When asked, “What is scarier—doing live theater or giving birth?” Mariah MacCarthy responds without hesitating, “Doing live theater.”
The New York-based playwright, producer, author and performer who runs Caps Lock Company is referring to her one-woman show Baby Mama: One Woman’s Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People, which is playing at New York’s IRT Theater January 29. The 70-minute performance chronicles MacCarthy’s experience of finding herself unexpectedly pregnant and giving her son up for adoption to a gay couple.
The pregnancy was completely unplanned for MacCarthy, who credits it to “a drunken fit of passion with a friend.” But the adoption was not; MacCarthy, who was raised Catholic, describes herself as pro-choice but never considered abortion as an option for herself. Her childhood included first communion and confirmation as well as CCD classes, where it was drilled into her mind that birth control and abortion were sins. At the time, MacCarthy considered herself pro-life, but now she is strongly pro-choice.
“I still have a very complicated relationship to it,” she said. “I found out I was pregnant very early—2.5 weeks in. I knew right away I didn’t want an abortion. I really, really am glad I had the option to, but there was no particle of me that wanted—one that even thought about it, necessarily. I think I can be pro-choice and never have considered it for me at the same time.”
Her personal thoughts on abortion are far from the most personal moment MacCarthy shares in Baby Mama. The script invites audiences into her mind and her heart as she adjusts to life as a pregnant woman with very little money living in an unforgiving city. Just like the show, her life was eventful. Pregnancy for MacCarthy involved an active social life, a lot of dating and an orgy.
Following its first bow in New York in 2014, Baby Mama has played in Provincetown, San Diego and Cincinnati. MacCarthy partially credits her determination to keep performing the show to the ongoing dialogue regarding reproductive rights in America, especially following Donald Trump’s election.
“In a lot of ways I had a best-case scenario and I want to keep putting it out there as this is the way it should,” she said, mentioning the medical and emotional support she received that allowed her to choose between different options.
“I was able to kind of frolic around in this sex-positive utopia while doing it,” she said. “I was able to keep doing what I wanted in my body during the pregnancy. Everything that happened in regards to my adoption journey was my choice. I wasn’t sent away to a secret house in the country and taken away from my son without getting to meet him. I chose adoption. I chose on what terms this adoption was going to happen. I had so much control over my body and over the process.”
One of the major factors contributing to MacCarthy’s choosing adoption was money—or, more specifically, the lack thereof. Along with student loan debt, MacCarthy, who was working as an executive assistant at a small media company, could not afford to take care of a child. When she thought she might be pregnant, she had to wait until her payday to afford a pregnancy test. When she was in her third trimester in New York City in the summer, she stayed at a friend’s apartment because she could not afford air conditioning at her own apartment.
Lack of financial support and child care in the entertainment industry is an ongoing issue for theater artists and one MacCarthy feels passionately about.
“We should be able to be single mothers and theater artists if we want to,” she said. “But we can barely be a non-single mother and theatre artist. I know some divorced mothers who share custody with a partner, but I don’t know any single mothers raising children on their own in New York City also doing theater. That’s part of why I made the choice I did. I don’t see a way to do both of these. I was living with roommates, I couldn’t afford to live alone, and I was going to have to do this on my own. It’s impossible.”
Child care and paid family leave were at least temporarily part of the national discussion when Ivanka Trump introduced a plan for maternity leave during her father’s campaign. The plan is far from perfect and reflects Trump’s disparaging and disrespectful attitude towards women, one MacCarthy fervently hopes could one day change.
“I don’t know if I would let Donald Trump see my show because I don’t want to be partially naked in front of Donald Trump,” she said. “If he were to see a livestream of it or something, I would want him to get it into his head that we are human, we are not pussies to be grabbed, we are fully three-dimensional beings with desires and ambitions and every bit of richness that makes a person and a person. We are not disposable. We are not scores. I would want him to come away with a stronger sense of women’s humanity and autonomy and strength and I doubt he would walk away with that but that is what I want.”
Reflecting on the election, she added, “November 9 was the worst day of my life, and you know I’ve had some doozies.”
One of those doozies was giving her son over to his fathers, a decision that, despite knowing it was a good one, was heart-wrenching. MacCarthy chose an open adoption, and she is part of her son’s life, seeing him at least once a month. His adoptive parents attended one of the first performances of Baby Mama, which she gave only two years after his birth. The rapid-fire writing and production of the show has enhanced the show’s impact, she said, adding, “Sometimes people say write from your scars, not the wounds. I think that’s a little ludicrous because when the wound is fresh, when the sensations are the most vivid, you can paint the clearest picture. I don’t think the only valid experiences to write about are the ones you’ve healed from.”