Guest Blog: Katie Villa tackles the preconceptions around motherhood and giving birth

In this blog post, Katie Villa talks about the struggles in becoming a mother and what inspired her to create a show all about giving birth.

WILD is coming to CPT on Wed 29 – Thu 30 May as part of our Calm Down Dear festival. Click here for more info.

I’ve known I was going to make a show about birth for a long time. A very long time. About ten  years in fact, ever since I had my daughter. But the problem was, I am my own worst audience member. What I mean by that is, I don’t think I would go and see a show about birth- and I am SUPER interested in birthy things and I love female led theatre etc etc. So that’s essentially saying that I wouldn’t see my own show, which can be a bit of a creative block quite frankly.

You see, I gave birth to my daughter 11 years ago, and I struggled, really struggled, to be the mother I so desperately wanted to be. I went in with a thousand hidden preconceptions, a catalogue of unrealistic TV births and a very strict idea of how it SHOULD all feel. And I ended up, like so many other brilliant and brave women, with post natal illness. Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in the year after childbirth, which is the kind of statistic that makes me go ahead and MAKE THE BLOODY SHOW.

So, I finally set out to make the bloody show about birth that I would, begrudgingly, at a push go and see. Which meant exploring all the things I didn’t want it to be. For starters, I didn’t want it to be reverent. I didn’t want to have to talk about it in hushed tones, and be zen and paint everything white. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, per se- there is some amazing work out there about birth that may well tick some if not all, of these boxes, but at the time that felt like the only way to make work about birth. There had to be  blood and there had to be screaming, and I just had to wonder who would pay a tenner for the privilege of sitting through that?

So I knew I wanted it to be irreverent and unapologetic, but I also didn’t feel comfortable making something that was shocking for the sake of it. Birth is a hugely sensitive issue, and also hugely triggering, so at each stage in the process I tried to put myself in the audience, or someone like me. Someone who had experienced some kind of birth trauma, who had felt the pressure of trying to get it right (and consistently failing) and I tried to make the show for them. But ALSO, there’s so much about this subject living only within its own echo chamber that I found maddening and, quite frankly, dangerous, so I also set out to make a show that would speak to anyone who just happened upon it. A show for anyone who has ever been born, not just those who have birth experience.

Which is how WILD came to take its current form- part cabaret, part game show, part wake, it’s aesthetically a million miles from reverent, treading that fine line between tragedy and comedy. Working with marvellous humans from across the country, developing it with Laura Mugridge and Nikki Sved and Chloe Whipple to name but a few, WILD started to emerge as a solo show. It’s a funny thing, sitting within your own trauma for so long, moulding it creatively and bringing it wherever you go. It can be tiring, but it also feels massively important. In fact, any time I’m doubting my work or getting crippled by imposter syndrome, I think that if I can just help one person who has experience of birth feel a bit less alone, a bit more empowered and a bit less guilty, then it will be worth it.

It’s always been important to me that the show isn’t a downer. I feel like the best work lets you laugh and cry, and fills up your heart a little bit. There’s enough to be depressed by in the world right now, and this show needn’t add to it. So we are going to laugh, and we might cry, you could win a pineapple and you may well find yourself playing air saxophone shortly before changing the world which would be quite nice wouldn’t it? Come explore birth in all its messy glory and leave a better ally. See you there, yeah?

WILD @ Camden People’s Theatre

Weds 29th & Thurs 30th June at 7.15 pm

(And you can stick around for the double bill too!)

The Birth Project

WILD is part of a series of works under the umbrella of The Birth Project, a multi art from exploration looking at whether we might be telling the wrong stories about birth, and creating platforms for women to share their experiences and stories. Currently The Birth Project has two live strands, WILD and STITCH, a participatory textile arts project that gathers cohorts of women to share stories and create embroidered artworks that capture an element of their birth story. These are then added to a growing exhibition which will tour alongside WILD. You can find out more about all aspects of The Birth Project on the website- www.thebirthproject.co.uk. And please do get in touch if you’d like to know more, or if you have any ideas of where WILD and STITCH could go/grow to next.

Katie Villa