Here I am at Kingston and St Georges midwifery conference, 2018. Today there will be ten talks and events exploring the concept 'I Have a Voice' and I’ll be reporting on each of them in ‘Notes of Midwifery Voices’.
Caroline Calonder isn’t an artist I've heard of before but the work she showed today moved me deeply. I’m not usually a pictures person, I’m far more into the written word, but her exploration of the story of her own births in art captures just how harsh and turbulent the experience of having a baby can be. As she said the ink she used 'haemorrhaged' onto the paper.
Caroline is also an uplifting speaker. As a lay person I’d describe her as an art therapist – I bet there are qualifications you need to call yourself this, so don’t quote me, but as well as special needs teaching Caroline founded Mosiac Education Studios. This organisation does a few things but most relevant to this conference is using art to help with learning and healing.
Her experience as a teacher is combined with being a parent to a bright and artistic son who has Aspbergers syndrome.
Accompanied by her older sister, Dr Lesley Kay, who organised this conference and researches women's experiences of birth, Caroline helped us explore the concept of 'the means of thinking through making'.
We can't just carry everything with us, especially such an enormous life event as a birth. In Caroline's case, this was an emergency ventouse, and then caesarean and post partum haemorrhage. As often happens, her partner was impacted by these events and began to deny her experiences.
One picture was haunting; a splash of red and a fetus to the upper right hand side, chaos and Caroline as a tiny figure in a bikini in a bottom corner. And this picture was actually Caroline beginning to find herself again - she was present in the art, unlike in previous works.
For any mother, the 'shift from me to we' is a strange one.
Having responsibilities and a love that is overwhelming can make it seem like whatever you think or feel as a person, rather than a mother, isn't important. As an artist Caroline began to capture her own thoughts again.
Also fascinating for midwives was Caroline's works imagining she had a vaginal birth. These were beautiful calm pictures with yellows and blues. Something reassuring for any midwife fearing the promotion of normal birth is not the right thing to do.
There was also a piece of art with a beautiful blue high heeled shoe surrounded by different types of pelvis - android, gynecoid, anthropoid and platypelloid. The myth that Caroline had been told was that a big shoe size meant a big pelvis and easy birth.
What struck me most was Caroline's use of art to ensure she's embracing thinking and processing in her own way.
In midwifery, we’re too often forced into doing something as per the guidelines. We still run things in a factory model. I’m not blaming anyone and this system has saved many lives.
But what Caroline's work says to me (aside from reminding me how vulnerable having a baby is) is that the maternity services need to realise is that we don't need cookie cutter staff.
If we can express ourselves authentically as midwives, I believe this will help us help us care for the many different women who come through the maternity services.
We’d love to hear from you - are you here at the conference? What was the most insightful thing you learnt from Caroline?
Or what was the best thing you learnt from this post – leave a comment below!