This article is adapted from my notes for past birth art workshop presentations. It is part of a story for the Winter 2013 edition of the Friends of Missouri Midwives newsletter.
Celebrating Pregnancy & Birth Through Art
by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE
See other posts and pictures about birth art here.
Birth art is one of my favorite birthy subtopics and I used art during my pregnancies, postpartum, and continuing in life today. I love exploring birth art with women and I’ve presented on the subject at multiple conferences, as well as hosted a “birth art booth” at our local MamaFest event this past fall. Art can play an important role in self-discovery and preparation for birth and parenting. Art used during pregnancy and following birth can be powerful tool of validation, celebration, exploration, and insight.
Why is art during pregnancy is useful?
Art during pregnancy is primarily as a tool to tap into “right brain” consciousness and express unexplored gifts, primal wisdom, or release hidden fears. Creating birth art can help both women and men explore your feelings, memories, beliefs, and perceptions surrounding birth outside of the confines of the spoken or written word. The purpose of birth art is to explore what you find within as you create your art and not the final product—as Pam England describes, birth art is as raw, honest, spontaneous, and personal as birth itself.
Art during pregnancy can be used for:
- Birth preparation.
- Exploration of fears.
- Celebration of feelings & experiences.
- Focal point.
- Exploration of the unknown.
- Self-discovery & insight.
- Revealing unconscious patterns/ideas.
- Celebration of the power of the female form.
- Celebration of new life.
- Representing hopes/dreams.
- Communicating hard to verbalize ideas/feelings.
- Exploring “right brain” methods of understanding the birth journey.
- Explaining concepts in new ways.
- Symbolic/spiritual insights.
- Revealing hidden birth wisdom.
- Expressing creative gifts.
Types of art exploration in pregnancy:
- Sculpture—variety of mediums (fiber, clay, pottery…)
- Belly casting
- Body art (such as henna)
- Decorating objects—prayer box, wreath
Birth Art Examples:
Two Suggested Exercises for Birth Professionals or Parents:
Based on Pam England’s LabOrinth article, I enjoy showing parents how to draw a birth labyrinth (several examples can be seen in the gallery above). Drawing a labyrinth with an explanation of how this type of image can be used to explain/explore the progress of labor as opposed to medical models such as cervical dilation charts or labor progress “bell curves,” can be a very eye-opening exercise for parents. The resulting image is a powerful visual of “normal birth,” instead of “clock watching” birth. I’ve made two posters than I use when I teach birth classes. The first shows a rough Friedman’s curve and a cervical dilation chart—these images are part of a deeply ingrained cultural view of birth and it is hard to shake these associations. This linear birth structure may be how we view labor from the outside, but it is not how we experience it from the inside, the labyrinth is a more appropriate birthing image as it feels from within and this is why…
- No shortcuts—have to keep going til the end.
- Speed varies.
- Can’t get off the path (no falling off the curve).
- Can get through blindfolded.
- One step at a time will get you through—one foot in front of the other (one contraction at a time).
- Can’t get lost. If you get out of the lines, you get lost—try to take shortcuts, get lost. Have to continue on your path.
- Can crawl if you need to (or run!).
- Circular (nonlinear)
- No right way to finish.
- Everyone gets to the same place eventually—can go own speed, some fast, some slow
- Do not need instruction to complete (no birth plan)
- No timeline
- No need to study.
- Can rest if you need to.
My other favorite group birth art project is to painting small pregnant goddess figurines (I make big batches of these in a mold using plaster). My most recent experience in doing so was at Rolla Birth Network’s MamaFest event:
This experience reaffirmed for me that birth art is about process not product. And, also that I don’t have to personally do anything to have the process be a meaningful one to participants. As an example of what I mean: at MamaFest, a very young mother came into the birth art sanctuary. I gave her my one minute spiel about the purpose of birth art and she painted her figures alone in the room for about 20 minutes. When she emerged, she showed her figures to me and explained what all the symbols and colors meant. Then, with tears in her eyes, she hugged me and said thank you and left. This was a mother I’d never met before and I’ve never seen again. And yet, we shared a special moment through birth art.
Molly Remer is the Friends of Missouri Midwives newsletter editor. She enjoys blogging about birth, motherhood, and women’s issues at http://talkbirth.me.