BFW Dictionary: Birth Art

birth art

There are so many words that are special to Birthing From Within, words that we use in very specific ways that are important and meaningful — but not always entirely self-explanatory. The purpose of the BFW Dictionary posts is to shine a clarifying light on the language used by BFW and its practitioners and to explain how some of these words are so central to our unique approach to the childbearing years.



noun. The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

— Oxford Dictionaries online


In Ancient Map for Modern Birth, Pam England compiles ways to prepare for the heart’s journey through the rite of passage that is birth. These expansive ways of preparing include the understanding and use of symbols, storytelling, self-examination, and art-making. The last item, which we call Birth Art, has come to be known as a hallmark of Birthing From Within classes, and is perhaps one of the best-loved aspects of BFW. But why?

What does art-making have to do with childbirth? How can it prepare us for the unknown?

There is more information about birth available now than there has been at any other point in history. If you search “childbirth” in Google, over sixty million pages will appear before you – countless books, blogs, podcasts, videos, and articles centered around birth. And yet…birth trauma rates are soaring. Perhaps there is something missing in all of this information; perhaps preparation for birth needs to go beyond the gathering of facts and data.

The truth is that being savvy about the modern medical environment, common medical procedures, and what to expect from your body in labor is important for birth preparation, but it cannot carry you all the way through. After all, birth is more than just a physiological event; it’s a transformative process of initiation. As with any initiatory ordeal, birthing people will find themselves facing at least one moment of surprise, doubt, shock, or intensity, no matter how much training they have undergone. It is possible to prepare parents for these moments, but not with data and statistics.

Most people who have witnessed or experienced labor will agree that at some point in the process, birthing people drop into a different part of their brains, where they experience a dream-like mental state, disconnected from rational thought. Often, the information they gathered before birth feels like it’s far, far away as they drift into this “Labor Land.” Some will even report finding it harder to cope or focus when someone asks them a question or tries to bring them back into their “thinking brain.”

Art-making in prenatal preparation gives each parent the experience of moving out of their neocortex and into their creative, intuitive mind, where they can begin to access deeper beliefs, insights, imagery, and solutions than they could in the ordinary beta-brainwave state of alert consciousness. Thus, parents get a taste of the “Labor Land” mindset, as well as the unconscious mind’s ability to generate unlimited possibilities and solutions for any issues that might arise.

In addition, most adults in our culture have grown up learning that making art is a special task reserved for those designated as “artists.” When presented with an opportunity to create art, many parents will feel doubt, uncertainty, and overwhelm – just as they are likely to in labor. By stepping into the unknown and opening themselves up to the vulnerability of the creative process, parents can begin to practice wading into unfamiliar waters. They can face the Gate of Doubt (“Am I good enough?” “Can I do this?”), and become curious about how they might take one small step through it.

This is true preparation for facing the unknown transformations of birth.

Parents experience so many benefits from having Birth Art processes be part of their childbirth preparation – and healing – experiences. Birth Art is an amazing tool that touches each blossoming parent in a unique way. If you are a parent, you can reach out to a Birthing from Within Mentor or Doula to take your birth preparation to a deeper level with online or in-person sessions. If you are a birth professional who would like to move beyond the “data download” mode of working with birthing parents, you can take our Birthing From Within online Birth Art course for professionals to learn how to share this amazing tool with growing families. It’s never too late to engage with birth as a rite of passage – why not dive in?

About Nikki Shaheed

Nikki Shaheed loves working with parents and birth professionals alike, guiding them to new insights, awareness, and self-compassion. She finds it deeply rewarding to watch people grow as they step more fully into their passions and gifts. Nikki feels most herself when she is mentoring parents and birth workers in Birthing from Within classes, Birthing from Within professional trainings, and Birth Story Medicine courses.

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