Yesterday, I cancelled three piano lessons because typically my husband watches the kids while I teach. I am so thankful he supports me in my work. But yesterday, a woman was experiencing a long labor with many complications, and my husband eventually had to perform a C-section.
I couldn’t get a hold of him because he was with the mother-to-be or in the Operating Room, and I was extremely worried- for him, the mother, the baby.
C-sections have been on my mind. I was born that way; so were my 3 sisters. So are a third of all babies born in the U.S. I used to think of C-sections as undesirable, despite having been born that way and even though my husband performs them regularly. It pains me and embarrasses me to acknowledge that- I think it was a result of seeing data that twice as many women birth by C-section as recommended by the ACOG- I believe that sometimes, the option of how to birth is taken away from mothers and placed in the hands of usually well-meaning, but sometimes overly eager-to-control obstetricians who are drawn to a predictable, controlled, and efficient method of delivery over the unpredictable, wild experience of a freer labor and birth. How else do you explain that data? But at the same time, babies can get stuck. Mothers can be exhausted after days of labor. Life can be put at risk. And C-sections can be absolutely life-saving.
Birth is so personal, so emotional, so raw- and so highly variable. I believe in natural labor and the power and beauty of the design of a woman’s body, the glorious processes of birth physiology. But birth is beautiful whether it happens with a push or with a knife, and neither is to be feared. Our bodies don’t fail us if our babies come out of one opening or another anymore than the color of our eyes or skin fail us. How ridiculous. All of these variations can be beautiful, and c-sections can be as miraculous and powerful as any other kind of birth.
I love this painting partly because in addition to being a mother, I am also a pianist, so this painting speaks to me! Kershisnik paints many paintings that take on the idea of motherhood. Once, in an interview, he was asked if he could explain why he focuses on motherhood so much. He replied, “No, I can’t explain it; it’s too close to my core. I just don’t fight it.”
This painting is called “The Delivery,” and is subtitled “Oh my Baby! Oh My Baby!” The artist’s name is Amanda Greavette, and the first line of her biography reads, “She is busy raising four beautiful children, painting and serving her community.”
This piece of art speaks to me because when I was preparing to give birth, I knew that I would not be able to have an epidural because my spine is fused as a result of extensive surgery to correct a severe case of scoliosis. People told me I was crazy for wanting a natural delivery, or told me my plan to forego pain medication was unrealistic; I was told I didn’t need to be brave or be a “hero.” Most of them didn’t realize that I didn’t actually have a choice.
I heard people talk about those ridiculous women with a birth plan were, and how by the time they reached transition, they’d be begging for an epidural. Was I one of those crazy women? I did a good job of not appearing nervous or even scared- at some level I even convinced myself that I was not afraid of what the pain might feel like.
This painting, though, made me feel strong and capable, like it was possible to have something happen that was bloody and painful, but still beautiful, empowering, triumphant.
This is a photograph of an art exhibition, “Postpartum Document,” by Mary Kelly. It is a collection of feeding charts, diaper stains, records of words her son said and bits of reflection leading up until her son could finally scribble across her documents. Here is a link to Tate Museum’s write up on the art: http://bit.ly/1BP9BQ1
At first, I didn’t like the art- I thought it was a cold and impersonal “portrait,” of motherhood. But then, I watched an interview by Kelly that changed my mind- she explained she didn’t want to provide a figure or portrait in the traditional sense- she wanted to show a more analytical demonstration of the output of the work of Mothering.
Her discussion of the post-partum document begins about 5 minutes in.
It reminded me of how someone gave me one of those Itzbeen timers as a gift- the little things that keep track of diaper changes, how long a baby’s slept, how long its been since they were fed, etc. I remember thinking it was a completely ridiculous device. Then, after I had my first child, I was completely tied to that thing- I couldn’t ever remember which breast I’d nursed from last without it, and in my sleep-deprived state I relied on that timer to help me keep track of everything. I thought of Kelly’s work in a new way.
What do you think? Do you like this alternative “portrait” of motherhood? Did you keep track of feedings, words, schedules, etc?
According to Amy Mullen, author of Reconceiving Pregnancy and Childcare: Ethics, Experience, and Reproductive Labor, this painting represents the woman cut away to reveal her primarily as a “mere container,” of the (fully developed, male) child within her. She goes on to suggest that the animals in the background are suggestive of what the mother’s role and purpose should be, and she argues that this painting is part of a tradition that thought of pregnancy as a solely a physical event, and ignored other aspects of pregnancy, such as emotional or spiritual elements.
I’m curious- when you were pregnant, did you feel like a “mere container,” at times? What is the importance and significance of the emotional and spiritual sides of pregnancy?
I cannot count the number of times I’ve helped my children wash their hands. Now they are old enough at home to use a little step stool and can be (mostly) trusted to perform this simple task themselves. But sometimes, when we are out in public, there is no stepstool and I must pick them up and bend their bodies over public sinks and squeeze the soap into their chubby hands. I think about washing and caring and teaching and how these moments lead to independence.
When I saw this painting, I was immediately transported to the many hours spent rocking my own children. I would swaddle them and rock them back and forth until they feel asleep, then gingerly lay them in their cribs. I don’t remember what I thought about during those many hours. I remember feeling foggy and achy with tiredness. I remember pressing my cheek against their chick fuzz hair and how warm they felt in my arms. I remember how it felt impossible that something so small could make my arms feel so very full.
Hello, and welcome to my blog, The Art of Motherhood.
I am creating this blog for a graduate course on feminist research methods. We assume that art is research, and we emphasize investigating and practicing autobiographical and autoethnographic skills in our research.
The purpose of this blog aid in developing a critical perspective regarding the arts, gender, and culture, especially in regard to motherhood. I also want to encourage others to tell their stories as they relate to the motherhood and art, and to explore the meaning of the images we see surrounding the idea of motherhood and what these images mean to us personally.
In each post, I will post a piece of art that depicts mothers or motherhood in some way. I will provide some background regarding the work of art, and then provide a personal response to the piece. I encourage others to do the same; please leave your own responses in the comment section, or, if your response is longer, please feel free to write your story down and e-mail it to me at email@example.com. I will post your story and any piece of accompanying art on the blog.
Thank you for coming and for exploring the idea of motherhood through art with me!