Birth Stories: 27th April 2012

Birth Icon Drawings Helen Sargeant

We will be looking at our experiences of birth through poetry, storytelling and art. Bring along your own birth poem, story, or art work that you have made in response to your own birth experience, alternatively bring along an example of another persons work that has inspired your own practice.





Meeting outcomes

The group shared vivid personal experiences of pregnancy and birth, recovery of the body after birth, their journeys into motherhood, and how they felt they connected to others on becoming mothers. These experiences took the form of poetry, stories, and paintings. They discussed both vaginal and ceserean birth. They talked about how these birth experiences had effected them emotionally.

Frida Kahlo, My Birth

Frida Kahlo, “My Birth”, oil on metal, 35 x 31cm, 1932

We discussed miscarriage and the need to talk about this subject which is often regarded as taboo. We looked at the representation of miscarriage in the work of Frida Khalo. There was also discussion about and the lack of community “rituals” around birth experience in our society, and ideas of welcoming women into motherhood.


Frida Kahlo, “Henry Ford Hospital”, Oil on metal, 32.5 x 40.2 cm, 1932

We also discussed ideas of contraception, how it is promoted after birth, and how this has radically transformed the lives of women. We began to discuss the idea that when a child is born so is a mother.

We shared and exchanged books that we are currently reading. See the book section in the mewe Library

We read this poem by Gillian Clarke


Fierce confrontation, the tight

Red rope of love which we both

Fought over. It was a square

Environmental blank, disinfected

Of paintings or toys. I wrote

All over the walls with my

Words, coloured the clean squares

With the wild, tender circles

Of our struggle to become

Separate. We want, we shouted,

To be two, to be ourselves.

Neither won nor lost the struggle

In the glass tank clouded with feelings

Which changed us both. Still I am fighting

You off, as you stand there

With your straight, strong, long

Brown hair and your rosy,

Defiant glare, bringing up

From the heart’s pool that old rope,

Tightening about my life,

Trailing love and conflict,

As you ask may you skate

In the dark, for one more hour.


Reflecting upon this meeting, I feel that what drew all the discussions together was an acknowledgement, and exploration of the physical and psychological pain endured both throughout pregnancy and in birth. These passages written by Adrienne rich in her book “Of Woman `Born’, I felt reflected some of what we collectively felt as a group:

“The experience of pain is historical -framed by memory and anticipation-and it is relative. Thresholds of what we call pain vary greatly among individuals , and the conditions under which pain is experienced can alter the sufferer’s definition of pain. Pain is also expressed differently in different cultures. Briffault cites examples of Maori and African women in labor for whom it was traditional not to utter a groan. Emotional display is more acceptable in some cultures than in others, and behavior during childbirth may reflect an overall style of expressiveness.


But the pains of labor have a peculiar centrality for women, and for women’s relationship -both as mothers and simply as female beings-to other kinds of painful experience. What, anyway, is this primal idea which seems to take women-not only in childbirth-in its grasp and press the self out of us, or, even worse, to become selfhood ? Can we distinguish physical pain from alienation and fear ? And who or what determines the causes and nature and duration of our suffering ? In different cultures there are different answers; but women live, bear children, and suffer in all cultures.


The remarkable philosopher-mystic Simone Weil makes the distinction between suffering-characterized by pain yet leading to growth and enlightenment-and affliction-the condition of the oppressed, the slave, the concentration camp victim forced to haul heavy stones back and forth and across a yard, endlessly and to no purpose. She reiterates that pain is not to be sought, and she objects to putting oneself in the way of unnecessary affliction. But where it is unavoidable, pain can be transformed into something usable, something which takes us beyond the limits of the experience itself into a further grasp of the essentials of life and the possibilities within us. However, over and over she equates pure affliction with powerlessness, with waiting, disconnectedness, inertia, the”fragmented time” of one who is at others disposal. This insight illuminates much of the female condition, but in particular of giving birth.”

Rich, Adrienne, Of Woman Born Motherhood as Experience and Institution, 1976, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, pages 157-158