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Amateur Stillbirth Art

Posted Jan 08 2010 4:17pm
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.
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