“MilkDrunk is to breastfeeding what The Vagina Monologues is to women’s sexuality: a curtain-ripping revelation on a world hidden in plain sight. MilkDrunk’s unflinching honesty, passion, humor and love bypasses our enculturated taboos and mythologies around birth, breasts and bonding as a brilliant, modern wisdom teaching with the potential to relieve future mothers and fathers from the burden of asking, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me this?’ O’Malley’s play is timely and needed as the United States struggles to address its maternal health care system, lack of paid parental leave and pressure on unwitting new parents to face the Bio-Cultural Conflict in isolation.” — Lisa Reagan, Kindred
About the Play
Listen to playwright and actor Cathleen O’Malley share insights into her new play, MilkDrunk, that traces a year in the life of a first time, full-time, exclusively breastfeeding mother. A frank, funny, and physical solo performance, Milkdrunk pulls back the (damp) curtain on childbirth, breastfeeding and what it means to be a mammal in 2018. It illuminates a path that is both universal and cloaked in infinite mystery—one littered with laughter, tears, and drops of Liquid Gold. Milkdrunk was first presented through Cleveland Public Theatre’s Test Flight Series, a new play development program.
About The Playwright
Cathleen is a theatre director, performer, writer, educator, voiceover artist, and creator of original work. She is a graduate of the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA), where she trained in Lecoq-based physical theatre, movement, mask and mime under the pedagogical direction of Thomas Prattki and Amy Russell. Cathleen has created and performed with companies regionally and abroad, including Akropolis Performance Lab, Relax Your Face (co-founder), Zany Umbrella Circus, Touchstone Theatre, Talespinner Children’s Theatre, and with inmates of the Washington State Corrections Center for Women through Freehold’s Engaged Theatre Project. From 2013-2017, Cathleen was the Director of Audience Engagement and Media Relations at Cleveland Public Theatre and was recently seen onstage in a workshop production of her whimsical original play Noonday, created with Lauren Joy Fraley and Renee Schilling. Cathleen holds an MFA from Naropa University.
MilkDrunk photo by Bob Perkowski
MilkDrunk, A Play: The “Vagina Monologues” for Breastfeeding
THE TRANSCRIPT FROM THE INTERVIEW
LISA REAGAN: Welcome to Kindred Media, an alternative media and non-profit initiative of Kindred World. This is Lisa Reagan and I have a real treat for you today. I am talking with Cathleen O’Malley, a theatre director, performer, writer, educator, voice-over artist, and graduate of the London International School of Performing Arts. Cathleen is also the playwright of the new one woman show “MilkDrunk” performed as a workshop production on stage at the Cleveland Public Theatre Test Flight series this month. “MilkDrunk” does for breastfeeding what “Vagina Monologues” did for women’s sexuality, in my opinion: it lays bare a hidden-in-plain-sight world. So, welcome, Cathleen.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Thank you so much for having me.
LISA REAGAN: I have to say, I started reading your script. I have not seen the play, although I look forward to seeing it and you had me at placenta cooler.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah.
LISA REAGAN: And over and over again throughout the play. It is just marvelous. It is amazingly well written and hilarious and funny and an emotional rollercoaster and just totally captures. So I think it is going to take a lot of people back to what it was like to make that shift, which is what we had talked about before, this shift between what we thought we were going to be prepared for with a mind intellect pre-baby and then the body kicks in post baby. It’s just a tremendous work.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Thank you so much. Yes, the biggest, the feedback that I keep getting from people who I talk to about the show and the inspiration for the show and then people who have seen it, there’s this recurring refrain of, “They don’t tell you that! They don’t tell you that! How could this be the thing that bonds us all?” If nothing else, the experience of birth bonds us all as humans and how could there still be so much information that comes as a surprise to new parents. That really is in a lot of ways the motivation for writing the piece and sharing it with the world.
LISA REAGAN: It is. So the description of “MilkDrunk” is it traces a year in the life of a first time, full time, exclusive breastfeeding mother and it pulls back this curtain on childbirth, breastfeeding and what it means to be a mammal in 2018. It illuminates a path that is both universal and cloaked in infinite mystery, one littered with laughter, tears, and drops of liquid gold, which of course is the breastfeeding reference.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah.
On Being A Mammal In 2018: The Bio-Cultural Conflict
LISA REAGAN: What it means to be a mammal in 2018, I mean, that defines a lot of work and fields of science that come under the conscious parenting movement for the last 40 years have attempted to address in our culture and in our medical model systems. So your play achieves I think in this way that probably nothing else can except for art. We so need social change and art is like yourself, but to help people access this information in a way that is fun and illuminating, educational, and intense emotionally during this play. You want to tell me a little bit about, it seems like it must have just started popping into your head immediately and I think you’ve said that to me before that this play started writing itself right away when you had a baby.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah I think it’s strange because I’m a theatre artist and somebody who creates my own work, I’ve mostly worked in an ensemble model, so working alongside other people to collaboratively create work that is then performed as a group. So doing a solo show has been one of these, as an actor, one of these bucket list items. It’s pretty crazy and somewhat ironic that it was the very thing that I had been fearing, which is motherhood, that I was fearing would completely derail my career. That has been the inciting incident to launch what has now become my first solo show and something that I really couldn’t be more proud of.
So to answer your question about the origin, so I was literally in my gown, in the hospital bed, checking in with the outside world when I realized that I was going to be retelling and retelling my birth story over and over again. People were curious. The women in my life in particular were very curious and as I was retelling, I realized that details were either sharpening in my memory or falling away with each retelling, so I took the occasion right there, I think it was my second day in the hospital. I just started tapping out the details, anything I could possibly remember, words that were said, sensations, into a little document that I had on my bedside mobile phone and then over the following 10-12 months, this document grew into what later became the outline for the show.
So it was very very early on when I realized there was something so tremendous, such a tremendous change and that there were things that I would experiencing physically and emotionally that I, as a writer and a performer, I wanted to document for myself. The more I got to talking about these experiences and the more I started reaching out to my community for help, particularly around breastfeeding, I realized that there were many details that many of us were sort of unaware of as we stumbled into those early months so that the reason for the play was also answering the void of information that so many women in my life were reflecting on.
LISA REAGAN: And the information you give them, the detail is stunning. Some of the description of different kinds of baby poop, did you know?
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: They don’t tell you that.
LISA REAGAN: You’ve got to know these things. It’s really important to really keep an eye on baby poop and the way that your doctor would treat you when you would call in and have new parent anxiety because, hello, we don’t know these things. Is she breathing okay? And they just kind of go down a checklist and you’re still sitting there when you hang up with your hand on her chest to make sure she’s alive. It was just so very deeply compassionately written. I wanted to make sure that anyone listening who thinks that Cathleen has presented this in any kind of black and white pro-breastfeeding or co-sleeping or natural parenting or any of this, this is totally not true.
You go right to the heart of the truth, which is how complicated it is again to try to meet our own biological imperative in a culture that doesn’t support these. So the seriousness of looking at the complexity of what we’re expected to do and the lack of support, you just nail it over and over again, to the point of it turns out to be almost a wisdom teaching by the time you’re at the end. Like, oh wow, there’s so much wisdom here because you don’t take a stand. It’s just, here’s what happened. And it’s hilarious and touching.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: That means so much to hear that because really you and other mothers and parents, I include the dads in this, really are the number one audience for this piece and as so many friends and elder women and women also in my peer group who have been a part of sharing their stories with me and their challenges and their mistakes in the development of the piece, all of these women, this collective wisdom, has a place in the show and it was really important to me and my director,Elaine Feagler, who worked very very close with me in the development of the piece to really honor that variety of perspective in that we are all just trying to make it work.
We are all in a grand improvisation and hopefully this is really communicated in the show, that me as the protagonist, again and again, I try something, it doesn’t work. I try something new. I reach out. I am trying my best and hopefully that gives the space for people who come and see the show to have compassion for their own improvisation, their own triumphs and mistakes, and also for those who perhaps who haven’t, who aren’t parents themselves or don’t maybe have parents in their lives, hopefully it is also compassion building for them.
Using Humor To Address Terror: Social Change Artist Magic
LISA REAGAN: I think the humor is so lightening bolt on that it really helps to take apart any of this, the rigidity that we would like to believe that if you do it this way, you do it that way, but if you don’t and you go through a list and at one point. It really captures the insanity of advice giving in our culture. Really, it’s all conflicted. It’s not based on that person’s personal experience at that time and it’s very mechanistic based. It’s very do this and the baby will go to sleep or do that and then you have, as you do in the play, a mother going out to the garage to sit in the car and scream her head off.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah, there is a funny moment about that, well, a couple of things, just for the listeners, the opening line to this section of the show is essentially about the advice, it’s not really advice, it’s sort of just a phrase that sort of often tumbles out of people’s mouths. “You know babies, they don’t come with an instruction manual.” But what comes up in the show is that actually there are many many many resources that have taken the place of the single instruction manual and actually it is that total onslaught of information and advice and best practices that we’re sent home with from the hospital and then we pick up as soon as we engage with our in-laws that there is actually sometimes directly contradictory information provided from the hospital and the hospital staff and so the idea that we’re just overwhelmed with information is sort of a preceding part to this section of the show.
Where it ends up is yes, as you said Lisa, me, the actor playing myself me, screaming alone in my car in the garage where I have some privacy and just kind of letting it all out and trying to get to the bottom of that tension so that I can pick myself up and face another day. But what’s funny about that moment is myself and the director, who is also a mother, had to clarify for one of the designers on the show, who is a man who is married but doesn’t have kids himself.
There was a joke one day, we said, “Hey, just to be clear, there wasn’t just the one time I screamed.” We’re treating it as a dramatic climax in the show, but I have done this like thirty times, I don’t know. I will be doing it for the rest of my life, a version of letting it all hang out and some version of just turning that pressure relief dial. So that was one of the moments where a lot of mothers who saw the show came up afterwards and said, you know, get out of my head. That’s a moment that I had. You really spoke to that. That brought me great satisfaction that it gave voice to something that we all very very very much keep to ourselves.
LISA REAGAN: I am going to see this play, I really am. I look forward to having the feeling of watching your performance and the catharsis that’s going to come after this I’m sure that’s going to be there to see as you go through. I just can’t wait to see. I know you have some video that you’re going to share with Kindred eventually here and some photos from the play, but just going through the script and knowing as you said, this is a highly physical play, highly intense and just streamlined beautiful writing. I cannot wait to see this in action for myself. So can you speak a little bit to the physicality of the play? I think as an artist I would like to hear about that, as a theater person myself.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah, absolutely. So in the long tradition of solo performance, there is one approach, there’s an actor alone on stage with an object, and in my case, it’s me, myself, and a chair. That chair becomes the baby’s crib. It becomes the ubiquitous infant car seat with a handle. It becomes a couch at the lactation support group. It becomes a chair in the doctor’s office. It becomes the driver’s seat of my car and this and then many many other things. It becomes the baby actually, carried around on my back and many other things. So the technical elements of the show are very very simple from a set design perspective and what that opens up for me as a performer and as you mentioned on the introduction, my training is in physical theater, so what that means is that the mode of the actor in approaching text material includes the full use of the body. So it’s not that I’m dancing around the stage or walking on my hands, or maybe in the future iteration of the show, there could be those elements, it’s more that the use of the body communicates without any changes in costume or set the different locations and also the different characters that I play.
So I play myself, but I also play my pediatrician. I play a women on the airplane that I meet. I play the baby herself and many other things in the show. It’s the use of the body. It’s changes of the voice and then it is use also of the full stage and then transforming this object in my hands by the way that I place it, by the way that I hold it, by the care that I give to the object to communicate my world. I think for this show, what I’ve heard from the audience is that was really effective in sort of paring down the presentation of the show to the text, the writing, and the emotion. That said, there’s a very lush sound-scape. I worked with a sound designer named Brian Bacon who in addition to original music that underscores various parts of the show, he also used live recordings of some of my child toys, electronic toys, which if you’re a parent yourself you can know that’s the sound-scape of high pitched electronic singing toys could very well become part of the sound-scape of early parenthood if you let those kinds of things into your house, which I vowed I never would and then I did. Well, my daughter is very delighted by that. Then there are things like there are actual recordings from my labor that are incorporated into the sound-scape of the show as well. So the sound design has a transporting element to the show, as well as the lighting design which supports the changes in place and time.
LISA REAGAN: How did the audience react to the zingers? Because there are some really good zingers in here that I can imagine that there was some flinching on the part of some men. I just have to read this one zinger on latching, you say:
“I tell Matt (your husband), the best way to imagine it is to picture placing your dick in a door and slamming it every three to four hours or the baby starves. He was sympathetic before but I think that drove the point home.”
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah. That line always gets a little sound in the audience. Which is fun! That’s also the opportunity presented by a solo work where you’re there in direct address to the audience, which is based on what the audience is giving back, I am allowed to kind of let that moment sit. I am allowed to give it a little accent with a little look or exchange a glance or a little shrug or a little oh, I know, do you feel that?
LISA REAGAN: Do you feel that?
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: I know, you feel that? That’s the pleasure of the form to be there just me alone on stage directly addressing the audience and I think there’s also a lot delight there for the audience to feel that they’re being spoken to and sort of engaged in the collaboration and in the unfolding of the story. So that line, I will say though I must credit that to my friend Sarah, who is a mother of three, who her roots are in Tennessee. So she’s the person in my life who uses colorful terms of phrase and that statement was actually something she shared with me that I was given permission to use in the show, which is something that she said to her own husband upon the birth and the attempted breastfeeding of her third baby. So I credit Sarah and I thank her for that line. There are many many other lines and other insights in the show that were pulled from conversations that I had with these women and they were all sort of woven into the special acknowledgments of the so many mamas whose experience shared ended up creating a lot of the substance of the show.
Anchoring The Play: Ancestral Honoring
LISA REAGAN: I really appreciate how deep you go into this idea of mothers and motherhood in the show. You talk about going to see your grandmother when you were pregnant and she was in hospice and laying her hand on your belly and then your mother was very supportive of breastfeeding. This really helps to anchor your character in this long tradition of bringing life into the world as a woman and makes your experience so deep and rich and full. I just love those counterpoints to the yelling at your husband to go slam his dick in the door. So…
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah, thank you. Yeah. And to be clear, Matt, my husband, his name was not changed to protect the innocent. He really plays a supporting character and comes out very well in this show, let it be known.
LISA REAGAN: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: It is amazing how all of the things that my mother warned me would become clear to me when I was an apathetic teenager. I was never quite an apathetic teenager. I definitely had a lot of angst as a kid and there were certain choices she made as a parent and certain things she prioritized that she promised me would all make sense when I had my own children and then when that finally happened, it couldn’t be more true and I do think that when we say an anchor of the show, I really respond to that. It is and we were talking about this a little bit earlier, there is nothing that we share more than the fact of having been born.
There is some woman who gave birth to all of us in some way and that there is no birth story that is like any other birth story. What a missing element in our society that we do not ask and we do not know each others birth stories. My birth story to my mother is something that I have with her and I share with her that nobody else has and that our own experiences of birth of our own children or the effect that our birth had on our family.
These stories are part of who we are and they are part of our family’s legacy. There is just not nearly enough conversation about that. So hopefully, if one of the outcomes of the show could be that people become curious in their own birth stories and that if they have the ability to reach back and find out information about that, or reach back to their own parents, their own loved ones, or if that opportunity is no longer available to them, sort of get more interested in each others birth stories. I just feel like that would be a wonderful outcome of this show and I think also a way to really elevate that thing that women do, which is give birth.
Witnessing The Birth Of A Mother: The Transformation
LISA REAGAN: Well, the transformation of your character in the play is really, I’m not just saying this, it is profound, because you do address this core piece of conscious parenting which is about the bio-cultural conflict and that phrase was pioneered by Joseph Chilton Pierce and he says parents don’t realize that their biological beings and they have biological imperatives and then we have cultural imperatives that are not based on these biological imperatives, at least today.
So new parents are saddled with what’s called the bio-cultural conflict and you address that repeatedly in this beautiful way without naming it throughout the entire play. But one of the places that I found it very encapsulated was the igloo chant and you’re trying to tell yourself that you can get through this birth because somewhere in the world there’s a women giving birth in an igloo. It’s almost this thing that we hold up to ourselves and we all do it to say exactly what you were saying before, everybody has given birth, I can do this too, but a part of me realizes that today when we expect ourselves to go into a medical model system, and again this is not making this into a black and white issue because it certainly is not, but the fact is in America, maternal medical health is so deadly.
We are more likely to die in childbirth, seven times more likely, than our counterparts in Ireland and Italy, and mothers of color in the United States are more likely to die in childbirth, 3-5 times more likely, than their white counterparts, American white counterparts. So this igloo moment when you’re surrounded by some of them are strangers, you’re talking about these hands that are coming at you and what’s happening in the room that’s pulling your attention away from your body, this is a very unnatural state I think to give birth in and then you’re kind of rescuing yourself with this thought of connecting with the primal in yourself, but it almost feels like it could be a punishment or a whip to keep going, keep going, because somebody else can do it. They can do it and they’re in an igloo. That’s very complicated and very deep that you’re going there and that you’re able to remember that about that moment in your birth.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah, to give a little bit more additional context to this moment, so my husband and I in the weeks leading up to my labor and delivery, we had watched a series that was produced by the BBC called “Human Planet” and it’s a survey of the most remote inhabited places on earth. So we are learning about communities that live in tree houses, we’re learning about the most brutal subzero temperatures and communities that lived and survived and thrived in the arctic, in Greenland, isolated islands. I was struck sitting there, 8-9 months pregnant on my couch in Cleveland, Ohio, and just inspired and struck by what I knew to be true, which is that lots of babies are being born in these situations and sort of all of my anxieties about being able to weather the pain and to fulfill my dream of having unmedicated childbirth, I was very attached to certain outcomes. This was all kind of unfolding inside of me as I was watching these documentaries and so it became… so there’s a line in the show where I tell my husband, I say, “Matt, remind me when the time comes that there are pregnant women giving birth right now in igloos.” There’s a moment in the show where I sort of peak labor, I can barely speak, and I utter those two words, “Igloo. Igloo,” and he pours blue Gatorade into my mouth.
That is a moment that really happened and it is a moment in the show. What you bring up here is so interesting. The more that we become a truly global world and that our orientation becomes more global and that things like media and shows, television shows, like I’m referencing, and increased travel, the more that we are learning and sort of turning back to, including the developing world, turning back to older practices or unadulterated practices related to health in particular childbirth. There’s a bit of picking and choosing that’s happening and this is at least my experience where I came into my hospital birth wanting it to be as natural as possible, but there are so many things both going into the labor and delivery and coming out of the labor and delivery that where there’s not a structure in place socially, culturally, or even logistically to support a “natural birth” and postpartum experience.
LISA REAGAN: Right. Right.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: I think one of the things that I have been confronting. I am about 14 months outside of giving birth, my daughter just turned a year, is this binary particularly related to work. There’s the stay at home approach, and then there’s the go back to work approach and I’ve been more of the “stay at home”, although if I were to truly stay at home, I would have gone completely bonkers. So what my not a full time working mom experience has been packing my baby into the car and driving back and forth and seeking, desperately seeking community, because despite the fact that I live in a city, to find other mothers to be around other mothers, has really been a huge effort.
No number of playgroups, no number of good friends dropping by and visiting or preschools. No amount of that replaces the absence of 24 hour community, which we as human beings, we just don’t in this sort of metropolitan existence that is living in American cities, we just don’t necessarily have that. To have the kind of support that I feel like as a species, as mammals, we are sort of evolved to live in, it really takes stepping out of sort of contemporary culture to find that. Their intention was communities, big group homes, these things exist, but they are very very very marginal, at least in the US. So that has been, you know, this notion of bio-cultural conflict, I feel like is so much at the heart of the show, because there are best practices that are pulled from nature and pulled from science, particularly related to, something related to sleep, somethings related to breastfeeding, skin to skin, all of these wonderful best practices that are making their way into modern medicine, but culturally and from a legislative perspective and logistical perspective, we have just do not have the structures in place to really support women doing that to the degree that is necessary.
So I do really respond to and really appreciate having a word to describe that conflict, which I think is the source of a lot of craziness for lack of a better word that new parents are feeling and that mothers feel. There’s a hormonal process, we’re filled with hormones and drive and instinct, but when we look around in the world, too often we’re sort of isolated in that. Looking for answers and not really finding them.
LISA REAGAN: Well, my loneliness as a new mother drove me to the last 20 years of doing this nonprofit work and in the beginning it was all this desperate crazy insane throwing myself finding community and creating community. I have written an essay on Kindred called My Grandma Is Not A Hippie and everything my grandmother held dear wasn’t because she was a hippie. She was a North Carolina farmer’s wife, but she had those things and I saw it and I thought I was going to have those things and it was so programmed in my DNA when I had a baby to have those things, it was really like a daily sitting in the car screaming like why do I have these things? How do I that? Where do I create community? Where are they? Sitting in the car, driving 30 minutes to a public park to meet with other mothers.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah.
Rediscovering Primal Instinct And Labeling It “New”
LISA REAGAN: Yeah, I did that. I think it is also interesting that you’re pointing out, how do these biological imperatives finally make their way into our language, because you point out in the play that the lean back method that you learn when you go to a breastfeeding support group. You’re looking at it and you say, this is the latest in breastfeeding technology, but like so many things, recaptured, repackaged, it’s instinct. It’s known by another name, anthropological breastfeeding. Leaning back, this recall, this is how I was, this is how we milked in the minutes after she was born. I’ve seen that repeatedly that if our culture can find a way to pretend like they discovered something and try it out under different language and have a nice little marketing campaign around it, then maybe it will be acceptable. I think it’s a great thing, lean back method is awesome.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah.
LISA REAGAN: It’s just the rediscovery of something ancient.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Absolutely. Yeah, you really nailed it. It’s slap a label on it, develop a nice logo and then it becomes kangaroo care or the lean back method, or even things, I haven’t been able to extricate myself from a number of e-newsletters and parenting groups and things that while I was sort of registered for when I bought my first pair of maternity jeans, I got on all of these LISTSERVs and haven’t been able to quite unsubscribe, but it seems like it can become sort of addictive, these top ten lists, or these ten things you can do to make sure your child is successful or smarter than all of the other babies, or you know. Things like make sure baby gets lots of social time. These things that are glib, but when you look at the way our neighborhoods are structured and look at the way that maternity leave exists or not, it’s not enough to identify things as healthy good practices when women are sort of sent out of the hospital, if they’re lucky, 3 days after birth with a pamphlet and see you in 6 weeks for 15 minutes.
LISA REAGAN: Right. And most have to go back to work I think it’s 2 weeks in the United States, whereas most countries… we are at the bottom for paid parental leave, we’re at the bottom again of all developed countries. So the breastfeeding question is almost doomed from the beginning. There is little or no workplace support. Legislature is being rolled out in different states now. I know here in Virginia they tried to get that legislated this past year and that didn’t sail. So just being aware of what we’re up against so we can be kind to ourselves and each other, I think that’s really the core of understanding what that bio-cultural conflict is that we’re facing so that we can roll out our compassion instead of our judgment and glib advice.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: I think we were sort of touching on this earlier, but for your listener’s sakes, I did continue to breastfeed my daughter and so that ended up being a goal of mine personally and it turns out that we were able to make that work after a lot of false starts and missteps at the beginning. So that’s something that I am very glad we were able to do.
But I also have done a lot of pumping and have many friends who went back to work full time who pumped for upwards of a year and I got interested in some of the research around pumping and something that has been coming up when we talk about sort of glib statements that are completely unsupported in reality from a logistical perspective, the whole “breast is best” campaign is very touchy and it sounds very good in theory, but I know that I went into breastfeeding having a mother who breastfed, but who lives about 600 miles away. I was completely unprepared for the pain, for all of the different… for the anxiety around whether or not my daughter was getting enough food and what I should be looking for. Again, I have a college degree and I read everything I was sent home with. I am coming at this from a place of extreme privilege and yet, even with those resources, there was still just a tremendous amount of challenges that we came up against. But related to pumping, some of the research is now showing, wait wait wait, it’s not enough. The milk is not enough. The touch is part of what makes breastfeeding result in all of these wonderful outcomes.
So the sort of counter movement, which is the “fed with love” movement, which is whether it is breast milk, whether it is your milk, whether it is donated milk, whether it is pumped, whether it is formula, whatever it is, feeding with an eye gaze, feeding with touch, feeding with connection, feeding with time and care and a mother with a peaceful heart. That is actually what is the source of all of the wonderful bonding that can take place during the feeding of the baby. That was something that didn’t make it into the play, but this idea that you know, the wonderful invention that was the breast pump, which liberated women from being sort of pinned to a couch in the early months of their child’s life and it allowed me to go to rehearsals and the fact that I have a pump has allowed me to do some things professionally, that it’s not… we can’t let the technology of the pump, you know, blind us to the fact that the milk isn’t all that there is to breastfeeding and sort of how typical it is of us culturally to extract the milk, pat the woman on the back and send her back into the mill, versus actually just develop comprehensive maternity policies.
I would rather pay for a breast pump versus get the free one. The hospital sends us, at least in Cleveland, a lot of insurance companies send you home with a free breast pump. I would have rather just had substantial maternity leave along the lines of what other developed nations and even nations that are considered developing nations. Pretty much every nation except for the United States, Papua New Guinea and I believe a region of South Africa, those are the three places that don’t have paid maternity leave and it’s just, let’s not worry so much about the breast pumps, let’s work on getting maternity leave so women can have more choice. So that’s something maybe in the next iteration of the show there’s a scene that needs to be added in.
LISA REAGAN: So to throw out there, March for Moms is happening May 6 and it’s 2018 now and we’re recording April 24, so that’s coming up in about two weeks and that is a central focus of March for Moms in Washington and there are going to marches all over the country that Saturday as well. So that is a very hot topic right now. It does need more funding and more activists.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah.
Motherhood In America: MilkDrunk As A Modern Wisdom Teaching
LISA REAGAN: So I wanted to kind of wrap up with where this character ends up in her transformation because it’s very very precious. I will say this about the bonding, there are some very beautiful bonding moments with the baby, your baby in the play, as well as just very heart touching. You are talking about her giggling for the first time when you’re dancing with her in the breastfeeding class. That was very sweet. But there’s this what I think I feel is a compassion towards yourself by the time you’re through the other side in some ways, you talk about going out for the first time, and you say, I forgot what to do with my arms and then you run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and I just want to read this piece here because your friend is saying, what are you doing? And you say:
“I did a hundred thousand things today, but none of them add up to anything recognizable by my former life. A day measured by ounces, literally, by drops. I let the question sit there for a moment. My edges rubbed raw, my insides still stitches burning with the story untold, the days that are long, the weeks flying by, on a river of liquids and solids and smells. Moves from body, my body doctored by cream and coconut oil and ice packs in my underwear and nipples under plastic shields. I am sturdier now, swollen, quieter, but strong. I make milk.”
It’s just beautiful, but how do you say this to your friend?
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Thank you.
LISA REAGAN: You say you know well it’s really good. I feed baby. We are mama baby jungle cats. This is quite a transformation this character goes through because at the beginning, she is going into the hospital room with her New Yorker magazine that she’s going to read and her cooler to put her placenta in and the preparation part at the beginning, I love it. It is wonderful. It just captures everybody’s mentality when you don’t know. You can’t know. There’s no way to know this unless you’ve been there, but in the end, this is who she is. Tell us about this person.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Yeah, right. The opening sequence which essentially is an attempt to really capture the thinking that my husband and I had going into checking into the hospital. Which was we had planned a wedding together at some point many years earlier and this was my chance. I was being induced. There was this element of surprise that we were sort of taking out of it. There was a level of like, for lack of a better word, like an art direction to the piece. We brought music. We brought snacks and fuzzy slippers and reading materials and games. Looking back, it was completely absurd. It was as if, and this is the line in the show, it was as if we were checking into a B&B.
I recognize that not all births, when you don’t know that you’re about to give birth, there’s no room for that. But at least in our case, we had really packed and looking back, what is that? It’s the mind of somebody for whom the birth was about me. I knew I would be meeting a baby that I would love more than any person on earth, but at the time, there was no way to mentally prepare for the love and so much more. There are not nouns or adjectives to describe that feeling. By the end of the show, and actually very soon after baby’s head starts cresting and I’m looking at this huge Victorian sized rolling mirror at the end of birth unit, there’s a “getting it” that occurs. There’s this other person who is on her own path. There is this other journey and I am part of facilitating her journey into the world and that I am a vessel for that. That has changed my life and by the end of the show, spoiler alert, we’re back in the birth room at the very end of the show.
There’s a flashback. There’s a description of the first nursing and how all of the things that through science we now know to be true, that the heartbeats become joined, that her temperature stabilizes, that the act of nursing and the act of labor, the hormonal experience of that triggers the process that ends up helping kick off the breastfeeding, so all of that is sort of happening and by the end of the show we see this vision of this person who has now become a dyad. There’s a line too where I turn to my husband and I see him and you know, we’re at the end of a journey. The journey of labor and delivery, but there is just no way at the end we thought we had arrived at the end. When the baby came out, the end of a long exhausting journey and then to be now the parent of a one-year-old, oh we have made it through the first year. Just wait til the second year. Just wait til eighteen years. Just wait til you’re giving them away at their own wedding. Just wait.
So the fact that there is no way to really grasp what it feels like, what any of this feels like unless you’ve lived it and yet the way that it is something that is so intensely personal and unique and individual, but yet there is a resonance, because we all have felt that thing that cannot be named for those of us that have lived that experience. Then those, it’s often an invitation for people to peak into that experience who maybe never want that for themselves or even have never given it much thought. The hope is that the play is also an invitation and a window and a door into that experience as well.
LISA REAGAN: And it is and thank you so so much for writing it. Tell me before we go, tell everybody where they can find you online and what are the plans for the play for now.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Great. So, I am in talks with there’s a wonderful network of women and female identifying artists out on Facebook, the Women Plus in Theater Group, and I have been reaching out to this group of artists to look for venues to tour the show. There are fringe festivals nationwide. There are some regional opportunities that I am in the very very early stages of pursuing right now. So the show is very lean and mean. It is very portable. Me and a chair and a director. So I am looking for what those theatrical venues might be that would support a show that explores these topics, but I am also looking at touring opportunities inside of the natural birth community and inside of the women’s health communities, so things like there’s a national convening of doulas, there’s a midwifery conference that actually have multiple midwifery conferences that happen every year on a national scale. So I am also looking for health workers and birth workers and groups related to healthy children and healthy families that would be interested in including the show as part of their programming.
So I have a personal website. My name is Cathleen O’Malley http://cathleenomalley.com and there is information about my background and also information about the show. I am always interested in discussing, you know, how this show could be a part of meeting the goals of organizations and of activists, and again health workers, people that are interested in moving the dial on how we talk about birth and how we talk about the truth of women lived experiences related to birth and the postpartum stage. I am very interested to see where the show is going to go next. It’s wide open at this point.
LISA REAGAN: That’s fantastic. I look forward to seeing where it goes as well. I think it is one of the most fantastic and riveting vehicles for change that I have seen in a while. I think it is exactly what we need right now. It’s very invigorating and inspirational and you know, for worn out old activists like myself to read something like this, it is so refreshing and it just makes me get a second wind, so thank you so much for that.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Well, thank you for reaching out and thank you for this platform. This is exactly what we need, a place to come together and be sharing thoughts and be hearing people speak on these topics. So thank you Lisa for the work you’re doing.
LISA REAGAN: Thank you. I’ll tell you if you’re a listener and you have found this recording somewhere, you can find the transcript and other resources to go along with it at https://kindredmedia.org and we are part of an award winning non-profit who has been around for 20 years, so please also make your donations while you’re there to help support us bringing together and sponsoring the new story and getting the word out there. There’s a lot of really good stuff happening if you know where to go, i.e. Kindred. Thank you so much, Cathleen.
CATHLEEN O’MALLEY: Thank you, Lisa.
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