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Friday, January 8, 2010

Amateur Stillbirth Art

Greetings Discerning Art Enthusiasts,

Twenty-four hours after the baby died, Kevin and I were lying on our sides on the basement floor with our fingers interlocked, staring at each other like shell-shocked soldiers. Technically I was still pregnant, I guess. The big belly was there with a six-pound something inside it. But that six-pound something was a lifeless, mysterious lump. What the HECK does one do in a state like that? Watch TV? Bake cookies? Weed in the garden?

Well, different things.

For K, it was a basement-improvement rampage: racing to Home Depot, dropping several thousand dollars on new sub-flooring and wall paint and light fixtures. He became like this crazed home-remodeling-madman-on-crack. Or speed. Basically I just sort of sat there with my pregnant-dead-baby-stomach-lump and watched him work. How could I argue with channeling one's grieving energy into productive activities that boosted our home value?

For me, in the days immediately following Zach's cold delivery into the world, it was standing beneath a bare light-bulb in flannel pajamas, slathering acrylic paints onto gigantic stretched canvases. K - bless his heart- was the one who had prompted me to dive back into the paints, which I hadn't touched in a year or so. He suggested I create some pieces to embellish our soon-to-be-remodeled-basement, and even picked up some canvases for me at the art store.

I worked fervently for a full day as Kevin hammered in sub-floor tiles with just as much fervor. We were both in some kind of weird, trance-like state, our hands working, our minds focused on the task at hand. We didn't play any music, because all music - Janes Addiction, especially, but really any music at all - was making me cry. Just worked silently like robots. I distinctly recall throwing paint in every direction - slopping, slathering, pelting it on without regard for technique or boundaries or whatever mess I might be creating. It was like a fifth grade art project to the nth degree.

By the time I'd finished all my paint-slinging, about twenty hours after I'd started, I was covered in blues and reds and oranges, damp paper-towels all over the floor with speckles of paint on them, cups of color-tinted water everywhere. We ordered - and I STILL remember this with crystal clarity - pepperoni pizza from Domino's with a coupon. It was almost ten at night. The floor was done, and K and I worked together to hang my new "stillbirth art" on the wall.

I felt better, kind of, about the world - for the moment, anyway.

* * *

I haven't thought about those paintings much since then. They've been hanging in the basement since the baby died, sort of neglected and forgotten. It's not like I'm a trained artist, so everything I produce is totally blocky, choppy and amature-ish - not something I would hang on the main floor above the fireplace mantel.

But they're on my mind again now as Kevin begins "stage two" of our big basement remodel, which requires us to strip the basement walls down and clean out shop. I'm thinking about these paintings, wondering what to DO with them. Keep them? If so, where? Give them away? Store them?

For now, I'm taking pictures of them and just thinking about them. They're dated August 25th, 2007 - the week that we lost Zach. Which - in my mind - makes them bona fide "amateur stillbirth art," if there is such a thing:

I wonder what a psychiatrist would say about them, if anything. Why do we do the things we do when we lose someone or something we love? Why did I paint those particular things, with those particular colors? Fish? Flowers? Butterflies? They seem...happy to me now, like this sort of jubilant kiddie-art that might go into a child's bedroom. Why would THAT come out of me and not something dark and macabre, like skulls on a black background?

What sorts of things do other stillbirth-mommies paint? And why? I guess I'm just curious about art as a healing thing, why and how we do it, where in our brain it comes from, what it says about us.

I wish I had some deep psycho-analytical answer, but dude. You know I don't. :-) Right now the paintings are stacked up on the floor while my dog paces around them suspiciously and sniffs them. Maybe he'll come up with the answer using that poodle-westie nose of his.


therootofallevel said...

don't you dare get rid of them! i'd re-hang them once the grand ballroom basement is finished for the second time. do anything except ditch them.

i'm a graphic designer/needle and thread artist. after my loss i started writing. i couldn't find the energy to create any art, because the last thing i had created was evel's birth announcement. oh the credulity.

i simply shifted creative means. i couldn't imagine not having those first few raw posts – just like your paintings.

Ant said...

Very touching story, so sorry for your loss.

Hope's Mama said...

you should submit these to angie's new art blog, still life 365. i think they are beautiful.

AnnaMarie said...

Your paintings are lovely! It is incredibly interesting that they are so colorful - very unlike what I expected before scrolling down.

They hold so much energy. I'm very curious regarding their future; you'll know what to do with them and you can always store them until you decide, if you don't want to see them for a bit.

And definitely submit them to Angie's art blog!

Sonya said...

The paintings are beautiful, they're reflective of the love you found, and the whole feeling you had felt.

I would keep them always.

And.. so sorry about before. :/

Anonymous said...

We do not know each other, but I have followed your blog via other blogs... You, girl rock! Dispite your loss of Zack, you have rebounded giving many others your gift with writing!

Re: the paintings, I would suggest you keep and display them. They are awesome works of art!

Perhaps you could take all your blogs and the paintings and incorporate them into a book.I think you have the talent to do this!!

God bless you!

Karen Whittaker

myskytimes said...

OMG... I love your paintings!

My son Sky died a week before Zach so I guess I was in a similar state of mind like you were. I grabbed my camera and tried to snap a ton of pictures instead of crying the whole day. And you know what? They all came out black. Camera broke 2 weeks later... Quite fitting.

I second the other ladies: your paintings are absolutely gorgeous and submit-worthy at Still life 365.

I hope you have many more happy times to come and paint. xoxo

Amy said...

They are so colorful and pretty! I painted too, but not until last year, after some time had passed. Hubby did the same thing as yours in those first terrible days after Liam. He painted the stairwell and upstairs hallway. He fixed the stairway handrail, adding new hardware and his mom stained it. He painted the hall window frame white. A couple months later we installed a new door. And on it went, trying to find a way to deal with our grief home improvement style.

Rivalen said...

I laid concrete and my wife re-finished our steps. ( Of course I listened to a lot of really angry heavy metal the whole time. ) mindless home improvement seemed to be the name of the game in the weeks after Joel died.

the paintings, in my humble opinion, are a result of that inner-light (you know, the one we all thought, or perhaps even wished, was extinguished with our child) letting you know that, at some point, the bright colors do come back.

Mendy said...

The paintings are awesome! Please keep them.

loribeth said...

I love your paintings. I vote for rehanging them in your remodelled basement.

Peaches said...

WOW, not at all what I expected when I began to scroll down...They are beautiful---please please please do not throw them away. Right now they are a painful reminder of that week, but maybe some day they will mean something else?? If you can not possibly think of keeping them, please find a way to showcase them. I am certain you would easily sell them as they are gorgeous...

Parenthood For Me said...

The paintings are beautiful. I see what you're saying about where those images came from. I think this is great that you are now able to reflect on these difficult times.

Brenna said...

I love your husband. I love you. I love your all's relationship! I'm sitting here wishing someone had thought to tell me to paint after the boys' "dirth" in 2008! I haven't painted in years--not since college, actually, sheesh! Where has my studio-art-lovin' self gone? I can imagine the catharsis that painting all day would have brought, and I'd be soooo interested to see what came out of such a painting episode.

Like some of the other commenters, I'm amazed at the brightness and energy in your pieces. There seems to be quite a bit about rebirth and growing and nature captured there--very positive/cycle-of-life kind of stuff, in the face of such heartache. They're special, and I hope you're able to find a place for them somewhere.

Sharon said...

Mon, your paintings are beautiful!!!! And really amazing how the central theme seems to be about rebrith given your terrible circumstances at the time of their creation. Perhaps its speaks volumes of you beautiful spirit? Or of how deep inside, you knew that one day you would be ok again? One day you would be "reborn" into something new, something different that the old Mon, but just as special?

Angel said...

Keep them. They are beautiful.

Andrea said...

Wow, those are beautiful, definitely keep them.

I believe stongly in alternative therapies and all that, and I've actually done some art therapy after losing my twins to miscarriage.

My most recent piece was of a heart with many layers (rainbow). Then I had some swirls (like pregnant bellies) and the heart was coming out from between the bellies. It's way too hard to explain and it's nowhere near your talent, but I do find art healing.

Thanks for sharing, they are truly beautiful, like your story.

Kells said...

Wow, M. Amazing story about the paints, dominoes pizza (it's always interesting to me the details we remember) and the loss. Thank you for posting your paintings, like others, I was also surprised to see the color in them, I had also expected them to be darker.

I appreciate you sharing how painting helped you get through those first hours.

Incredible blog you have here. Can't wait to read your book.


Michelle said...

WOW I think those are AWESOME! You did such a great job! Definitely keep them and I would rehang them. They are beautiful!

Molly said...

They're definately not what I pictured as I read your description before scrolling down, but they're really cool. I don't know if you should keep them or not, it depends on how you feel about them since they're irrevocably connected to that time for you, but they are very cool. You're very talented.

Emerging Butterfly said...

This might seem odd or gushy to you...but....I think you were painting heart strings to your baby. These paintings don't reek of an amateur painter's fumblings, rather, they shine with the vibration of love, hope...and calm. I love the depth of these paintings. They shouldn't be in hiding Monica...they should be in a prominent place in your home...where your first son's little brother will play and bask in the beauty that was inspired by the fact that at one time...he was there.

I really don't mean to seem goopy, but I know that my children really need memories of the twin brothers they lost. It's a connection to spirit for them. To the fact that last year, they were the older brothers of twins...and even now that hasn't changed. The only difference is that their twin brothers are dead. Your upcoming baby does have a big brother, and even if you never talk about it...those paintings are the essence of that love....your love. Surrounding your new baby with that can only provide a sense of stability that is only possible with the simply raw, beautiful honesty in your paintings.

Hoping that isn't too opinionated. From one mother to another, Your doing a wonderful job lady-bird. Your tenderness is apparent.

Nicole Breit said...

I am coming to this very late, but those paintings truly are beautiful. It is interesting that some women are drawn to make art out of their losses. I took a series of self-portraits the week I miscarried my baby; they were intended as a way to record the time when I still felt close to him. I never meant to make them public art, but in the end decided a year later to do that. I also wrote a collection of poems about my journey to eventually have my son Noam, which included my experience of infertility, fertility treatments, pregnancy, miscarriage, and finally birth. Way to go, artistic ladies, on making something wonderful out of something so devastating and otherwise indescribable.