Human beings are steeped in symbolism, from the signs that direct us where to go, to pictures and songs that trigger special memories, to advertising that is designed to evoke an emotional response. Many times the way symbols and metaphor intersect with us is completely unconscious, and our reactions our reflexive: without knowing where the knowledge arises from, we find that we just know.
In pregnancy, that subconscious awareness of the metaphors weaving through our lives can become even more pronounced. Every little thing can make us think of the life growing within, the road of parenting ahead, and the profound transformations that we are facing. This simple birth art project taps into this inner knowing, this expansive awareness of meaning around us. You can do it all in one sitting, or over the course of a few days.
We recommend that each expecting parent do this activity individually, because the pregnant person is not the only one on a journey, and self-exploration is vital for everyone experiencing the shift into parenthood.
Gathering Your Supplies
- A large piece of white paper or tagboard (18”x25” recommended).
- A glue stick.
- Sources for images — magazines, images printed from the internet, cards, pictures. Give yourself MANY potential images.
- A journal or notebook.
Looking for Images about Birth
The first task is to gather 5-7 images. They should be images that speak to your experience of pregnancy, your associations with birth and parenting, or your beliefs, expectations, and dreams about labor, birth, and parenting…but there’s a catch! NO pictures of birth, babies, or parenting allowed! No pregnant bellies, no plump baby cheeks, no diapers and beaming parents. Think outside the expected imagery of birth and parenting to something more personally meaningful.
In order to find your 5-7 images, look through magazines, the internet, and whatever other sources you can think of. Notice when something you see out of the corner of your eye catches your attention. Do this in a mindful, purposeful way, bringing your whole attention to the task of feeling into what the pictures might be saying to you. If collecting images over a period of time, cut them out and put them someplace safe, for when you move to the next step of exploration.
Building Your Collage
Spread your chosen images out in front of you. You’re going to be first placing them on the paper without glue, so they can be moved around and adjusted.
Look at each image closely, and (especially if it has been some time since you chose the image) remind yourself of why this image reached out to you. Tell yourself a little internal story about how these images mean “pregnancy, labor, birth, parenting” to you. As you familiarize yourself with the story the pictures tell, ask yourself these questions:
- Is there a picture that seems central, or like the focus of the story? Put it in the center of your paper.
- Are there pictures that seem related, or somehow connected to each other? Put them together on the paper.
- Where do the other images belong? Place them on the paper where they seem to fit.
- How does the story flow? Is it linear? Does it wander and have offshoots? Is it a web or other shape? Notice the path that your eye follows across the page.
- Thinking back to the collection stage, did you come across images that made you uncomfortable, or that felt somehow out of place? If you resisted collecting those images, why? Go back and gather them now, and see where they might belong on your paper, even if it’s on the edges.
Once you have a sense of how all of your images fit together on your paper, you can use the glue stick to fasten them to the paper. You can trim your images if it feels right, but don’t get caught up in things having to “fit” on the page, or look “neat”- birth and parenting rarely fit neatly!
Now, use the markers to jot a word or two that evokes what the each image means, near the image itself if there’s room. For example, a picture of a whirlpool might mean “contraction” to someone, or a picture of a stack of bills might mean “ babies are expensive” to another. If words don’t come, don’t force it. Maybe a little doodle might express meaning, emoji-style. If any of the images connect, or if there’s a “map” to the story, you can draw lines to illustrate that, perhaps adding notes about those connections, too.
If you’re struggling with placing your images or writing down meanings, ask yourself: What would it feel like if I weren’t worrying about how this piece will look when I’m done? What if I weren’t working on doing it “right,” and just letting my hands and heart work together? What’s one small thing I could do to keep going?
Journaling Your Collage
Take some time to write in your journal, notebook, or the back of the collage about the experience of creating the collage. Explore each step, and what you found along the way. Some things you might consider:
- Which images spoke loudest to you?
- Did you seek out any specific images?
- Were there images that felt “right” right away?
- Were there any that you had to think about before choosing them?
- Do you feel your collage has a specific message or theme?
- What was challenging for you?
- What was easiest for you?
- Did anything surprise you or feel unexpected?
- Was there anything you resisted, or embraced?
- Where in your body did you feel it, as you explored the images and their meanings?
- Did this clarify or change any of your perceptions about pregnancy, birth, and parenting?
Sharing Your Collage
If you’ve been working on your collages with your partner, you’ve likely found yourselves talking about each other’s images, meanings, and creative processes. How much is shared about this experience is entirely up to you! You might share journal entries, or you might keep those private, and just talk about what’s written on the front. You might hang your collages in the living room or the baby’s room, or you might tuck them away. This project can be shared, or kept deeply private — there’s no one right way!
Even after you’re “finished,” your collage can keep changing, because human beings aren’t static! If you see a picture that resonates, clip it out and add it! If something on the collage no longer feels right, take it off! If you need more space, go big and add paper! If you do this in the first trimester, you might make new ones in the second and third, and explore what’s changed.
When, as part of our “Tasks of Preparation” for birth, we tap into our inner knowing through projects like this, we start to open ourselves to the unknowable, allowing ourselves to be receptive to the idea that birth and parenting isn’t something you can carefully plan out. We begin embracing the understanding that birth and parenting involves being ready for the unexpected, and knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.