly/OneMoreShotPhilly. The film will also be available on online outlets on November 4th and pre-order for iTunes begins October 25. Learn more at the One More Shot website.
  • December 1 - Barren Conceptions: Pondering Intersections of Religion, Medicine & IF, Temple University 10:00 am - 12:00 pm. What role ought religion and medicine -- the clergy and doctors in particular – play in helping women make informed decisions about having babies? How are Jews, Catholics and Protestants thinking about fertility and the use of biotechnologies like IVF, to make babies? How are future OB-GYNs being trained in medical schools today to become more knowledgeable about infertility and to ask women difficult questions about family planning? Please join us for this informal reflection of these and other critical questions. This event is free and open to the public. Tickets are available at http://bit.ly/BarrenConceptions

This audio features the songs "Not on the Bus" & "Walk That Dog" by US Army Blues, all available under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Transcript

Great so we are rehearsing right now for my play Almost Pregnant.

That was Lisa Gruttenberg. Lisa is an associate professor of English at Temple University as well as an author a poet a yoga teacher a playwright and most relevant here.

A self-proclaimed infertility survivor … play almost pregnant which is about infertility. It's about IVF. It's about motherhood and wanting to be a mother. And in all the trials and tribulations that many people not just you know women with older. this is waiting for babies.

And I'm Steven Mavros. If you've listened to the last few episodes you know that in Philadelphia right now is the art exhibition cradling creativity part of the art of infertility. Aside from the artwork itself we have a lot of programming going on including a yoga and writing workshop a film screening of the movie one more shot a speaking panel on the intersection of religion and infertility. And of course Lisa's production of her play almost pregnant. I got to sit down with Lisa and talk about where the idea for this play came from what her journey was like. And then after We're going to get a sneak preview of the play itself while it's in rehearsal.

Tell me if you can give me like a quick overview of like what the plot is. Without giving away too much I can't Sure.

So Becca is a fortysomething woman who like the way the Lichtenstein a cartoon.

Oops I forgot to have kids. That's sort of hovering over her head like she was a writer and a professor and a yoga teacher. And oops I forgot to have kids Roy Lichtenstein. And. And she's faced with infertility. And she and her husband go through many clinics in New Jersey in Pennsylvania in Colorado and and it gets it the stakes are higher and higher because it costs more and more money as the years go by and really in 17 minutes we take her through seven years of her struggle through many miscarriages ectopic pregnancy has her own internal

machinations and tensions and struggles that infertile women go through.

Should I go on should I not go on. But simultaneously she's dealing with questions of identity because I don't want to give away too much. But she's adopted. And so she's wondering who is my Bolla biological mother.

Where do I come from and what am I creating and why do I even want a baby at a certain point. You get so frustrated. Is it just IVF I want to triumph over or you know what battle and my fighting. And of course we don't get into tensions between her and her husband but IVF in the play that ended up on the cutting room floor but that was a big part of it. But in the play itself they're a team. But there's another whole story there where IVF can really be very very very divisive in a marriage.

Is there a reason there's no partner in the play.

There's no part there's no character of the husband in the play and there's not really a reason for that leg.

It's really about her internal struggles and through the characters of estrogen and lucky her really fighting her own demons. It's really a kind of character study of her and her dealing with the kind of cold clinical bureaucracy. But this pretty hot as hamotzi director said in theater as in a good poem you have to tell one story was this coming from a place of experience was this autobiographical or is this something that.

You just came up with. Right. So I didn't just come up with it.

I did go through some infertility treatments and I vowed when I started to talk in the waiting room is a very strange space when you're going through infertility because everybody is very quiet and very uptight. And God forbid somebody brings their children into the room. Everybody's giving them like dirty looks like how could you have children and not me. And I'm a writer. I have done one play before in New York City. But mostly I'm. I'm a poet and essayist and a humorist and I vowed that whatever happened to me during my treatment that I would write about it somehow. And I thought I would do a kind of Vagina Monologue for infertility. And so that's how it

started. And then it more. So it's not it's not completely autobiographical.

To answer your question it morphed into a nonfiction book called the A the A B C's of infertility a quirky primer. So I would do like a through Z and I had that and then I Googled one day the art of infertility. So when I found out they were coming to Philadelphia with their traveling art exhibit I said I know exactly what I want to contribute. I want to turn my primer nonfiction book into a play and hence almost pregnant was born.

Tell me about the nonfiction book that was give me for example what like if you remember right up here.

Oh God. That's good. I don't remember D. God can be diva. No. It was quirky. There was Barbara B for Barbara for some reason Barbara Streisand and I had a whole little shtick with Barbra Streisand.

Oh I wish I had it with me and it was a little snarky in its tone and fun. And we retain some of that. The main character Becca in almost pregnant is a bit snarky and frustrated. She does have I had a dream one night while I was writing it and I thought waiting room waiting and waiting for Godot came to me and I started reading Waiting for Godot.

And who are the names of the puppets not the puppets the characters estrogen and lucky. And I thought estrogen that's the female hormone This is best shared by shared is like a Yiddish word for men to be and I and lucky you have to be lucky with IVF.

You know because the success rates are not great you know. So I said to my director. I said we have two more people it's not a one woman show we have two more characters they're puppets. And then she read it and she said I think the puppets have just became people. So now we have three people in the show. And they're the puppet characters estrogen and Lucky who are actual characters are like the alter egos of Becca like you go through all these psychological machinations. Should I do another cycle. Should I stop. Should we just have a nice life without children. Why do I want children. Why this desire. You really turn

yourself inside out psychologically. When you go through infertility so the puppets provide comic relief.

They're also her the character who says no stop there your internal mind manifested on the stage and then the director has done amazing really wonderful things in interpreting the script that I wrote and injecting a little humor into it in what is otherwise a very very can be a very tragic ending to many IVF stories.

What made Uplay be the medium you decided to do. Right.

So after I wrote the book and I had sent it out to some literary agents in New York one of the agents actually wrote back to me in New York agent is like I love it but I'm not going to buy it. But p.s. it really reads like a play. The book and she just gave me the idea and I've all I'm a writer and I love theater and I always wanted to do some kind of a play about IVF anyway but I had written the book. You never know what genre things are going to come out. But the play was originally like 125 pages which would have left people in the theater for four hours you could have had a baby during the play during intermission. And so my director had two very harshly say

I'm going to be very tough with you. I said OK. And she said we have to cut about a good half of it.

And so that's been the process of editing and cutting and I was surprisingly very amenable to that. So we have a shorter play that's about 70 minutes with wonderful music a Temple University student is a jazz improv improvisation old jazz player in the violin. So we have a violin player who plays a kind of god muse like character because you need faith when you go through this whether you're I have one of the entries for the book was atheist under age 2 and I said there are no atheists in infertility foxholes because you know whatever it is if it's a yoga if it's the tarot cards if it's

going to your priest if it's whatever it is you have to believe that you have to see that child at the other end.

How did you assemble the cast and even the director. Was that the first thing you did.

No. So I sent out a call I've dabbled in the theater world and I'm working on another show right now called Yiddish yoga. I found Claire. Claire Drache who is the actress and she's amazing. And then we found our two puppet characters estrogen and lucky through Claire. They've all worked together in the past. So the synergy and the energy they bring as an ensemble is unbelievable. And Hamlet. I also Putt-Putt Lewinsky she has just arrived from Israel three months ago and it was really a match made in heaven. We speak the same language and we it's just

the collaborative process is amazing. We're trying to move away esthetically too from a kind of realism and a kitchen sink drama where it's just about like a very traditional story of infertility that you would hear on like an Oprah show. And we're trying to inject more device theatre more physical humor more choreography and a little more of the absurdism of the infertility world without trivializing it. You must see one of my doctors who I told I was writing this years ago. I mean it started five years ago. Even the process. And he said I'll only come to the show if it's funny because he's he hears and I'm sure you as a as an acupuncturist you see all the stories day in and

day out and you know you come to the theater and my mother used to say she loved Broadway. You have to make people laugh a little so it has to be entertaining.

I wanted it to be educational as well because I think there is a really lack of education about people's real women women's reproductive lives.

Is there something you think that say physicians or the people in the medical community should be getting out of this or what. What it what is it you're trying to open their eyes to as opposed to say the public in general. I think there's a line in the play about this that infertility and the care for the patient the infertile patient should be treated with the kind of tact.

And compassion that we treat cancer patients. Really there's there's some really funny section in the play where we say why are infertility waiting rooms so sterile we're trying to create new life and they should be beautiful. I mean all doctors waiting rooms. Could use some interior decorating. Just an anecdote. When I first got my Follistim delivery for the first time I had no idea. My husband I looked at the box had no idea. And I have a Ph.D. and in the Master's degree. And I remember calling the doctor on call and my fertility clinic on a Sunday took him three hours to get back to me. And he just said I don't know. Look at the video.

And it was awful. And there is a section of the play that talks about that the vulnerability you you're not. We always need advocates when we go to doctors right. It's always good to have an advocate because we're listening is off. And when you're so arm in this cycle emotionally where you want a baby you often don't hear. They could have told me about the needles and I wasn't hearing.

So I would just say compassion is so important. I think we can't we can't lose sight of the fact that healing occurs through eye contact. Through a warm touch on the hand. I'm going to get you there you know and through honesty.

What did you feel like as someone who went through it and then you invite us to do this. What was missing in the community. Did you feel like you're looking at everything from the point of view of going through infertility succeeding not succeeding.

Yeah. I had to find my tribe and I don't feel like that there was a big support group but I think we're moving in the right direction. You know in this country just with acupuncture places healing centers resolve is a great organization and women taking control of their reproductive lives and learning but it's by telling stories that I think a lot of change can happen. I was sitting in Rittenhouse Square and I was talking with my husband about the project and this woman turned and said you could interview me.

I went through three cycles of IVF. I think that we're shifting people want to talk about it. We also got you know people over here our conversations at dinner and people would turn around and say Don't do it. Don't have kids and that's in the play actually of like people giving you unsolicited advice all the time and it gets really frustrating.

Now Lisa was kind enough to let me record the opening scene of the play. So here is a sneak preview of almost pregnant.

Hello back. Doctor came in and told me to tell you that you know that you're pregnant.

Oh wait can you hold. I'm waiting. Hello.

Will you come into the office the doctor wants to talk with you. My. Pregnant woman now pregnant.

You're almost pregnant. Small world of infertility.

You're walking my line.

Living in the aggravating always in between the place of being almost almost pregnant almost the mother almost broke almost broken. You are living a liminal life. Liminal to be on the threshold almost standing right in the doorway.

We sit across from Dr. Creighton and little bird is silver haired fast talking woman and she lying then this can't be good.

You are pregnant which is good. Your body soul knows how and wants to make a baby. What's your pregnancy is ectopic. That means the embryo is growing outside of your uterus which is not good in the open. So we will have to watch out. Hopefully it will stop growing and take care of itself.

Nothing takes care of itself. This is how we are initiated into the world of infertility with an ectopic pregnancy. Brave new words in this world are you by. IVF.

BBF. A R T I F. BBT. When there is no oops pregnancy surprise moment in your life. When you're sore and tired and trying not to be consumed by babies and baby making and charting your body temperature and figuring yourself to see what condition your cervical mucus is in when missing a period is a godsend and not a curse. When getting the so-called curse the monthly curse then you as a decent citizen of a country that loves all things.

Baby and mommy and kiddies begin to wonder why.

Why do you want the poopy diapers that the sleepless nights people who get pregnant just by having home ordinary sex on a slow TV night during the summer have no idea of the self conscious machinations. Infertile folks go through often for years. We turn ourselves inside out after.

Every failed IVF cycle wondering if this is the right path the right thing.

Well maybe we're being punished. The financial burden that the soccer ballet social studies Winnie the Pooh at $15 an hour babysitters who leave the place a mess that toddler tantrums the potty training playdate while at outbreed is out there having the third kid between afternoon ice lattes and a trip to IKEA.

They are not giving much deep thought to the why question why do you want the other mothers.

The obligatory social interaction with people you will have nothing in common with but that you both have both. Your kids are 5.

This is not a test and there is no right answer.

After the ectopic pregnancy my love and I are moving on to you on. The doctor takes the sperm and sticks it up there way up high inside you to help it meet the egg. This should work.

It's a Sunday in February when the car is stuck behind a police line blocking off the road for breast cancer parade. KING way this is happening.

Between inside us right to where I'm getting inseminating.

Actually we wait and wait and wait and watch the parade until like jumped out of the car.

Mermaids and I'm all relating and at 8am on a Sunday morning and I haven't had coffee because it's not that great for you when you're trying to get knocked up. I waved the bottle around under-class office and just slowly over my depression you mean you know let's get through to the clinic on time so I can open my legs. And get. Repasted. Pregnant and.

My domestic nothing like that. By the time I finished he was slapping me up big orange cones out of the way and guiding me through traffic all the bullies.

One might have give me the thing about how she's entitled. She's looking at death in the eye and we're trying to look at New Life.

Be romantic with your partner tonight.

Almost pregnant. Written by Lisa Rutenberg will be performed live at the Old City Jewish art center in Philadelphia on November 15th and 25th at 8:00 p.m.. A link to purchase tickets is available on our site at waiting for babies. Almost pregnant stars Claire Golden Drake, Kellie Cooper and Mark C. Johnson. With music by Gabe Miller and directed by Hamutal Posklinsky. Also check the site for all the program we talked about in the beginning of the episode including the screening of one more shot on November 18th and the panel at Temple University discussing infertility and religion on December 1st. We'll be back soon with one of the more intense interviews I've ever done and follow along someone's rather scary path through the world of infertility. But till then this is Steven Mavros see you next time.

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