On The Rawness of Birth and Mother’s Bodies
Once upon a time, almost exactly a year ago, I found myself standing before an exhibit at Tate Modern, in London, sobbing. The second part of this isn’t entirely unusual. I am someone who cries, including someone who sometimes cries in public (i.e., while reading Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place at a gym and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road on an airplane, etc.), but this was the first time I can remember crying at a museum.
The exhibit was by the Dutch photographer and video artist, Rineke Dijkstra. It featured three photographs, as big as me, lined up in a row. Each photo was of a woman, holding a baby she had just given birth to, one hour, day, or week before. Each woman stood bare, nude or nearly nude, revealing signs of the birth–mesh panties and sanitary towel on one, a tiny amount of blood running down another’s leg, and a caesarean scar on another’s belly. Each one was raw, and vulnerable, and strong. Each one told a true story.
The artist stated,
As a photographer you enlarge or emphasize a certain moment… For instance the portraits I made of women after giving birth: the reality of this experience is about the whole atmosphere, which is very emotional. In the photograph, you can scrutinize all the details, which makes it a bit harsh: you can see things you normally would not pay so much attention to.
I felt it. Together the photographs forcefully made me remember my own raw, vulnerable, and strong experience giving birth, and the hours, days, and weeks after. I could only stand there and cry.
I went from there, with my husband and babe, to meet friends (and their pup) at a very Peter Pan-esque playground in Kensington Gardens.
It was especially charming and delightful, but unfortunately did not allow pups inside, so one friend walked around out. He told us later that he saw a myriad of professional cameras outside Kensington Palace. It was not too long after that, that we learned why: Kate Middleton had just given birth to her second baby.
And it was not too long after that, that photos of both princesses were posted, always, always with comments about the mother’s looks. She wasn’t given room to look raw, or vulnerable, or strong. And I cried again.
I am thinking very hard about all of these things, because any day or (perhaps) week now, I will be giving birth to my second child. I don’t know which marks my body will wear. I hope I can simply be grateful (and allowed) to wear them.