A new play tackles the struggles of motherhood and identity, inspired by experiences of Boston momsPlay
Motherhood is a tough and never-ending gig. From giving birth to visits to the doctor to school bake sales and soccer practice, motherhood can feel like normalized chaos.
That experience is the subject of a new play in progress by Brooklyn-based playwright Aya Ogawa, whose previous play about fathers was a New York Times critic's pick. For this play, titled "Meat Suit," Ogawa talked to a diverse group of nine Boston moms about the experience of being a mother.
Ogawa joined Morning Edition host Rupa Shenoy to share some of what those moms had to say and share some personal experiences from motherhood.
Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.
On focusing on motherhood for the play
I was working on this play about fatherhood and thinking a lot about parenthood in general. I'm a mom myself. I have a 12 year old and a 9 year old. So much of my experience of motherhood was, at once, really stereotypical and also, at the same time, felt so unique to me. The further I got into it, the more I really wanted to reconnect with my mom about this whole journey of it. But my mother actually passed away when my older son was less than 2 years old. It just has left me wanting to connect laterally with other moms.
And so that's really the premise of this [play]: creating a place where I and other moms can really dig into the dirt of it, and it be a place to be okay to express our frustration and anger and also the joys of the experience.
On the emotional labor involved in motherhood
There are a lot of things that cropped up across conversations, and one of the things was just the level of mental and emotional labor that's involved in motherhood — it's not just the physical labor of the actual birth and the breastfeeding and the lack of sleep.
Often in heterosexual relationships, even with both parents working or both parents being very progressive, a lot of those unseen things fall to the mom. And maybe the dad doesn't quite realize exactly how much real estate it's taking.
On the loneliness of motherhood
I think the pandemic really exacerbated the situation. But this is another thing that I heard across the board, which was how isolating the experience of motherhood is. It's not supposed to be this way. In a lot of other cultures, people are still living in intergenerational households, there are five, six, seven people around who are helping to take care of the younger ones. But often we find ourselves now, in this country, really living far away from our own parents in pursuit of our careers or whatever the circumstances that we are in. We find ourselves living apart, living in these nuclear family units, and just not having the kind of support that maybe previous generations expected and had to support the kids.
On the identity shift that comes with becoming a mother
It's a struggle. It's a real struggle. As an artist, once I had kids, I was like, 'Oh, my God, when am I ever going to be able to make work again?' It was really a terrifying experience, actually, grappling with that kind of identity shift. As the kids get older, it does get easier; the resilience of the mom being about the embracing of and the ability to transform themselves over and over and to accommodate their own needs and their growing children's needs.
... Speaking as a mom myself, I would love for [Mother's Day] to mean not just the flowers and the breakfast in bed, but maybe an honoring of who your mom is outside of the mom identity, outside of the primacy of that mother-child relationship, and honor that person as well.
Editor's Note: The Jar, a Boston community-building organization, connected Ogawa with some of the mothers interviewed for the play.
This segment aired on May 6, 2022.