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Play explores women's choices during childbirth

Posted: September 28, 2011 - 11:00pm  |  Updated: September 28, 2011 - 11:03pm

It’s clear that women bear the responsibility for bringing children into the world, but there’s a wide range of opinions about their ideal level of active involvement in the process. Regardless of how you feel about the issue, and the appropriateness or advantages of medical intervention, a play called “Birth,” being presented locally on Sunday evening, is likely to give you something more to think about.

Organized by the local chapter of ICAN, the International Cesarean Awareness Network, the play, written by Karen Brody, is based on more than 100 interviews conducted with women who gave birth between 2000 and 2004. Eight of those stories are presented on stage.

Directed by Patricia Hull, the play stars a mix of actresses and brave volunteers, including Paige McGuan, Lily Hope, Harmony Armstrong, Tamara Buffalo, Diane Cathcart, Sophie Lager, Jesse Higdon and SueAnn Randall.

Of the eight, seven are mothers and three are currently pregnant.

McGuan, who is co-leader of the local ICAN chapter with Janlaine Brady, said the play features more than just straight-up monologue; it also includes interactive scenes with doctors, midwives and husbands, who are also played by the eight actresses on stage.

McGuan plays Beth, a high-powered business woman from New Jersey who chooses to have a cesarean for personal reasons.

“She plans her c-section and she loves it,” she said.

McGuan’s character’s experience is very dissimilar to her own; McGuan had a cesarean with her first child, following a very long labor, but this was not what she had planned or hoped for.

“I’m pregnant with my second, and I’d like to have a (natural birth) but we’ll see how it works out,” she said.

If McGuan does decide to have a vaginal birth for her second (called a VBAC, for vaginal birth after Cesarean), she’ll have to leave town to do it; VBACs are not allowed at Bartlett Regional Hospital, nor can they be performed by local midwives.

Barlett policy reads in part: “Whereas the risks of serious complications during VBACs may not be statistically high, some of the potential complications are life-threatening to both mother and baby, and many are beyond the rapid response emergency capabilities of a community hospital the size of Bartlett.”

Part of the goal in bringing “Birth” to a Juneau audience is to raise awareness of the options that are available or unavailable to local mothers, and to offer support to pregnant women facing these choices.

The goal of the playwright in presenting the play was similar, though more broad. Brody, a community activist and former Peace Corps volunteer, wanted to encourage more “mother-friendly” experiences for women in childbirth, with an emphasis on women’s education and empowerment, according to her website.

ICAN, founded in 1982, is an international nonprofit that was created to help promote VBACs, to help prevent unnecessary cesareans through eduction, and to support cesarean recovery. Locally the group meets monthly and can be reached at ICANofJuneau@yahoo.com. The play is a fundraiser for the group.

“Birth” will be presented at 3 p.m. Sunday at the JACC.

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