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The Maternity Monologues by Catherine Higgins-Moore

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Stage & Screen
Maternity Monologues

By Catherine Higgins-Moore

Today American women are 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth than their mothers.

The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world.

Suicide is a leading cause of death for women in the UK during the perinatal period.

Women in 80% of N. Ireland can’t access specialist perinatal mental health services.

The Maternity Monologues are long over-due.

The Maternity Monologues got a reassuring stamp of approval, when it was chosen from over 1500 entries and commended in 2018’s BBC International Playwriting Award.

The play began as a piece of journalism. Having suffered from severe Pelvic Girdle Pain during my first pregnancy I was keen to find stories of other women like me- on crutches from three months pregnant, and in constant pain that can last years after the birth.

As a former BBC journalist my initial aim was to publish a story on the influx of the hormone relaxin that affects one in five pregnant women. But the pregnancy issue of the day, because I was pregnant at the same time as the Duchess of Cambridge in 2013, was Hyper Gravidemis. No magazine or newspaper was interested in pelvic girdle pain.

This was 2013, before Me Too, before Time’s Up. Before Repeal. Women might have been speaking out about what was happening to their bodies, but unless a celebrity could be linked to the topic, it would probably fall flat. Nevertheless, I wrote. I wrote about my experience of pregnancy and birth. I read about other women’s experiences, and I asked, and listened to the women I knew who had had complicated deliveries, hard times with employers, with family, with conceiving, with coping afterwards.

Written in the tradition of The Vagina Monologues, The Maternity Monologues is an episodic play featuring a unique chorus of voices- all female characters, talking about the taboo subjects of pregnancy, birth and child rearing.

Just as Eve Ensler’s play sought to break down the barriers of shame around the word vagina, and the recent Bush Theatre production Hijabi Monologues challenged stereotypes of Muslim women, The Maternity Monologues demystifies the female experience of pregnancy, birth and mothering.

Having trained as a journalist I interviewed a number of women on their experiences as source material. I built on those transcripts adding fictional scenarios and voices, pairing them with current events to create honest and often unspoken dialogues.

At times darkly funny, sad, angry and isolated the voices in the play are an honest depiction of the women I interviewed, and how they feel about their changing bodies, finances, relationships and mental and physical health as well as how they are valued by others from conception onwards. The play offers a uniquely honest look through fresh eyes at a brutal, beautiful and powerfully timeless theme.

My road to writing for the stage came about from an English Literature and Drama degree at Trinity College Dublin and a year-long Playwrighting course with professor Stephen Wilmer. I went on to take courses with Fishamble and the National Theatre London. I won a bursary from Kenneth Branagh to study in London, and was funded by the Mawby Fellowship at the University of Oxford during my Masters in Creative Writing. I put on a play at the Oxford Playhouse, and had a reading at the Lyric, while also being shortlisted and commended for a number of prizes including the Cambridge University Girton College Prize, the Bath Short Story Award, the Asham Award, the New York Pen Parentis Prize and the Harper Collins Comedy Women in Print Prize. I was offered one of eight places on Ivy League Columbia University’s M.F.A. in Playwrighting. Course director and playwright Charles Mee said

“We admitted a class of unusually bright, talented, interesting, surprising, risk-taking students, and, among them, Catherine is a standout. She is a remarkably smart, gifted, adventurous writer. [Her] work… is outstanding—strikingly original and fresh, beautifully crafted, startlingly accomplished.”

When rejections come, and self-doubt creeps in, I look at those words and remind myself I am a writer. As I prepare to direct The Maternity Monologues in its world premiere in New York I can vividly recall how fifteen years ago, when I first came to New York for a summer, I waited on line for rush tickets to anything that looked vaguely appealing and could only dream that one day I would have my own play going up here. The road has been long, and it’s only just getting started.

The Maternity Monologues written and directed by Catherine Higgins-Moore will have its world premiere in New York at Theater for the New City in September.

Hear more about The Maternity Monologues by listening to BBC’s Arts Show interview with Catherine https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000660m (10.00 mark) and support the show’s mission to give voice to issues around maternal health here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-maternity-monologues-world-premiere-new-york#/

(c) Catherine Higgins-Moore


About the author

Catherine Higgins-Moore is a Northern Irish writer based in Tribeca, New York. Catherine is a journalist who has worked in the newsrooms of BBC Oxford and BBC Belfast. She holds Master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Oxford. She was commended in BBC’s International Playwriting Award 2018 and is nominated for the inaugural Harper Collins’ Comedy Women in Print Prize. She writes for The Times Literary Supplement, is founding editor of The Irish LiteraryReview and is one of the sifter judges of BBC’s National Short Story Award.
Catherine’s play Just Two People was produced at The Oxford Playhouse’s Burton Taylor Studio and The War at Home had a reading at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre. She was offered one of eight places on Columbia University’s M.F.A in Playwriting.
Catherine has been awarded bursaries by Kenneth Branagh, and the University of Oxford. Her poetry collection, Strange Roof, was published in the U.S. by Finishing Line Press as part of their New Women’s Voices Series.
Catherine’s writing has been published in The Gathering, Prole, Embers of Words: An Irish Anthology of Migrant Poetry, in American journal Northern Liberties Review, alongside writers Maya Angelou, Seamus Heaney, John Betjeman and Bob Dylan in Heart Shoots, The Cherwell, The Honest Ulsterman, The Lobsters Run Free, Narrative Magazine and The Stinging Fly.
She has been shortlisted for New York’s Pen Parentis Fellowship, the Ted Hughes Elmet Trust Award, the Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year, the HG Wells Grand Prize, the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Award, Cambridge University’s Jane Martin Girton College Poetry Prize, the Bath Short Story Prize, the Windsor Fringe New Writing Award and The Asham Award.

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