Pregnant with Creativity – For JUNO, 2014
If we listen deeply to pregnancy it can whisper to us a reminder that we are infinitely creative beings. Our bodies can carry, hold and facilitate the intricate dance of cells dividing, multiplying and forming into another living body; a tiny life evolving within us, a divine creation that develops independently from and yet dependently upon us.
Inspiration to follow this creative instinct may not come to us in the first trimester, when we are getting accustomed to new levels of hormones in our blood and perhaps feeling nausea or tiredness. But often in the second trimester there is a sense of empowerment or energy that rises up in us, a surge of creativity that – if we have the confidence and make the opportunity to pursue – can take us on a journey of exploration into ‘making’ that we may not have believed we were capable of.
And it does make sense that as our bodies create, so may our hearts, minds and hands want to follow suit, like an extension of this creative energy at work within us. The creative outlet we choose to channel this into may take any form, from cooking to photography, or from undertaking a business venture to writing a novel, but what is remarkable is the common source of energy felt by mothers at this time that calls us into action.
Having used art as a therapeutic tool for birth-preparation for almost a decade now, I have seen the extraordinary insights that can derive from image-making during pregnancy. Not only are we able to express our inner world in all its varied shades and colours, but in doing so we can often find jewels of understanding that were previously unknown, unfelt, mysterious or latent within us.
Sometimes in pregnancy fears are brought to the surface, or unresolved resentment, or stress and our attention is brought to these deep-lying or even ancestral issues through our intensified feelings which emerge on the crests of hormonal waves that take us to our emotional edges from day to day.
These shifts of an inner-nature will often take a backseat to other tangible, practical realities in our lives such as relationships, children, family, work etc. and will pass, perhaps unnoticed.
But how much more powerful could our pregnancy time be if we engaged with our emotional process in a conscious way, becoming more aware of our ‘stuck’ places and finding greater acceptance and freedom for ourselves?
When we consider this emotional journey alongside all of the daily changes in our physiology as we gestate a whole new person inside us; the production of milk, adjustment of bones, muscles and ligaments, development of a new and potent body chemistry, etc. it seems that pregnancy cannot be underestimated as a time of profound personal transformation for women. It is as if nature is calling us to engage with each childbearing phase and birth as an opportunity for growth on all levels.
So why use art to explore and express all of this? Well, images both activate our imagination and engage our creative side, or ‘right brain’ which sees life more laterally (and less literally).
Working with art allows us to access a nourishing sense of freedom and play, which brings with it a capacity to be present-in-the-moment. We invite something to ‘come into being’ as we make an image, which requires our stepping aside from the thinking-mind, especially when we use paint.
Don’t ask me exactly how it happens, but many expressive painters will tell you that “this bit just ‘happened’ over here” while guiding you through a picture. And the amazing paintings that have been made in this way are testimony to the fascinating things that ‘happen’ with paint. We may think to ourselves “I will paint this” but what actually happens is that we paint something which just becomes itself and may be quite different from our original idea.
In Birth-art for example, we very often see shapes that can translate as biological forms and organs; even ovaries, fallopian tubes, birth canals and genitals, but which were not consciously painted as such. We find smaller forms enfolded in larger womb-like spaces and we recognise shapes being ‘born’ from one another.
The fluidity of paint has a visceral quality that we can relate to because, under this skin of ours, we are very fluid and even more so in pregnancy when we hold more blood and carry our babies in lots of liquid. Working with paint can be off-putting to some people because, like birth, it seems like an uncontrollable unknown, while a piece of crayon or chalk can at least be held in place. But through accidents, blending and experimentation in paint, we have the perfect conditions for the unconscious mind to speak and this is where windows to understanding can arise.
When working with groups of pregnant women, I always ask them to let go of self-judgement around image-making. I encourage them to use this as their precious ‘me’ time for enjoyment and play and to give up any critical self-talk. I feel that this important because we have grown up in a culture focused on performance-related values, “If I can do this well enough I/it will be worthy” and so many of us carry a sense of needing to achieve in everything we do. Even the way in which we give birth will almost unavoidably have positive or negative judgements placed upon it by others and by us ourselves. Yet by taking the need to achieve out of the equation, any process becomes much easier and more nourishing.
Fortunately even some women who have really struggled with making ‘art’ have come through these challenges and found treasure in the birth-art work we do. It is so much about allowing the work to emerge and not trying to control or judge it, in a similar way to birth which requires that we relax into the hypothalamus or ‘primitive’ part of the brain and keep out of the neo-cortex ‘thinking’ part in order to enable the body and birth hormones to take over.
So painting is not only good practice for developing an attitude of ‘letting go’ in birth, but it also helps us to lighten up in this very serious and grown-up world in which we live, because art’s therapeutic qualities work on relieving stress and tapping into to the child’s openness to adventure and “seeing what happens…”.
And we can use the container of an image to envisage, heal, hope and celebrate whatever we like! Perhaps by painting our beautiful babies-in-utero it can help us to feel more connected to them; or by sketching ourselves as strong, grounded birthing mothers we can identify ourselves more in this way as we prepare to give birth. I always suggest that women make a painting of a sacred and safe place to birth in, because where ever they have their baby, they will always be able to carry this image with them in their mind’s eye as an anchor to focus on in labour.
At a very practical level, having the space to paint or make art during pregnancy enables us to cultivate well-being, self-understanding, enjoyment and relaxation through taking time-out for ourselves and expressing who we truly are.
Birth-art provides a form for our internal processes to be witnessed, re-configured and shared with others. It offers a visual forum of communication, of love, humour, pain, healing and more, possibly all in one place. It affords time for reflection. And again it honours and supports the deeper journey that we are on; the creative, rhythmic tide of the mother who is birthing herself into being, day by day, year by year, child by child and generation by generation.