Write about what you know. It’s standard advice that every writer gets at some point. For Claire Rammelkamp, what she knew was how it felt to have an abortion. The result was the play A Womb Of One’s Own, which comes to The Space this month. Rammelkamp tells us more:
“The play A Womb Of One’s Own started as a tiny speck of an idea. It was fertilised, doubled and doubled again in size, and started to develop features. By the time it had been written and produced I was calling it my baby. Ironic, really.
“It’s almost as though this play replaced the baby I might have had. When I first found out I was pregnant in un-fortuitous circumstances – single, studying, unemployed… the list goes on – my first impulse was to call my mum. I was lucky enough to have a mama who could scoop me up in her cosy bear hug and comfort me without passing judgement. And still, it was a difficult time.
“I was nauseous, restless, terrified. I immediately knew I wanted an abortion, and had I been able to get one quicker, the experience might have been less traumatic. It turns out the path to abortion is a rocky one, even in our liberal day and age. I found myself thanking my lucky stars for the NHS. But like many services in that valiant institution, the abortion clinic felt overwhelmed and underfunded.
“I had to wait three agonising weeks for my final appointment, during which time I didn’t know where to turn for advice, or guidance, or reassurance that everything was going to be okay. But I had my friends. I had my mama.
“This play is an exploration not only of the problems I encountered with a lack of education and transparency about abortion, but also of what it would be like to go through the experience completely alone.
“I gave the main character, Babygirl, a strict Catholic upbringing so that pro-life arguments would really shake her on a deep level, because that’s what a lot of girls have to contend with. She can’t tell her family. She has only just arrived at uni, so she doesn’t have any strong friendships. She’s isolated and vulnerable.
“I wanted people to really empathise with women who have abortions. And I wanted to highlight the difficulties which surround the process, even in Britain, where it’s legal and free of charge. What I didn’t want to do was present abortion as a bad decision. It doesn’t ruin Babygirl’s life by any means. What causes her struggle is the fact that she feels she needs to go through everything alone.
“It’s a comedy, which a lot of people seem shocked by, but I’ve always thought the most serious issues are best handled with humour. And once we get the audience laughing, they’re really on Babygirl’s side. They care more about her if they’ve seen her candid, embarrassing, hilarious moments.
“We were a little concerned that the themes of religion, LGBTQ relationships and abortion might cause some backlash, particularly when we saw a vicar sitting in the front row of our Birmingham performance. It turns out we hadn’t offended her at all. She even waited outside the stage door to congratulate us on how funny and moving she’d found it. It was a lovely moment for us.
“As a feminist theatre group we’re naturally geared towards challenging ideas. It’s interesting how many people still find the word ‘feminism’ so challenging.
“I hope this play can go some way to lift the taboo surrounding abortion, to give some comfort, to help you understand. I hope it can start a conversation. Most of all, I hope it makes you laugh. Instead of having a baby I wouldn’t have been able to look after, I grew this play, which I hope will bring some joy and do some good.”