The raw and untold secrets of pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth, and mothering are revealed in this true story of motherhood for the twenty-first century.
A playwright writes an exposé of modern motherhood full of her own darkly funny confessions and taboo-breaking truths. One of her real-life friends, an actress, performs the piece, and through it her own experiences of motherhood start to surface. These mothers are not the butts of jokes, the villains, or the perfect angels of a household.
This empowered and relatable play was written collaboratively between award-winning theatre artists Hannah Moscovitch, Maev Beaty, and Ann-Marie Kerr, with co-creator Marinda de Beer. Uplifting and full of love, Secret Life of a Mother is a generous and powerful act of truth-telling for anyone who has thought about, been, loved, known—or come from—a mother.
About the authors
Hannah Moscovitch is an acclaimed playwright, librettist and TV writer. Her work for the stage includes East of Berlin, This Is War, Little One, The Russian Play, Infinity and What a Young Wife Ought to Know. Her plays have been widely produced across Canada, as well as in the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Greece, Austria, Australia and Japan. Hannah’s music-theatre hybrid, Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story (co-created with Christian Barry and Ben Caplan) has toured internationally, garnering a New York Times Critics’ Pick and over fifty four- and five-star reviews. Hannah’s operas with Lembit Beecher, Sky on Swings and I have no stories to tell you, have been produced at Gotham Chamber Opera / the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Opera Philadelphia. She has been honoured with numerous accolades, including multiple Dora Mavor Moore Awards, Toronto Theatre Critics Awards, Fringe First and Herald Angels Awards, the Trillium Book Award, the Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award and the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize. She has also been nominated for a Drama Desk Award, the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and twice for the Siminovitch Prize. Recently, Hannah debuted her first confessional work for the stage, Secret Life of a Mother (co-created with Maev Beaty, Ann-Marie Kerr and Marinda De Beer) at the Theatre Centre in Toronto. Hannah is a playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto and lives in Halifax.
Maev Beaty is a critically acclaimed actor, writer, and voiceover artist, originating roles in twenty-three Canadian premieres (Hannah Moscovitch’s Bunny, Kate Hennig’s The Last Wife, Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End, Sharon Pollock’s Angel's Trumpet); co-writing and starring in award-winning theatre (Secret Life of a Mother, Montparnasse, Dance of the Red Skirts); interpreting lead classic roles across the country and over six seasons at the Stratford Festival (King Lear, She Stoops to Conquer, Midsummer Night’s Dream); and acting in epic theatre endeavours (Soulpepper’s August Osage County, Sheep No Wool/Outside the March/Convergence’s Passion Play, Nightwood’s Penelopiad, Volcano’s Another Africa, TheatreFront’s The Mill). She is a Toronto Theatre Critics Award winner, and has won multiple Dora Mavor Moore Awards and been a nominee thirteen times. She lives in Toronto.
Ann-Marie Kerr is an award-winning theatre director, actor, and teacher based in Halifax. Select directing credits include Concord Floral (Fountain School of Performing Arts, Halifax), Secret Life of a Mother (Theatre Centre and Crow’s Theatre, Toronto), One Discordant Violin (2b theatre company, Halifax, and 59E59 Theatre, New York), Bed and Breakfast (Soulpepper Theatre Company, Toronto), A Christmas Carol (Theatre New Brunswick, Fredericton), Daughter (Summerworks, Toronto, and Battersea Arts Centre, London), Snake in the Grass (Neptune Theatre, Halifax), I, Claudia (Globe Theatre, Regina, and Neptune Theatre, Halifax), Stranger to Hard Work (Cathy Jones Eastern Front Theatre, national tour), The Circle (Alberta Theatre Projects, Calgary), The Debacle (Zuppa Theatre Company, Halifax), and Invisible Atom (2b theatre company, Halifax, and international tour). She is a graduate of L’École internationale de the´a^tre Jacques Lecoq and York University and is the former artistic associate of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.
Marinda de Beer has spent the last twenty-seven years stage managing in Toronto and across Canada. She has worked for Soulpepper, Canadian Stage, the Shaw Festival, Théâtre français de Toronto, Tarragon Theatre, and many other independent theatres. While stage managing, she was also a birth and post-partum doula for fifteen years, primarily serving the theatre community. She began producing in the last five years and is currently finishing her master’s degree in Buddhism and Pastoral Studies.
Excerpt: Secret Life of a Mother (by (author) Hannah Moscovitch; with Maev Beaty & Ann-Marie Kerr; foreword by Marinda de Beer)
HANNAH: I’d been trying to finish an episode of a TV show I was writing before the baby came, so I’d gone to bed at 2AM.
When I woke up around 4 AM, the pain felt a lot like what I’d been feeling the last few day — pressure on my cervix. So I went into the spare room and watched Netflix. I was half-way through an episode of The Good Wife when the pain got bad, and I . . .
Kept watching the episode! As in what’s going to happen with Alicia and her husband who fucks hookers but is nice to her now and will she win in court this week? And then at some point the pain was so bad I couldn’t lie still, and I finally clued in that I was nine months pregnant, five days past my due date. I’ve heard of this happening before: a woman I know googled “40 weeks pregnant water coming out of vagina.”
So the first thing I did was . . .
I wrote an email to my bosses, the showrunners, so that I could send them the episode of TV I was working on. Then I opened the episode doc, and I edited it for a while uh . . . yeah, while I was having contractions.
Then I woke up Christian.
Christian’s response was “I’m too tired for it to be happening.”
Which was him being funny.
But he did go back to sleep and I did lie beside him in pretty bad pain for a while being polite about it.
Ahead of my labour, Christian and Amy my doula asked me what I was scared of. I wasn’t scared of labour pain being bad (because I’d a car accident that knocked out six of my front teeth and then I spent a couple of years having surgeries to reconstruct them and also I was hit by a car, and that hurt) but I was afraid of what the pain would make me do. I was scared of what was at the bottom of my psyche that I might let go of when the pain was bad, that it would shortcut me to my true self, and I’d find out I was actually a . . . bad person.
And for the first twelve hours, the pain was fine, or, not fine, but . . . I was in my bathtub and my water broke and the amniotic fluid moved with so much velocity that I could see it pumping out of me through the bathwater. And now it was like someone was punching down onto my cervix, and it was stinging as though things in there had started to rip, and that’s when I started wanting to push.
In the cab on the way to the hospital, I could tell that the cab driver was worried about his seats, so I tried to hold in my amniotic fluid. When we got out of the cab I was heaving and I could see people looking at me the way you look at a person who’s in the middle of a physical crisis.
In reception, the nurses were freaked out when they saw me. I was saying: “I want to push!” So they started asking emergency questions, like my blood type, and “do you think you’re going to deliver in this elevator?”
Upstairs, on the maternity ward, the nurse examined me, and . . .
MAEV playing HANNAH plunges her arm into the fish tank. Onto her hand is projected a video of Esmé as a baby.
. . . no.
I’m trying to uh
They’re talking and I’m uh trying to
The nurse’s saying the baby’s way down my birth canal putting pressure on my cervix and that’s why I want to push so badly
And Christian’s looking at them and nodding
And someone somewhere’s screaming . . . ?
But they’re saying
I’m only 3 centimeters dilated and “good job” on those 3 centimeters but I have to be 10 centimeters before I start to push so at least another four or five hours and maybe more if I keep pushing down because . . . I’m going to rip the shit out of my cervix
And Christian says “but it’s been twelve hours” . . .
And no, they say, I can’t push.
And Christian’s nodding yeah.
And then I start barfing
And there are no contractions
What the fuck is fucking “contractions” it’s just one long fucking contraction!
And the whole time
The only thing I want is to do is push
And all that went on for the next four or five hours!
And for those hours, the nurses and Christian and my doula say to me every few seconds “don’t push.”
Maybe MAEV steps out of her role as HANNAH and goes up to the audience and says:
MAEV: Hey so we get a sense of this can you four people say “don’t push” for five hours. Just kidding I’m just kidding.
MAEV goes back to playing HANNAH.
HANNAH: And here’s where I learn what’s at the bottom of my psyche.
“One of the most creative, radically honest, thrillingly acted and incredibly well told stories I have ever seen on stage, anywhere.”
Tracey Erin Smith
“Breathtaking piece of theatre. I've never left a play with a feeling like this. Shaken, uplifted, troubled, grateful.”
“That piece of theatre grew me. Powerful, essential, moving, vulnerable, educational, real-ass shit.”
“I am awestruck, rearranged, churned, changed.”