Laura Beatrix Newmark, “Hannah and Her Sisters”

On Thursday, May 11th, LABAlive Three will present an evening of art works and subversive teachings exploring our annual theme, OTHER. The evening will feature teachings by LABA Scholar Ruby Namdar and works by fellows Elana Greenfield, Michael Leibenluft, and Laura Beatrix Newmark, who will present her work in progress, Hannah and Her Sisters: 5 stories on mOTHERhood.

Here, Beatrix Newmark introduces her work and offers a glimpse into her writing on the primordial otherness of motherhood.

 “The Torah says the creation of a human being is between G-d, a man, and a woman. Suddenly, we were throwing this concept out the window and contemplating IVF to gender select a boy. We found ourselves in a most ethical quandary and one of sort of playing G-d through science. Knowledge is power but its use and misuse is tricky. What right did we have to try this out? Would something bad happen to us? Besides having a miscarriage which is surprisingly common, I had no known fertility issues so did I really want to put myself through this very invasive and intense process? Maybe I should just let the natural process of fertility happen and hope that if we had a girl, she would be in the 50% who didn’t exhibit physical traits? I may be a risk taker but when it comes to choices that affect someone else, an innocent being, the weight feels heavy and the risk seems silly.”

Watching Transparent made me think a lot about how the word “other” is such a strong part of the word “mother”. I started thinking about times in my life as a mother where I’ve felt “other”. There have been many, and interestingly, I really didn’t feel comfortable in any mother group setting. Part of this stemmed from my anxiety when my 5 months of desperate attempts to produce milk left me physically and emotionally bruised and to my great displeasure, left the only food my son took in to be formula with some drops of the tiny, tiny milk supply I was able to create. The culture in NYC is so “nursing”-centric that this inability to produce made me an outlier and yet it also made me realize that I’ve never been one to operate in group settings. I’ve always done my own thing and being a mother was no different from that. It took a while to figure that out though as the insecurity of being a new mom was stronger than I had anticipated. That said, I did get into a rhythm and spent many an afternoon pushing Elias around in his stroller and calming my nerves with a big pour of Rose at the restaurant around the corner while Elias slept. I simply didn’t care as much the second time around with my son Milo and savored every minute in a way that with Elias – the learning curve, the nursing disappointment, and learning to have my own voice as a mother – were still being developed.

I remember having a conversation with a dear Israeli friend about why, when she was born in the United States and spoke terrific and fluent English, she wasn’t speaking in English to her first child. She told me that she was building her confidence as a mother and Hebrew was her voice so she couldn’t fathom not using it as a mother. It resonated very strongly with me. The truth is, I feel that one of the biggest tasks when becoming a mother is finding your voice. It’s a new voice, the stakes are higher, and the improv game we play every day in our lives gets much more intense and powerful.

For my project, I reached out to 4 mothers, 2 who are connected to the 14th Street Y through working or being a parent of a child here, to ask what challenges they specifically faced that made them feel “other” as a “mother”.

Through each mother reading a story of how they became mothers and the challenges they faced with images of their son(s) projected on a screen, interestingly we all only have sons (that was NOT intentional!), they will share the both unique and universal themes on navigating this crazy experience.

Through the lens of LABA, and ancient text, the story of Hannah started to resonate loudly and seemed a fitting title for this piece. Every mother who you will hear from struggled to conceive or adopt a child. We all yearned for something we didn’t have. Like Hannah, we each did our own form of intense prayer or reckoning or struggle to create and have our little boys.

(Featuring Jennifer Gilmore, Sara Ivry, Gabriella Spierer, Becky Skoff, and Laura Beatix Newmark)