This week, Mother’s Advocate welcomes doula and artist Amy Swagman. She began making mandalas to prepare for the birth of her third daughter. Creating these pieces helped her to envision (and ultimately create) her ideal birth as well as meditate to prepare for labor. Since her daughter’s arrival the mandala project has broadened to draw from other women’s experiences of their births. Through her art she hopes to change the climate of birth from fear to empowerment and convey feminine energy.
I like to say that my first daughter Haven, made me a mother which was as earth-shattering as any experience could be. My second daughter Lyric made me a doula and birth activist, and my third daughter Seren made me an artist. Each pregnancy and birth, all different in their own ways, gave me immeasurable gifts.
When I became pregnant with Seren, I was surprised to find that even though we had planned for her I was feeling overwhelmed and unprepared. I did not expect that to happen with my third! I felt very trapped, helpless, and disconnected to my little babe. I took it out on my husband, who is so wonderful and patient. It was a very stressful few months.
We were planning a much-wanted home birth but I felt like my emotions, fears, and anxiety were getting in the way. Counseling didn’t help. Talking to friends about it didn’t help. I needed something else to center me.
I remembered going to a talk called “OPENING to the Art of Birth” presented by friend and fellow doula Alahna Roach. In it she described the functions of the right and left brain. They are as follows:
|Left Brain||Right Brain|
|logical / rational||intuitive|
|structured||fluid (especially with time)|
Alahna said that the state of mind you’re in when you’re doing something creative (right brain) is the same state you’re in when laboring and birthing. Time flies by without you sensing it as acutely. You are very porous and intuitive. You aren’t as easily able to answer questions or communicate logically.
To illustrate this she had us do a blind contour drawing. Without looking at the paper we had to draw all the lines, cracks, details in our opposite hand. After a few minutes of this Alahna came up to me and said, “Amy, what year is it?” I had absolutely no idea. The only thing running through my head was “Uhhhh, I should know the answer to this question!” Anyone who has given birth or attends a lot of births has seen this written all over a laboring mama’s face.
So I decided to create a small mandala (image within a circle) every day during the last few months of my pregnancy to help me center, process, and prepare for my home birth. Each one would take anywhere from an hour to four hours, though I hardly noticed.
I loved it. I craved it. There was so much solace in taking time for myself, doing something creative, getting lost in symmetry, turning off any worrisome thoughts. I created images based on what was going on in my head that day.
For example, this one was created to help me connect and envision my baby:
This one was done to help me embrace my “mommy body”:
Creating artwork, getting into that free, meditative mindset, helped me have the beautiful, peaceful, gentle home birth I had wanted for so long. To read Seren’s birth story please visit my doula website here.
How to create your own birth art:
Quieting the “Inner Critic” –
Oftentimes I hear people say, “Oh I’m not an artist” or “I don’t know how to straight line.” Well that’s ok, that’s what rulers are for! The most important thing is to get involved in the creative process, not have a perfect-looking finished product. Birth art can be a powerful and surprising tool. You may discover aspects of your creativity that you haven’t tapped into or even realized yet!
Getting into the Groove –
Sometimes starting out with a right-brained exercise (like the contour line exercise I mentioned before) can be a great way to start. Another one that I’ve found helpful is to start inside a pre-existing shape or pattern. Coloring books are great for this, and starting inside a shape like a circle or triangle can make things flow. You can divide up the shape into pie segments or concentric circles (like a bulls eye) and repeat your design around the circle keeping things symmetrical. You’d be surprised at how easily the image takes shape!
For an example of this technique and symmetry you can visit my album here.
Creating Birth Art –
Some materials to get you started:
• Pastels – These are great because they are very tactile and can easily be smeared
• Watercolors – A great way to explore wet medium, covers areas well. You can draw with a pen or pencil and use the watercolors to fill in areas
• Polymer Clay (like Sculpey) – a great 3D medium as you don’t need a kiln to harden it, just your oven.
A valuable resource is Pam England’s amazing book Birthing From Within and the accompanying workbook. In their pages you’ll find many prompts to help you process what kind of birth experience you want or work through any past birth trauma or preconceptions.
Examples from Birthing From Within:
• Create a birth “power figure”. What symbolizes strength for you? What are the attributes that this figure possesses?
• What do you know about birth already? What have people told you? What was the first birth story you ever heard? What images come to mind?
• How do you see your baby inside your womb? What do they see, taste, hear? Draw your reactions.
Whether pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, or beyond, art is a powerful tool for any woman in the childbearing year. Tap into that creativity, you may be surprised what you learn about yourself!
I would love to see what you create and add it to my birth art gallery! If you wish to be a part of it please email me at email@example.com with the following:
• Photos of your piece
• A brief description about it (optional)
• A photo of you (optional)
• A short bio of you (optional)
Author, Amy Swagman
Amy Swagman resides in Denver, CO, with her husband Kyle and three beautiful girls. She is a birth doula and graduated with a BFA in Illustration in 2005.