Preparing for Childbirth: My Birth Art Experience
“The fear and anxiety panged through my mind and made my palms sweat. I felt the contractions radiate through my back and knew that labor was beginning. I glanced over at my landscape birth art and reminded myself that I should trust my body.” -From the soon to come Birth Story- This ended up being the fastest and most confident labor and birth experience yet.
Just prior to the birth of my third son, I was asked by my good friend and doula, Jenna Mozingo, to participate in a practice birth art session that she would later utilize in a class she’d be instructing in Oklahoma City. Knowing that Jenna is very open with the processes of the female body, I wondered whether we’d be creating placenta prints or painting the baby’s position on the skin of my belly. Nope. Her art process was much more down to earth. Chalk pastels, some paper and a cloth for smoothing and wiping, and a personal journal or notebook paper were all the materials I needed.
I tried to come up with my own description for what birth art actually is, but I really resonated with Jenna’s introduction to it that day:
“One of the reasons we do birth art is so that we can begin to move beyond our intellectual knowledge of birth and into our intuitive and primordial knowledge of birth. Most childbirth preparation engages the left side of the brain: the logical, rational, fact-oriented, analytical side. However, we rely on the RIGHT side of the brain to give birth: the side of our brain involved in processing experiences, intuition, creativity, feelings, visualization, daydreaming and holistic thinking. It only seems natural to prepare for birth with the same part of the brain that we use to give birth.”
This made perfect sense to me. We can know the technical, medical aspects of birth inside and out, but when we actually give birth, we draw upon instinctual, primal, human tendencies. So it seems essential that we try to find a balance between the two in order to pull from a vast basket of knowledge during the birth process.
Jenna had several prompts to choose from for the session. Because my birth was fast approaching, we decided the Birth Landscape prompt might have the most benefit for me. She asked me close my eyes and take a few deep breaths and then when I was ready, I was to draw what I thought the Birth Landscape looked like. She asked that all the people who were meant to be present for the birth would be represented in the picture in some way. Also, she asserted that if I felt the drawing was complete, to keep going. Just allow my creative energies to flow and express what I thought the Birth Landscape would look like for me.
This is what flowed out of me:
Now, even though I wasn’t supposed to share my thoughts on the picture with Jenna or the group, if there had been one, I am going to share them with you. The first image that came to mind for a representation of the birth landscape was an ocean. The breaths, the contractions flowing over us like waves. But that seemed cliché. And I am not a water person. To me, the ocean is vast, scary, ominous, and endless. Instead, I thought a desert landscape was more appropriate. I first laid down the sky. I used several different shades of blues and purples and really enjoyed blending them with the cloth. Then I felt there should be some ground. Some reds and browns, ochres too. It quickly became apparent that the horizon would take a linear path. Beginning at the left, I drew some choppy desert land. This symbolized the high anxiety beginning phase of labor where I wonder if this is really it. I have to prepare my mind for what is to come and that phase is 1 part anxiousness and 1 part joyful anticipation. Then there is a plateau, where my contractions just seem to keep going. They don’t necessarily get stronger, they just are. One after another, when will they push the baby down into position? Eventually, they do, and that is the obelisk-like standing rock of intense focus and determination of pushing. It doesn’t last long, but is the highest point of one-ness with myself and the baby. There is a brief intermission and then another push for the placenta.
At this point, I needed to add myself and my family, including the baby, as well as my midwife. Should we be cactuses? Jenna could see that I was pondering more than I was drawing, so she read the prompt again. This was helpful. “Draw whatever has the most energy for you,” she added. Mesquite bushes it is! They are hard and resilient, like us on our homestead. I added one for each of us, my 2 boys, my husband, my midwife, and the new baby. I also added a tumbleweed and I’m not sure who that is or what it represents. But it’s there. I thought I was done and Jenna said, “Keep drawing. More energy.” I am so glad she did because on a whim I decided to add the rainbow of color that is the euphoria that follows birth. That feeling of relief and empowerment, and bliss. Then the time was up and I blew the extra chalk dust from my paper, feeling very accomplished.
Then came the journaling and reflection period. Jenna gave me a couple of questions to start me out. Two of them were: Is there anything that surprised you or didn’t make sense in your drawing? Is there anything that you’ll do differently now that you’ve made this drawing?
Before I give you some snippets of what I wrote in my journal, I’ll tell you that my biggest fears regarding birth are (were) dying in childbirth, the baby becoming transverse, and the fear of severe pain. Now, here’s what I journaled:
- What’s with the tumbleweed? I don’t know. Maybe that’s me. The Rainbow Rider book by Jane Yolen had some influence in this picture.
- It was difficult to look ahead rather than draw on past experiences.
- I was surprised how in the moment of art, I was able to tune out the surrounding noises. I thought when I began that they’d be distracting, but I dove in and lost myself.
- There is no death in this picture Alison! No need to worry yourself.
- I will need someone to help me keep going, but the payoff will be extraordinary. The pain is temporary.
Overall, this was a very enlightening experience. I really needed the outlet of art to express some of my fears and expectations about birth. I actually glanced at this picture at the beginning of my homebirth labor and it reminded me that I was not alone in this process, and that my confidence in this task would greatly benefit the progression of the labor. You can read about my homebirth story, and the rest of our adventures in homesteading, here (really soon!)
I had never experienced this type of exercise in preparation for childbirth, but found it to be very insightful and enjoyable. I would highly recommend this activity for a right brain growth experience before birth, expecting mommas!
If you are near the Oklahoma City area and would like to try this experience with Jenna, check here for dates and locations.