Originally published in The Green Parent
What has painting got to do with giving birth?
If you are lucky enough to live in near a local Birth Art Cafe, you could find out. Every week pregnant women come together to paint, sculpt, have coffee and croissant (or herb tea and oat cakes!) chill and chat in the background of relaxing music and freshly cut flowers.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02Xbk_604N0]The benefits are many – both obvious and subtle. Firstly it is great to meet other pregnant women to chat with and make new connections. Pregnancy is a time of great change on the physical, emotional and spiritual level. In our left-brained society of logic, thinking, careers and being-in control, becoming pregnant can leave women feeling shocked, isolated, anxious and lonely.
In times gone by, women, traditionally, have turned to other women for advice and sustenance during pregnancy. They might have sat by the fire sharing secrets of motherhood with new initiates. Nowadays women get their information from the horror stories in the newspapers and TV series like ER! They are usually not exposed directly to birth as it takes place behind the closed doors of the hospitals. The way many women spend most of their time preparing for motherhood is gathering information. Actually, this is just a part of preparation for this enormous rite of passage. Getting together in a relaxed environment is a way to nourish the souls of these women.
Another benefit is that in our busy lives of activity followed by activity without gaps of stillness, 2 hours of space just for the woman is a welcome relief.
So what about the painting?
Women have the choice of painting, drawing with oil or soft pastels and sculpting with clay.
The way painting and sculpting is approached is that there is no right way of doing it. It is about allowing the creation to unfold (just like birth). The women start with a blank piece of paper or a rough piece of clay. No thinking is required. There may be a feeling of facing the unknown. What is the next step? Will they know what to do? Will they know how to do it? Just like approaching the unknown situation of birth. Birth art does not have to be pretty, colourful or carefully planned. It unfolds just the way it does – just like birth.
There is no requirement of previous experience. In fact those who have none are at an advantage as they don’t have the preconceived idea of how it “should” be done. It can be seen as a metaphor for how you approach other things in your life, especially unfamiliar ones – like birth.
Although the emphasis is to enjoy the session and have fun, there is a serious element as well. The women have an opportunity to learn from the feelings arising in them that show them how they may feel as they approach birth. If negative feelings, such as anxiety or fear arise, it is useful to identify them during pregnancy rather than at the birth when it may be too late to do anything about them. It is better to recognize these during pregnancy while there is time to address these before the birth. Gentle exploration through birth art, reveals resources and qualities that a woman may not have realised she has as well as highlighting perceived obstacles and negative beliefs.
The physical benefit for the pregnant woman is that painting, sculpting or any other creative process stimulates the primitive part (right side) of the brain which is the part active in labour. It allows women to move away from decision making and thinking (a major part of the way we live in our society) to a state of simply being – the way women are in labour.
Each session has a theme which the women can, if they choose, use as a starting point for the process. These themes either evolve as part of the session such as “body image”, “changing family dynamics” or “surrender”. Others, such as the ones illustrated here, come from the book “Birthing From Within” by Pam England. If the women prefer, they can draw whatever comes to mind. There is no right way of approaching this.
One theme is “A Womb with a View”. I tell them to imagine they can peep through a window in their womb and imagine what the baby is seeing/ hearing/ doing? What does she or he look like? This theme can help a woman become aware of her connection with her baby.
When S chose to use the theme “A Womb with a View” as a starting point, she started with a tree which represented herself. As the drawing unfolded the tree was barely recognizable as the picture became more and more abstract. S said that the busyness in the picture represents all the changes that are occurring in her life, both due to the pregnancy and external events. As circles that appeared around the tree she knew these represented the baby who had clarity and knowing. She felt the baby is telling her that he/ she knows what to do and that everything is OK.
Another theme is “Strongest Image of Birth”. This is a good exercise for the pregnant woman to really scan her mind and think deeply about the birth process and her strongest feelings about it. This is an opportunity to bring these feelings to the conscious awareness and learn from them. When E painted this she spoke about the intensity of the bond between mother and child at birth. “I was sort of feeling the bond a mother has with a child, hopefully when it is born. That strange weird thing that I have only seen in animals which is even more amazing really. Just incredible.” She used to look after horses and had the privilege of seeing one of them giving birth.
One of most interesting themes I find is “Birth In Our Culture”. I ask the women to imagine they are showing someone from another planet or culture what birth is like in our culture. They are asked to draw the birth place and illustrate the customs. This is an opportunity for the pregnant woman to bring to her conscious awareness how birth is in our culture and how this differs (or not) with her own belief system. It is interested to note that often the mother is small or out of the picture altogether. Other symbols that feature a lot are bright lights, clocks, machinery. B painted the mother as a very small figure on her own in the bottom right-hand corner. The people dominating the picture are the doctors and midwives. As you can see, the final product is not a work of art but
that is not the goal of the process. It is the inner learning that occurs as a result of making the picture.
After the women have given birth, they can attend the “New Mums Birth Art Café”. It is nice for them to meet up again after passing through the right of passage into motherhood and meet up with familiar faces. Amongst changing nappies, feeding babies and sleepless night, it is a light relief to come and exchange notes and support each other. If they choose, they have the opportunity to review the birth process in order to integrate the experience into their lives.
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