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Monday, June 14, 2010

Birth as Art

I'm not even sure how to title this post, other than I've been seeing birth images in fascinating places lately.

I had the pleasure of finally making the trek to the Corning Museum of Glass this weekend and seeing some amazing work. A mixture of science and art, glass and its history have always fascinated me. You would expect to see sculpture and other artists' renderings on display in a museum, and this one is no exception. Except this particular work stopped me in my tracks and left me speechless for a moment.

I immediately wanted to know: who was this artist? Was it a man or a woman? Was it "cesarean art," as I have seen here and there? Cesarean art kind of used to disturb me because, before I had my second section, I couldn't fully comprehend the frustration, the exasperation, the sometimes empty feelings, or whatever the artist was trying to express, in her artwork. Whatever it was, I just didn't get it. Yet.

I then wondered, if it really was considered cesarean art, would the museum accept such a piece? Even though this particular exhibit featured modern art, were they really ready to open such a can of worms?

The piece is titled "Omagh," done by glass artist Clifford Rainey, who was born in Northern Ireland. At first I was perplexed, not knowing what to take this for. I had no idea whether it pertained to cesareans or birth and a feeling of desolation or violation in that sense, but when I went home, I googled it to get more information.

Omagh, which roughly translates into "the virgin plain," is the site in Northern Ireland of the IRA bombings in 1998 that killed dozens of people, including a mother of four who was pregnant with twins. I immediately realized that this statue must have been memorializing that tragedy and probably this woman in particular, I could guess, although I don't know for sure. Without having any sense of perspective - whether seeing it for what it was supposed to represent or for what it represented to me - I sensed that some people thought it bizarre, probably disgusting, and had no idea what they were looking at or why. The moment was lost on them and they simply moved on, probably in a hurry to catch up with their tour group.

Apparently the statue is part of a group of pieces he has done that feature the female torso. I don't know if Rainey has any idea of the profound effect his work has, albeit for completely different reasons than what he probably intended. This piece, titled "Hollow Torso," has more significance in name alone to some than most people would care to admit.

Another piece that has been on my mind for several years now is this simple glass flower. Sometimes they create them at CMOG as part of a class or public display of glass blowing and I believe you can even do it yourself. I saw one on display several years ago after the birth of my second child, and found it breathtaking - but for totally different reasons. To me, it looks like an umbilical cord, the flowering part where the cord attaches to the placenta. I wanted one, perhaps to somehow remind me of my VBAC and that beautiful, strong, amazing cord of life. (photo courtesy of

Once I realized what the Omagh statue probably really symbolized, I almost felt bad - as if somehow I was completely overshadowing the pain and tragedy of that event with my own situation. If ever there really was an appropriate time to say "at least you have a healthy baby," I suppose this would be it. But then I realized that art is subjective; obviously what means something to one person might mean nothing to someone else, or take on a completely different meaning than what the artist had intended. I realized that what the viewer took away from it transcended the true meaning of this piece, whatever that may be. Whatever the case, I realized that to some women, this is what a cesarean - or even a forced, hurried vaginal birth - feels like. Physical pain and scars, emotional pain, feelings of terror or trauma in subsequent births, all because of that one event, or series of events. To think - some women have never experienced a childbirth that wasn't like this.