Another Lesson in Vulnerability

About six years ago, my former co-worker and friend, Erin Mahone, wondered into my office and we started chatting. One topic lead to another and before long she was sharing her dream that she hoped would come to fruition one day. Erin has an extensive background in the performing arts and wanted to create a platform with which to share her talents, talk about topics that were important and give back to the community through fundraising. She was not certain what this event would look like but she knew she wanted others to be able to contribute their talents to the program.

She had such wonderful ideas and it was evident to me that she was quite passionate about the project, even if she did not know exactly what it was going to look like. I listened as Erin rattled off ideas and I was inspired to offer my support in any way possible. She envisioned that people would have opportunities to tell their stories, funny, sad or serious and express themselves with creativity and vulnerability. Before I knew what I was saying I told her I would be happy to contribute. At that point in time, Erin had known me for several years and was aware that I had gone through extensive fertility treatments in order to have my first child. She asked if I would be willing to participate in her production by sharing my story of infertility. Of course, I said yes.  After a wonderful and heartfelt discussion I encouraged her to follow her dream, we both went on about our work day and six years flew by. We moved on to different jobs, I had another baby and Erin followed her dream and developed a wonderful series of creative productions known as It Runs in the Family.

About a month ago, Erin sent me a message and asked if I remembered the conversation we had six years ago. She wanted to know if I was willing to contribute to one of her upcoming shows in her production series, entitled “We Are Woman.”  The theme of this production was about the challenges women face, our strength and all around fantasticness (that’s not a real word but it works).  Of course, I remembered the conversation from many years ago and I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the production. I asked her opinion on whether my monologue should be funny, sad or serious to which she responded “Combination of the three is always best but you do whatever you feel most comfortable with and I’m sure it will be awesome.”

Originally, the plan was for Mark to be in the audience to support me but finding a sitter can be difficult for a Thursday night and there was a part of me that was a teeny bit scared for him to watch me perform the monologue. I know it seems strange because we went through infertility as a couple. I suppose I was nervous about being so vulnerable, which I have said before is something I avoid like the plague.  Maybe there is a part of me that feels more comfortable talking about this sensitive, intimately private subject on a stage in front of total strangers or on my blog for the entire internet community to read. Go figure, I’m weird that way.  There is just something about performing in front of others that has always appealed to me. I loved the theater productions that I did years ago before marriage and kids.  Perhaps I knew that having the courage to talk about something, of which I guarded for so long, in front of a room full of strangers might, in some ridiculous way, help me to overcome the fear I have for vulnerability. Irregardless, I wanted and needed to tell my fertility story. It felt as though the time was right.

On the night of the We are Woman event I felt fairly confident, calm and knew my material. I was ready. I arrived shortly before the event was to begin, ordered a glass of wine and sat in the back of the restaurant skimming my notes. After a few minutes, I looked up and saw two familiar faces, my former co-workers and friends, Jill Granville and Tiffany Ketron. Jill and Tiffany worked with me for many years at my former job and both ladies were well aware of my fertility journey. They were there before during and after I had my children and wanted to show their support. I jumped up to hug their necks and thank them for coming and immediately felt the first dreaded pangs of anxiety and nerves.

As thrilled as I was to see two familiar faces in the audience, I was also terrified because they were there all those years ago, they cried along with me, witnessed the mood swings, saw the bruises, sent empathetic emails/notes and were genuinely thrilled when I announced my pregnancies.  The raw emotions of that dark time in my life, never far from the surface, came bubbling up and I started to sweat. I could feel my heart racing but years of practice have taught me how to hide the signs of stage fright. There was no turning back.

The evening’s performance progressed with wonderful presentations from an empty nester mom with an incredible voice, a stand up comedian and an amazing 17 year old girl who gave the best poetry slam reading ever! There was a brief intermission and then Erin rose in front of the crowd and gave a lovely introduction of me, which was quite humbling and then suddenly it was my turn at the mic.

I made my way through the crowd from the back of the restaurant and took my place on stage. I scanned the crowd, my palms were sweaty, my throat was tightening and a rush of heat spread across my face. I took a deep breath and thanked Erin for inviting me to participate. As my anxiety peaked, I made a quick decision to poke fun at myself by commenting how happy I was that intermission was in between me and the 17 year old because I would NEVER want to directly follow her amazing performance, and I meant it, she was that incredible. The audience laughed, and I could feel the tension begin to release. It was now or never.

I was careful to interject humor in all the right places while ensuring that the crowd was engaged during the more serious moments of my monologue. One such moment was when I started to discuss the expensive and painful failed attempts of our infertility treatments.  I felt tightness in my throat and moisture welled up in my eyes. I could not bare to look at my friends in the back of the room because I feared that if I saw them crying, I would not be able to get through my part. I turned my focus to the faces of the strangers in front of me but they had tears in their eyes too. One woman dabbed at her face while another table of women reached for each other’s hands as I spoke. I saw a trendy couple in the back of the room, a husband and wife about my age. At one point, the wife wiped her nose with a tissue and her husband reached his arm around her shoulders pulling her close to his chest. I pushed through the discomfort as those old wounds opened and the old familiar pain and sorrow flowed freely. Although I did not recognize any of the faces in the audience, I felt an immediate connection to these strangers. The connection was not one of familiarity but one of understanding and empathy for what Mark and I experienced, what so many people have and will continue to experience. The faces, that only a few minutes before, were unfamiliar to me were now recognizable because they were the faces of my fellow men and women who understand that we are all in this together.

I took one more deep breath and finished my monologue with a sweet picture of my kids, and let the warm response of applause and smiles heal some of the old wounds of infertility. I was humbled and Erin greeted me with a hug before I left the stage and whispered into my ear, “That was perfect. It was exactly what I imagined.” As I made my way back to my seat I was shaking like a leaf. The adrenaline was coursing through my body and my armpits were soaked. Jill and Tiffany welcomed me with smiles and tears, reaching for my shaking hands as I took my seat. It was over and I felt excited, proud and satisfied. After a few more incredible performances, Erin wrapped up the evening with a song she sings at the end of every It Runs in the Family event.  As she started to sing What a Wonderful World, I found myself mouthing the words of, coincidentally, one of the songs I sing to my children at bedtime.

As the evening drew to a close and I gathered my belongings, several audience members approached me to express their genuine gratitude for my honesty and willingness to share my story. The trendy couple I had noticed during the performance, walked over and introduced themselves. They told me that they too had experienced infertility and many failed attempts at In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Luckily, they now have two children and although it has been many years, the memories are never far from their thoughts.  As I walked out of the restaurant and made my way to the car, my face was hurting from smiling so much.

When I got home, Mark listened as I went on and on about the evening, a smile on his face. I finally let him read the monologue and he loved it. I’m sure it brought back some of the funny, sad and serious moments.  I am reminded, once again, of a great quote that I used in my very first blog post over a year ago.

“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified of what people might see or think.” Brene Brown

Erin Mahone, thank  you so much for giving me the opportunity to show up, be seen and be vulnerable. I will be forever grateful and can’t wait to do another show!

Here is a link to Erin’s performance series It Runs in the Family.



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