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In Our Hands – Brighton

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Before beginning the tour of In Our Hands, I decided to have a first conversation with Maggie Gordon-Walker, who runs Mothers Uncovered in Brighton. MU is a long-established group, supporting mums through conversation, writing, improvisation, performance, to work through their experiences of birth and motherhood. Meeting Maggie has been brilliant and inspiring: she is so energetic and generous and shares my view that more women should surely be having a better time doing something entirely natural like give birth. We share an ambition to empower women to feel like they are supported in their choices and also supported much more afterwards, to be able to talk to the professionals who looked after them. So many women are left feeling frankly quite rubbish after birth (and I’m not even talking about the physical symptoms) and this can lead to many women having postnatal depression on different levels of intensity. I personally didn’t suffer that but I was bothered by my birth experience and the dangerous situation it produced. And when I hear directly from other women about their experiences, I feel very sad and like surely women should just be trusted more? My second birth, I basically decided I was in charge and it was such a ludicrously exhilarating experience, to just be able to birth without orders but with support. The picture of me after giving birth to Sylvie is hilarious: I don’t think my smile could have been wider or more manic without my ears popping off the side of my head! I feel incredibly lucky to have had that experience and would love it to be much more widely the experience that women have, starting the completely life-changing journey of becoming a parent.

Here’s our chat:

In Our Hands 1 from Sarah Nicolls on Vimeo.

In Our Hands – Canterbury

Blog for Sound and Music’s Audience Labs – supporting the tour of my Moments of Weightlessness
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Tues 17th Nov
On the train to Canterbury. Quite nice to be going a direction other than London! I’m intrigued to see how the group today goes: my first meeting with mums/dads that I’ve never met before, to talk about their stories and our shared experiences. I’m curious, possibly slightly apprehensive about helping them to loosen up, keenly aware that I’m not a councilor with any training but hoping I can listen and enable well. Intrigued then also to perform in front of them in two weeks, to see if we create a connectedness, simply by meeting and talking like this.
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View the conversation at the bottom of this page.
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On the train home. There was just 2 ladies present in Canterbury but we had a really good chat and there were several really well-put insights into the general ‘condition’ of motherhood. There was discussion around different words – guilt, exhaustion, control, helplessness, loss of identity. It’s interesting to reflect that most people probably do a perfectly good job despite all of these very negative feelings that we internalize! It also makes me wonder if that’s why I sensed a guilt trip from my own mum: that in fact it was her feeling guilty, being projected out. Interesting idea…

One of the phrases that for me unlocked everything we spoke about was when one woman said she felt she was being prevented from trusting her instincts. There is such a fine balance between learning from others and just discovering through experience: literature is there to help us yet the advice changes so frequently (weaning at 4 or 6 months?; put your baby on it’s back/tummy to sleep), the internet is continuously on and can be especially dominant during those middle-of-the-night moments. At the end we mentioned controlled crying and the opposite idea that’s publicised, that we might damage our child’s brains forever. The kind of fear that is peddled is absolutely extraordinary when you stop to consider it. I feel like a laissez-faire approach is probably the healthiest (though no doubt hardest to achieve), as of course we’ll all make mistakes but are hoping to do the best thing for our child, and we also need to attempt to stay (get?) sane and to be as healthy as we can.

We shared birth stories and I was gutted to hear phrases like ‘I wanted X but they wouldn’t let me’. It seems such a common experience and just so shocking to me. If you were in pain in some other way, it seems likely you’d be allowed to do whatever was needed to help the pain go away. And yet somehow afterwards, the mother also bears all of the regret and guilt of this.

There were several moments in our conversation which will stay with me but one particular one was when one lady said she sat down with her tablet, thinking to just read something for herself for 2 minutes… and couldn’t think what to search for. She just said she couldn’t think what she was interested in any more, she didn’t know where she had gone. Not that surprising perhaps, when you consider she’s been looking after twin boys for over 3 years fulltime!! I feel extremely fortunate that I’ve been able to absolutely carry on what I do, and even take that in new directions. The burden of 100% childcare is such an absolute, total and fundamental change to someone’s life. (Of course, on the other hand, the burden of having to go back to work too soon also brings stresses, like the lady who’s children are now 23 and 25 still remembering her 6-month-old child being unsure about her when she went to collect him after work. I myself had to pump all of lunchtime for several months, which was horrible and exhausting: why government guidelines on how long you’re meant to breastfeed don’t match up with minimum legal Maternity Leave, I really don’t understand and find quite upsetting. We also talked about the strange dynamics of living vicariously – conversations with strangers where we might be instructing our children on what to say, yet never addressing the person ourselves and vice versa – people asking our children their names but never needing to know ours.

So, I come away with a real sense of kinship, feeling really like I got to know two people who I had never met 2 hours earlier. I also have, again, a reinvigorated sense of unease with a mother’s predicament, both during birth and after. A deep respect of articulate, observant women who are doing something which so many people do yet which has such intensity and precariousness.
Altogether it was a very moving experience! I think it will also be interesting to perform for these women: I imagine there might be a heightened sense of the experience afterwards, when we meet again.

PART ONE

PART TWO

See Brighton here

Intro to the Inside-Out Piano

To accompany the Moments of Weightlessness tour trailer  here’s a short film about the Inside-Out Piano which plays a main part of the show (and indeed played throughout the show!). Gain insight into the idea behind creating the Inside-Out Piano and how different tools can be used on the strings to get sounds a range of sounds from the instrument.

If you want to try any of these techniques this at home.. just remember to put the pedal down first! A few tips on how to make weird and wonderful sounds on your piano using marbles, blue tac, clothes pegs, rubber balls and bolts.

Moments of Weightlessness trailer

Take a look at the trailer for Moments of Weightlessness, Sarah’s first solo show (with the immense Inside-Out Piano), my theatre show which toured in 2016-17 to Oxford’s North Wall Arts Centre, the Universities of Birmingham and Canterbury, Reading’s South Street Arts Centre, the Colchester Arts Centre and Cheltenham Festival.