“I was there in the room…”
On the evening of Global Hearts Day, I am about to perform on stage in front of an audience of around 500 people, a piece from Eve Ensler’s award winning play The Vagina Monologues for the Dumaguete VDay event held in the Silliman University’s Luce Auditorium and organized by the VDay Dumaguete Chapter in its 14th year.
Having never performed on stage before it would have been so easy to decline the invitation, but having affirmed to myself in a moment of insightful inspiration I will say ‘YES’ to any invite that invokes an immediate fear based ‘NO WAY’ when asked of me, I reluctantly agree to take on the challenge; although I must confess it takes nearly three weeks before responding to the invitation pretending I hadn’t received it.
Being in my sixties, the biggest challenge I face is remembering my lines and my biggest fear is becoming stage-struck – forgetting my lines and being frozen in the moment in front of a sea of faces.
I memorize each verse little by little but get confused often with the repeated words at the start of each verse, ‘I was there!’
The last verse of the monologue, ‘I was there in the room. I remember’, triggers within me the remembrance of when “I ‘was’ there!”
‘I ‘was’ there in the Room!’
In the August of 2010 at a birthing sanctuary in Banjar Nyuh Kuning, Bali, Indonesia, I first meet Robin Lim who is affectionately known as Ibu Robin (Ibu means ‘mother’ in Bahasa Indonesia). She is the founder of Yayasan Bumi Sehat —a small, compassionate but impactful ‘natural birthing centre and clinic’.
I feel I am guided by Spirit this morning to be here at Bumi Sehat and on arrival I am immediately greeted by Ibu Robin with, “Oh great, you’re here! I want you to do some writing for me.” This puzzles me as I initially volunteer to help out in the paediatric clinic. I follow her quick pace sensing an urgency in her voice.
On entering through what I perceive an office door, I am immediately stopped in my tracks. From a place of shocked stillness, I am stunned to see a beautiful young Balinese woman laying on top of a massage table, naked from the waist down, knees bent up, legs open and spread wide – in the midst of giving birth. Two midwives are in attendance, a mature Balinese woman and a youngish Australian midwife trainee volunteer. The husband is there handsomely dressed in his temple ceremonial clothes, standing anxiously beside his wife in the throes of childbirth.
Ibu Robin turns towards me and with a voice of authority and pointing to a small red plastic chair next to the table says, “You’re the Spiritual Midwife! Now, sit!”
Her strange words have a huge impact on my overall state of being and I feel a surge of powerful but somehow gentle energy descend into my body sending waves of electrified currents up and down my spine, jolting me from my numbed out state.
I obediently sit and pray for guidance and healing. Then feeling moved to stand from sitting in this uncomfortable red chair direct eye contact is now possible with Ketut, this soon to be mother for the very first time.
Without losing eye contact her right hand reaches out to me, my left hand responds and our palms come together in sync as if magnetized, our fingers clasp, locking us in oneness – in a sacred union of sisterhood trust.
No words are spoken. The verbal language barrier is not an issue for we are communicating beautifully through the eyes of our hearts. But as the contractions intensify along with the beads of sweat oozing out all her pores, I am astounded – she does not make one sound. Not one! Not even a slight whimper.
The only time I leave her side is to dampen my batik scarf to wipe the perspiration; droplets that are now seeping into small streams trickling out the pores of her beautiful youthful skin.
And as Eve Ensler so brilliantly expresses in The Vagina Monologues, her own experience of ‘I Was There in the Room’ for the birth of her granddaughter:
‘I Was There In the Room’ also to experience the miraculous birthing process for the very first time with a complete stranger – or so it would seem to the unconscious physical mind. My belief is there are no mistakes or accidents; only Holy perfection…
I saw the midwife:
‘with her whole hand up there in her vagina
I saw the colours of her vagina. They changed.
Saw the bruised broken blue
the blistering tomato red
the grey pink, the dark;
saw the blood like perspiration along the edges…’
‘saw through the hole, the baby’s head
scratches of black hair, saw it just there behind the bone’
And that’s when the room filled with a tear invoking lullaby sung spontaneously by the Balinese in the room to encourage and welcome this tiny miracle into this:
‘difficult, and wondrous world’.
The singing continues until:
‘her vagina became a wide operatic mouth singing with all its strength; first the little head, then the grey flopping arm, then the fast swimming body, swimming quickly into our weeping arms.’
A beautiful baby boy, so angelic, so full of Light, his alertness gracing the room with his presence, so much so, everyone in the room is moved to tears feeling the fullness of the Love and Peace this tiny baby is emanating.
‘I stood and let myself see her all spread, completely exposed, mutilated, swollen and torn, bleeding all over’
…the mid-wife’s hands who was skilfully stitching her there.
And still not one sound comes from Ketut’s quivering lips…
Eve Ensler ends this monologue with her experience of seeing the vagina as:
‘A wide red pulsing heart’ bringing our awareness to the similarities and capabilities of both the heart and the vagina.
Performing this piece is a powerful reminder that:
‘We forget the vagina, all of us
What else would explain
Our lack of awe, our lack of reverence.’
Ibu Robin and the Balinese culture express the same awe and reverence to the placenta – ask any Balinese, no matter what age, where their placenta is and they will share with you with much respect and sacredness where it is buried.
Drawing on this experience and reliving the birthing process certainly helped me tremendously, not just to memorize the lines but to deliver them with deep passion and authenticity.
My confidence grows after the first rehearsal when I am the only cast member to have memorized their script, without forgetting any lines, and receive after my delivery an encouraging round of applause.
I will note that the cast was ‘invitation only’ and most of us were first timers to perform in public. We were invited for our commitment and support with various advocacies in line with the VDay movement.
On the night of the big event, I really had to stay focused within my own energy field and not distract myself with the other emotionally charged performances. My piece was the second last on the program so I had several hours to wait, sitting dressed in my long white flowing outfit, with full make up professionally applied.
Fun photo shoot for the VDay posters.
I breathe, recite my lines to the wall, or the sleeping guard on the stage door entrance and breathe some more. I chant, pull funny faces, and do stretching exercises all the while breathing deeply to keep myself relaxed.
I hear my name called to be wired up with the microphone and told to stand silently in the wings and wait for my cue.
My mouth is dry! I need some more water, but too late. I’m on!
Standing in the dark on a wooden platform centre stage, I anchor my bare feet into the surface to ground and balance myself.
The spotlight almost blinds me and ‘I am there’ sharing Eve Ensler’s words with my own emotional experience of ‘I Was There in the Room.’
The applause is loud, the lights dime and I exit the stage feeling tremendous elation, exhilaration and dare I say ecstatic joy!
The directors give me the thumbs up and joining with the other cast members we celebrate each other for our courageous performances. We all stepped up and shone beautifully on the night.
On social media I was named as one of the top five performers – a reminder to rejoice and be grateful that someone saw my potential and offered the invitation, moving me beyond my own self-imposed limitations. What a gift!
So I will keep saying ‘Yes’ and ‘Thank You’ to all opportunities that come my way.
I feel honoured to have met personally both Eve Ensler and Robin Lim – two powerful women who exude the Strength and Grace needed to continue their Souls’ purpose and calling.
February was also National Arts month, and one of the Core Beliefs of the VDay Movement rings true: Art has the power to transform thinking and inspire people to act.
Robin Lim’s passion and dedication to Midwifery is rewarded in 2011 when she becomes CNN Hero of the Year for her untiring services for all women, before, during and after the miracle of birthing a new born baby into this world.
She is also the author of several books and has published recently her book Placenta – The Forgotten Chakra. www.bumisehatfoundation.org
Eve Ensler along with “others launched V-Day in 1998, a global non-profit movement that has raised over $100 million for groups working to end violence against women and girls, through the benefits of The Vagina Monologues.” www.vday.org
Eve Ensler receiving the handmade vulvanic skirt made by Raz as a gift from the VDay Dumaguete team in December 2012. Photo: RV Escatron
(Please Note: The prose italicize and included between inverted commas are part of the monologue ‘I Was There in the Room’ taken from ‘The Vagina Monologues’ written by Eve Ensler. )
Silliman University Luce Auditorium | Photo by Dennis Futalan