Poet Staceyann Chin's newest one-woman show, MotherStruck!, chronicles her journey to motherhood as a single, lesbian, immigrant woman of color, showing how pregnancy in modern society is at once unique and deeply personal as well as a universal and public experience.
The productionwhich debuted at New York City's Culture Project at the end of last year and received critical acclaimwas originally directed by Cynthia Nixon, with Rosie O'Donnell, Robert Dragotta and Culture Project co-producing.
Chin said it was interesting to work with two other lesbian mothers, each of whom had her own experience with becoming a mother and with having been mothered.
"It had these three amazingly different perspectives on motherhood and was deeply informed by the experiences we'd had," she said.
"Cynthia got pregnant and had children of her own in a marriage with a male partner and then partnered with a woman who actually gave birth to a child they had. So her lenses covered both sides of the coin," Chin said.
"Rosie had adopted children and she came into this with that perspective of being a mom who didn't give birth to her children.
"One of the things that was apparent is it isn't just birthing that makes a mother."
Chin said they all had differing experiences of being mothered as well.
"Rosie, her mom died when she was young, so she also had a lack of a mother figure in her life as she learned to mother herself," she said. "Cynthia had a good relationship with her mom, and I had no relationship with my mom at all.
"Working with them helped me to see how universal the story is, that we could all be so completely different in our experience, yet have the same moments," Chin said.
In fact, Chin said having become accustomed to living within the context of several marginalized identities, she's been most shocked by how MotherStruck! has tapped into so many women's experiences with pregnancy and motherhood.
"For a long time my work has been about sexuality, race and being an immigrant, and all of these marginalized identities," Chin said. "So I was surprised by how many womenwomen with children, women without children, women who were trying to conceive, women who were not trying to conceive, women who had tried and didn't get pregnant, women who adopted children, women who inherited children, women who had difficult relationships with their mothers and those that had amazing relationships with their mothersI was shocked at how it's as if I turned a page and my experience became universal in a way it had never been."
Despite its universal elements, Chin's story, which chronicles growing up in the care of extended family members without the presence of either of her biological parents and eventually realizing how much becoming a mother was a necessity for her and deciding to pursue motherhood as a single woman through in vitro fertilization, is uniquely personal.
She noted that, as a lesbian, she had to face the challenge of who and what society considers a legitimate family.
"In today's interpretation of family, we've had to fight so hard to legitimize our own grouping of family as LGBT people," she said. "The identity marker LGBT isn't necessarily immediately coupled with the idea of family."
She also noted her experience as a single woman revealed a lot about who society thinks deserves to have a child.
"The other one that maybe I got is that I don't have a right to be pregnant because I'm a single, lesbian, Black, immigrant artist," she said. "Why are you spending time and money to get pregnant when there are children who need to be adopted? How dare you make that choice? Even those of us who do believe you should be able to parent, think go find a child that is already there.
"But, when married couples, men and women, get pregnant the whole world smiles at them. No one asks, 'Why are you getting pregnant? There are children in the worldwhy don't you go and get one of them and raise them?'"
Chin said she's come to realize the heteronormative idea of motherhood is very narrow, while the actual experience of motherhood is "as wide as the sky or as deep as the ocean."
Chin's daughter is now 4, and she said she continues to chronicle her experience as a mother and how it is impacting her.
"I think maybe as a single lesbian my life was very formed by the need to create the now," she said. "I was very caught up with being in partnership now and finding happiness for myself now.
"Being with this kid is showing me how to be in a long term relationship and how to be okay with the ways of life, the ebb and flow of happiness, sorrow, joy, isolation, hope, gratitude, excitement, togetherness and apartness," she said.
"This relationship I have with my kid, I don't imagine it won't last forever. It forces me to practice skills I hadn't before within the context of relationshipsforgiveness, not sweating the small stuff. That is an unusual byproduct of this relationship that I haven't really processed yet."
Chin said she is eager to bring MotherStruck! to Chicago.
"To date, its been the most crazy experience, getting pregnant and having a kid and moving through the world as a motherand to tell the story on stage and to hear about other people's experience [are] mind-blowing," Chin said.
MotherStruck! will kickoff the Greenhouse Theater Center's "Solo Celebration!" Performances will take place at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., June 11-July 17. The performance schedule for MotherStruck! is Wednesdays-Sundays at 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.
MotherStruck! is one of 12 plays featured in Greenhouse's "Solo Celebration!," which will include 10 full productions and two limited engagements running June 2016 through July 2017.
Flex passes to the Solo Celebration! series, which offers admission to five plays at a discounted rate, are now on sale. Single tickets are $32-48, and are on sale now. Flex passes and tickets can be purchased by contacting the box office at 773-404-7336 or GreenhouseTheater.org .