Performing Arts

'After Birth': The Mixed Joys of Motherhood

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After Birth is a Los Angeles-based show where performers read their personal stories about how parenthood changed their lives. In honor of Mothers Day this Sunday, Day to Day talks to actor and comedian Dani Klein about her traveling show about the "joys" of motherhood — warts and all.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Ms. MOON ZAPPA (Daughter of Frank Zappa): Growing up the daughter of a '60s rock icon was pretty much what you all might imagine. I was offered a diaphragm at age 12 and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ZAPPA: ...and told that when I had sleepovers I had to shower with whomever I was dating so we could save water.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: That's Moon Zappa, the daughter of legendary rock musician Frank Zappa. She was reading an excerpt from her story at a show called After Birth. It's a regular gathering of L.A. performers who read their stories. We thought in honor of Mother's Day this weekend - yes, you still have time to buy flowers, we'd bring you some of these unusual stories. And joining me in the studio is actor and comedian Dani Klein. She is the mother of After Birth, so to speak.

Ms. DANI KLEIN (Creator of After Birth): Yes.

BRAND: So tell us about After Birth. What is it?

Ms. KLEIN: After Birth was my brain child, if you will, to bring people together and have them tell funny stories about being a parent. Unexpected, surprising stories that you wouldn't read in Parents magazine.

BRAND: So you have moms and dads?

Ms. KLEIN: Yes.

BRAND: Usually.

Ms. KLEIN: Absolutely, yes. Every single incarnation of family has been represented.

BRAND: What kind of reaction do you have from the audience and who's coming to your shows? Because I imagine that there are a lot of people out there, a lot of parents out there, I'm not naming any names, but okay, myself, who just wonder if I'm the only one going through this.

Ms. KLEIN: Well, that was the point, in fact, of creating this whole story. I was sitting alone, I had a newborn, I was actually having a terrible time breastfeeding, and I really wanted to hear other stories of how you get to the other side, of how you face this challenge as a parent and get to the other side. It's very intimate. These are -- I've had people say they will only do my show if it's not recorded and not taped because they want to say things that they don't ever want out in the world again.

BRAND: And on that note let's hear a little bit more of Moon Zappa's story. She did actually let us record this story, so...

Ms. KLEIN: Yeah.

BRAND: Let's hear a little bit more from her.

(Soundbite of After Birth)

Ms. ZAPPA: Mom to me meant let people be themselves so dad doesn't leave us for a groupie so we can keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. Mom to me meant tolerance for the unthinkable, like the time my dad moved an Australian groupie into the basement for several months and my mom put up with it so we could remain a family, when I wished my mom would threaten divorce instead.

In therapy I learned my mom never got to be a little girl who was adored or a wife who was adored or adored for being a mom and therefore she had no idea how to adore me. I mean, my god, we even celebrated my father on Mother's Day because he had a band called the Mothers of Invention.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: So, Dani, parts of that are funny, but also parts of that are really sad and heart-wrenching.

Ms. KLEIN: Right. I mean the bottom line is it's always the truth. You laugh, you cry, it's just like all those bad quotes outside Broadway theaters, you know? It's a comprehensive experience.

BRAND: Well, you also gave a performance.

Ms. KLEIN: Yes.

BRAND: So tell us, set this up.

Ms. KLEIN: Okay. So this is, I have one child and he's three and I've been trying for the last year to have a second child, and this is the story about my driving my husband's sperm from Silver Lake to Beverly Hills to try to make a second child. Because it's IUI, which is intrauterine insemination, which is just about as clinical as you can get, it involves tubes and, you know, it's not fun. But I am committed to making this the most holistic, natural thing you can do with tubes and pills.

And so I buy these candles in this Indian store and I'm going to go in the room and I'm going to create atmosphere and some music and so when I get there this is where we are. I've just gotten into the room by myself, finally.

(Soundbite of After Birth)

Ms. KLEIN: What's going on in here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KLEIN: Dr. Chin asks. It's a day off and he's dressed like a J. Crew model. Well, you know, we're trying to create new life, so I thought I'd give the room a little atmosphere. I reach my hand out and turn off the fluorescents. Oh, that's okay, he says. You can leave them on. We have enough light. I love Dr. Chin. I don't want to have his baby, but I'm glad he's the guy who's in charge of helping me have mine.

I lay on the table for 20 minutes. It's not until I try to get up that the cramping hits. And it is fierce. I put my clothes on gingerly and hobble out to the lobby. Chin's fled as soon as he put down the syringe.

Is it normal to feel like this, I ask the receptionist on the way out? Like what? So crampy? Well, I mean, you're walking, so how bad can it be?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KLEIN: But Advil can help. Great. Do you have any here, since dispensing warmth and understanding is not possible.

(Soundbite of laugher)

BRAND: That's funny.

Ms. KLEIN: Oh, yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah.

BRAND: But still....

Ms. KLEIN: Got to make it funny.

BRAND: It's serious for you. You haven't had a second child yet.

Ms. KLEIN: Yes, and now apparently the whole nation knows. That's terrific.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Public therapy.

Ms. KLEIN: National public therapy.

BRAND: Yeah, there we go.

Ms. KLEIN: I must have gone in the wrong door. Okay. That's terrific.

BRAND: Why do you think that the interest in telling these stories is so high now? I mean I really do feel that there is a lot out there right now, a lot of women tackling this issue in a serious and unfrivolous way in sort of trying to look at motherhood, warts and all.

Ms. KLEIN: Absolutely, I agree with you. And I think that's -- certainly my generation was really raised that you take care of yourself, you get educated, you pursue your goals and your dreams and then you get hit with motherhood. As fortunate as you are, it's completely unnerving. It is a completely non-linear journey for lack, of a better word. And I think that we're all trying to grapple with having not been raised on the 1950's model and so now what do we do? And how do we do it and why it's so hard?

On this particular show the idea was brought to me by an actress named Caroline Aaron who was a very dear friend of the late Wendy Wasserstein, who passed away in January, and Wendy was a much revered playwright and she was also the mother of Lucy Jane.

BRAND: And Caroline Aaron reads from Wendy Wasserstein's story about giving birth to her daughter prematurely. She was 28 weeks pregnant. The baby was born one pound, twelve ounces.

Ms. CAROLINE AARON: (Reading) Lucy Jane was almost weightless. Her tiny legs dangled like a doll. Her diaper was the size of a cigarette pack. I opened my sweater, I put her inside. Her face was smaller than an apple. She wore a tiny pink and blue striped cap that made her look like Santa's littlest elf. I began to sing to her softly: Picture yourself on a boat on a river where tangerine peaches meet marshmallow skies. I knew those weren't exactly the right lyrics, but they were close enough.

I told my daughter I named her Lucy because when she waved to me from the sonogram, I thought she was Lucy in the sky with diamonds saying hello. Ten weeks after her birth, Catherine walked us to the front door of the Singenstein(ph) Pavilion, she gave me a kiss, she cut out Lucy's hospital bracelet and said, once you get Lucy Jane home, you'll forget all about this place. No, I will never forget this place, I told her.

Just after a midnight feeding recently, Lucy Jane and I settled in to watch television. An I Love Lucy rerun was on. It was the one where Lucy had just had a baby. And Ricky rushes to the maternity ward in his voodoo costume fresh from the Tropicana. When Ricky burst into song, my daughter started to cry. She'd seen a lot of things in the natal ICU, but she wasn't accustomed to bellowing Cuban men in feathers.

I held her close, all 10 pounds of her, and told her not to be frightened. And then I looked down at her now-pinchable baby cheeks. I love Lucy too, I told her, and we're home.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. KLEIN: She was all about courage and humor, and I can't think of a better recipe for being a parent in today's, in today's world.

BRAND: Dani Klein is the founder of the show After Birth, which is playing here in Los Angeles. Thank you, and Happy Mother's Day.

(Soundbite of music)

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