I just spent the past two days exposing myself and I am exhausted. No, not THAT kind of exposing myself. I’m talking about revealing truths about myself that, in the anticipation of it, left me feeling vulnerable, nervous, and maybe a little scared.
Annie and three of her closest friends put on a show at Millikin University last night called “The [Blank] Monologues.” It was an adaptation of The Vagina Monologues. They had seen a production of TBM in St. Louis earlier this year and knew right away that they had to bring it to their campus. In less than two months’ time, they put out an audition and submission call, casted the show, scheduled and held rehearsals, and promoted the show, all culminating in two performances at Millikin on Friday night.
What made this show different from The Vagina Monologues is that they wrote and accepted submissions of original content, to be performed alongside some of the original TVM content. That’s where exposing myself began.
When Annie told me about their plans and that they were asking for people to submit original content, I suggested that maybe I would submit something, which I assumed would be immediately shot down. It wasn’t.
But what did I have to say that would fit in with the spirit of The Vagina Monologues? I don’t have a bikini wax story. I don’t claim a place in the #Metoo movement. What exactly would a heterosexual, Catholic wife and mother of three have to say to the world (or at least to 150-ish people) that would be remotely connected to her vagina?
When I sat down to write my submission, my story spilled out onto the page as if it had been waiting for a long time to be unleashed. I wrote about my experience with postpartum depression and postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. Without much editing, I emailed my story to Annie, with a firm directive that I did not expect them to accept it and that my submission should be viewed with neutrality, not as a something Annie’s mom wrote. The next day, I got the call: I was in.
I FaceTimed in to the first rehearsal. Hearing the scripts for show’s other monologues, I felt like mine didn’t measure up. I wasn’t sure it belonged in the show. I told Annie as much after the rehearsal. She insisted I was wrong, my story needed to be told, and it would be.
Rehearsals went on without me, though I promised to be at dress rehearsal the night before the show. True to my word, I showed up and immediately became intimidated and a bit overwhelmed. These young women are AMAZING at their craft. They delivered their monologues convincingly, naturally. During a break, I told Annie I was feeling uncomfortable, especially because I would be using notes to help tell my story. She assured me that two of the professors in the cast would also be delivering their monologues with the help of a script. This girl was not taking no (or even maybe) for an answer.
I’m not afraid of public speaking; in fact, I enjoy it. But this was going to be the first time I had told this very personal, very vulnerable story to a large group of random people. Annie had told me that many cast members cried when they read first my piece in the script, which is what happened when I delivered it during dress rehearsal. I was surprised. For some reason, I didn’t expect my story to resonate.
Even still, their reaction did not prepare me for the reaction of the audience when I delivered the monologue. First, the girls in the cast (yes, they are young women, but they’re 25+ years younger than I am, so they seem like girls to me), applauded me to the stage in an audible show of support before I even opened my mouth. They knew I was a little unsure. As I told my story, I looked out into the audience and saw that people were completely dialed in to my story, many with tears streaming down their faces. When I finished, there was a standing ovation. It was, as my castmates would say, FIERCE.
After the show, several people came to me to thank me for sharing my story. A professor complimented my writing and suggested that I submit my piece to The Moth, a storytelling podcast. I think the most meaningful feedback I received was from a student who told me that she’d always wanted to be a mother, but that she deals with depression and didn’t know if she could be a good mother. My story, she said, gave her hope.
That made all the uncertainty and hesitation to expose myself and my experience with postpartum depression worth it. I write to make connection. Because I was willing to risk putting myself out there — and because my daughter could see the importance and pushed me to own it — that connection happened. And I am so grateful.