AUSTRALIA – Play confronts ‘grief for what might have been’

“Emily Steel and her partner Chris knew what their decision would be if they found out their unborn baby had Down’s syndrome. She told her loved ones about it, but she concedes that in ‘real life I tend to play my cards close to my chest’. That is until she made another decision, months later, that enabled her to confront ‘the depth of the emotion and the pain of it’.

“It was 2016 and 12 weeks into Steel’s pregnancy when a midwife told the couple their fetus had genetic abnormalities. Five weeks later, following an amniocentesis, a doctor, over the phone, gave Steel a confirmed Down’s syndrome diagnosis. Steel says by then, aided by talks with medical staff and other tests, she had decided to have an abortion.

“After the procedure, there was relief, but a great sense of loss, like the world had shifted. ‘It’s a grief for what might have been. You’re grieving this future that you had hoped to have,’ Steel says. ‘I didn’t know anyone else who this had happened to – the Down’s syndrome diagnosis during pregnancy, or who’d had a termination for medical reasons.’

“Two months later, Steel felt compelled to write a play about the experience to assure others they were not alone. Steel’s one-woman play, 19 Weeks, is the true story of that experience. Actor Tiffany Lyndall Knight plays Steel in a 70-minute monologue that will be performed in and around a Melbourne hotel pool. Steel says she prefers to ‘tell you what happened’, not tell the audience how to feel. The character in the play has kept the writer’s name to say: ‘this happens to real people, and to someone you know, potentially.’

“The play has already been performed in Adelaide and Perth, where empathetic audiences have stayed to talk, [and most recently at the Melbourne Fringe Festival].

“‘There’s a lot of emotion. A lot of people cry,” Steel says. After one Adelaide performance, a woman who had also aborted a Down’s syndrome fetus e-mailed Steel. ‘She said until she’d seen the show, she didn’t think anyone else in the world could understand how she’d felt at that time. It gave her a bit of closure. That just made me burst into tears.’”

SOURCE: Sydney Morning Herald, by Carolyn Webb, 12 September 2018