These explorations represent the beginnings of a project to visually expose the physical and emotional experiences of birth. To consider both the vulnerability of the mother and that of the child. They also seek to represent the carers of the birthing mother be it midwife, doula, partner, family or friend. In one drawing the midwives gloved hands are represented gently holding the weight of the babies head as it is delivered.
The depiction of the mother’s body refers back to a series of drawings called M(other) that were made during the time that I was pregnant with Naosie my second son. The mother is fragmented, ethereal, an empty vessel. Such emptiness perhaps pertaining to ideas of the mother feeling emotionally detached from the physical endurance of birth. This body motif also makes reference to historical anatomical sketches such as those housed by the Wellcome Trust collections. Embellishment of the vagina seeks to contrast with the disembodied mother, and draw the viewer into the sketch.
My work is concerned with making the personal public and revealing diverse birth experiences. Both of my sons births were natural vaginal births with gas and air for pain relief. I managed the physical process of birth well, but experienced feelings of extreme emotional detachment from my babies throughout both births. I found the pain of labour to be severely distressing and felt unable to channel this pain into positive energy to help progress my labour. Fear of birth and pain was not unfounded in the birth of my second son, as I had enlarged fibroids and there was a danger of haemorrhaging in birth. I had wanted to give birth to my second child at home, but due to the risk of haemorrhaging, I was persuaded by my midwife to have him at the birth centre attached to the local hospital.
This fear, I feel, prolonged the labour of my second child. I have found the process of making birth visible through these sketches to be an extremely helpful process. I also found it interesting to watch the many different types of births posted on YouTube, and was comforted by seeing a great many babies born without complications. I am interested in how the visualisation of birth could aid both first time mothers and those who have experienced traumatic births. I would like to develop workshops aimed at providing support for vulnerable mothers.
This series of drawings was published in the open issue of Studies in the Maternal in 2012 alongside an editorial text by Rebecca Baillie.