Birth as performance art — literally

totally NSFW

This picture has been making the rounds on Facebook.

Click here to see it if you dare. It’s very bloody, and, once seen, cannot be unseen.

The image is so obviously staged that I wondered whether it was even real. It is. And it is a piece of performance art by an actual artist.

According to the artist, Ana Alvarez-Errecalde, this is a portrait of her in the aftermath of the birth of her daughter.

With this documental self-portrait (without Photoshop or any kind of image manipulation) of myself giving birth I want to challenge most of maternities in films, advertising and all of art history.

Without image manipulation? Not exactly, since the photo is staged on a photographic background and the mother has at least washed her face and combed her hair.

Interestingly, the artist wanted to show that birth is NOT sacred:

These maternities re-enforce the stereotypes that impart from heterosexual masculine fantasies, in which exist the duality of the mother/whore, making sacred all that has to do with the “mother” (maternity with veil included).

And:

By giving birth I take off my “cultural” veil. My maternity is not virginal, not aseptic.

Well, yes, birth is not virginal.

Had she stopped there, she would have distinguished her art from the “look at me and be impressed” school of birth performance art. But she too wants you to look at her and be impressed.

I am the protagonist. I am a hero.

Umm, no. You are not a hero, any more than you are a hero when you digest your food and absorb oxygen through your lungs.

And if she’s the hero, what is the baby? Nothing apparently, just another prop in the world of birth performance art.

  • http://www.hfme.org/ Thy Miocena

    At least she’s not claiming its womens Divine Duty to give birth!

  • eyeroll

    This is not an unusual amount of blood after a birth, especially not if baby went skin-to-skin immediately after birth and if she carried the placenta over to the backdrop.

    And, yes. It’s a staged photo. DUH. Since when does art have to accidental and unstaged to be considered worthwhile? What’s more disturbing to me is the “click here to see it if you dare” language – from an OB.

    Ummm… really?

  • Ennis Demeter

    I actually do think that giving birth has something heroic about it. It’s the only thing I disagree with Dr. Tuteur about.

  • Meerkat

    Many performance artists do much more shocking and gory stuff. That’s what a lot of performance art is about, the shock value. Whether you like it or not, she achieved her goal brilliantly—we are talking about her work, aren’t we? I don’t particularly care about the mechanics of the blood smearing, all I know is that this image is unforgettable and it made me think.
    I looked up her other work and it is good. I would definitely go and see her shows.
    I don’t have a problem with this particular piece of performance art because the artist knew exactly what she was doing. She is not pretending that this photo wasn’t staged, however minimally.

  • GiddyUpGo123

    What’s with the cheeky grin? If she really wanted to portray birth as being raw and gritty, she’d have messy hair and she’d look exhausted. This just looks like a portrait sitting with blood as a prop. It’s not art, it’s what would happen if Dexter Morgan went hunting at an Olan Mills. Minus the Saran Wrap.

  • MichelleJo

    I wouldn’t call it a blood bath; the amount of blood doesn’t look that much, it’s just over a large area. A small can of paint could do better than that. Try standing with no protection for a few hours on the heaviest day of a period, and then see what your legs much like. Probably worse. As to why it got so high up, it must have been a water birth. She had just stepped out of a pool of blood. That’s the only way it could have happened ‘naturally’. I have never come into contact (my hands that is,) with blood during any of my births and I don’t recall being cleaned higher than my waist, if that.

    • MichelleJo

      And another point; show this to the lactivists who go on about bottlefeeding being dangerous because of lack of clean water or whatever in the third world. I wouldn’t shmear the nipple of my baby’s bottle with blood before I fed her. And here her whole face is mushed into it.

      • deafgimp

        I looked closely. You can see that the blood stops at the top of the breast. Baby isn’t sucking on birth-bloodied nipples. At least to me it looks like it stops.

  • http://Www.awaitingjuno.blogspot.com/ Mrs. W

    Meh – seems like just another “Awkward Family Photo”. Personally, I prefer the baby pictures that won’t squick out any of my child’s future dates…

  • Sue

    To rephrase Monty Python: “You’re not a hero, you’re just a silly little girl.”

  • SkepticalGuest

    I read some comments below that either stated or implied that the baby must be cold. Just wanted to point out that we have no idea *where* this woman gave birth. Maybe she’s in southern Florida or Hawaii. Or maybe she just has the heat cranked. When I gave birth in a hospital, the nurses kept insisting on cranking the heat to the point where I’d have asthma attacks. Said it was good for the baby. I was mostly naked except for a pair of undies and was generally overheated.

  • hurricanewarningdc

    I sometimes wonder if I’ve missed something. I mean, I was pregnant, birthed my baby, and have a fantastic, loving son as a result… But I failed… failed to procure a video crew, a photographic set, a blogger, a diarist, a commissioned artwork, etc. I didn’t eat my placenta, frame the umbilical cord, bury whatever else was left to grow a medical-waste-composted tree in my yard. Shit. I, too, could have found fame and self-promotion through the elevation of my SELF over those billions of other women who’ve done the same throughout time.

    Well, I’m only 44. Genetic deformities be damned, I might still have a chance to do it again so I can make a buck off of the “experience.” Thi$ time I’ll have other people lauding me acro$$ teh interwebz for doing $omething pretty mundane (well, at lea$t in the grand $cheme of things). Thi$ time, I’ll do it right.

    • http://kumquatwriter.wordpress.com/ Kumquatwriter

      Ju$t out of curio$ity, since I didn’t click the links and read, is there a rea$on you $uspect $he is profiting by it?

      • hurricanewarningdc

        I believe that it said that she’s an artist and had a show opening up shortly after the post. This stunt was part of the exhibit or something like that.

        • Ainsley Nicholson

          Yep, it was a stunt, just like Dr Amy said.

        • http://kumquatwriter.wordpress.com/ Kumquatwriter

          Wow. I didn’t know I could lose even more respect for this *artiste*

  • MumaD

    I don’t know what is more disturbing, the obvious staging and effort to get into position, the bloodbath, the cold baby or the maniacal grin!

    • lucy logan

      i thnk what is disturbing is the sexy/pinup seated pose. *shudder*

      • lucy logan

        i dont really understand how such obvious mimicry of photos clearly designed nad manufacured for the ;male gaze makes someone a ‘hero’ and a ‘proagonist’ because–baby? “sexy & mom” is not a subversion of the male gaze. if it was MILF wouldnt be a thing

  • R T

    LOL! Did she rub the placenta all over herself? Why? I mean I have girlfriends who make a living off blood play fetishes, but this is taking it to a whole new level. I have attended many home births and not one was this bloody! So funny!

  • sarahh.rosanne@gmail.com

    I actually think this photograph is hysterical as I sit in my hospital bed. I had my second baby yesterday morning after 31 hours of labor and a forceps assisted delivery (as was my first). For some reason my pelvis lends itself to the baby’s head turning into the occiput transverse position. Both resulted in deep second degree tears and substantial bleeding. We did not photograph the birth because we knew all too well what it was going to look like. At least it’s not a woman floating on a lotus having an orgasm as her pristine baby crowns;That was actually a business card illustration for a local doula service. Sometimes birth is bloodbath even when done with the utmost skill in a given situation.

    • sarahh.rosanne@gmail.com

      My initial thought was that it was staged and/or photo-shopped at a later time. The possibility that she would have actually done this with a newborn immediately after birth is bothersome.

      • Certified Hamster Midwife

        If she had a homebirth and the photo backdrop set up in her home, it wouldn’t be hard to do.

        • sarahh.rosanne@gmail.com

          Oh gosh, I hope that was not a home birth because it looks to have been complicated. But would a hospital allow such a high degree of ridiculousness? Could have been a home birth.

      • SkepticalGuest

        @sarahh: What is “bothersome” about it? As long as the baby isn’t in distress, why would you be bothered by her posing for a picture? It’s not what I’d want to do after a birth. And I’d certainly want to clean up first. But this seems to be more the case of different strokes for different folks.

        • Poogles

          The one thing I think is bothersome is, unless they are keeping that room very, very warm, that is a very wet baby getting cold while they fix her hair and make-up and take photos, and as was mentioned above – it is very unlikely they went through all that trouble and then only took 1-2 shots…so how long was that baby naked, wet and cold? I’m hoping that maybe she used that towel or blanket on her legs to cover the baby when shots weren’t actually being taken?

          ETA: After posting this, I see you made a comment further down about the possibility of the baby being cold. I do really hope that they were taking care to keep the baby warm.

          • SkepticalGuest

            Actually, I was commenting that we have no idea whether or not that baby was cold, as it wasn’t clear from the photo alone where they were–or what temperature the heat was set on. I looked it up later. The mom is Spanish, gave birth in Barcelona. Who knows, it might’ve been 100 degrees in her house when the baby was born. She might’ve also cranked the heat. Or, if there were professional lighting, it might’ve been hot just from that.

            I wouldn’t doubt that it was a longer, more professional photo shoot. Mom was a professional model/actress at some point (I looked her up on Wikipedia).

        • sarahh.rosanne@gmail.com

          I say bothersome because the amount of blood suggests a difficult delivery for mother and baby ( I may be wrong) and I personally feel that it may be a misdirection of attention and energy away from the needs of the baby and the care of the mother in that frame of time. I am a portrait photographer and I know it can be a process to stage and pose a photograph – it could have taken a minute or half an hour.
          I have photos of my first daughter emerging with forceps and covered in blood and I took pictures of our son whilst still bloody. I am not offended by blood, nudity etc. The logistics of moving to the backdrop and posing seem so … inconvenient. Maybe she gave birth on the backdrop. All of that said I still find it amusing. I saw it a few hours after suffering a third degree tear in childbirth and I laughed … a little too hard. If I had such a photo of myself I would definitely put it on the family Christmas card. I just hope the care and comfort of mom and baby were respected.

          • SkepticalGuest

            I would 100% agree that this photo is inappropriate IF it delayed necessary care for mom or baby. But since we don’t know anything about the condition of mom and baby at the time of the photo–other than to observe that mom looks great and baby isn’t blue–we don’t know that there was a problem that was being neglected.

            I also had an especially bloody birth–huge second-degree tear (from clitoris almost to anus) and a PPH. There was a bucket filled with blood on the floor, blood splattered everywhere. It was a veritable blood bath. I almost needed a transfusion. It was briefly a dicey situation.

            Getting out of bed would’ve been impossible, with all the necessary stitching, and the epidural and such.

            You made me laugh about the Christmas cards. Maybe a birth announcement?

            Though, honestly, I have some scary photos. They are not all prettied up–I was awake for about 65 hours when photo was taken (I went into labor just as I was about to go to bed for the night and then had a long, slow drawn-out labor and a failed epidural). I was swollen from all the fluids from the epidural. I was ghostly from blood loss and starvation. And it looked like a war-zone. I wouldn’t share those photos with anyone except my mother and the people who were there for the birth (husband and doula).

    • Karen in SC

      Congratulations! May I ask, did you consider a maternal request c-section for this birth?

      PS. You proved you can have a Thanksgiving baby :)

      • sarahh.rosanne@gmail.com

        Thanks! I was operating under the assumption that I would have an uncomplicated vaginal delivery and that my first was an anomaly. They offered a C-section at the point of knowing he couldn’t pass through the pelvis without some sort of operative procedure (about 30 hours into labor) but that point but knowing he was so close I chose to let them try forceps. I gave birth at Vanderbilt University MC (both times) and a few of the faculty there are rock stars with forceps.

        If I were to have another baby in the future it would be a scheduled CS. I am so ecstatic to have two healthy children and I would hypothetically like a third, but probably not another biological child. I’m not at all unhappy about the way both they were born or the care I received- Sometimes things can’t proceed smoothly in the direction we hope- I’m not sure that I can bring myself to have a third child. Both labors had many complications with bleeding, tachycardia, drug reactions etc. My “mantras” while I was pushing were a prayer for safe passage and the reassurance to myself: “You won’t ever have to do this again if you don’t want to.” Maybe the wash of hormones will cloak that sentiment in cloudy post partum amnesia and we’ll give it another go … but I am thinking I am done. ;)

        • Karen in SC

          Thanks for the details. It’s too bad you had complications but sounds like you were in the right place :)

        • Ainsley Nicholson

          congrats on the birth of your second
          healthy child!!!

        • Sue

          Congrats on the new little one!

        • moto_librarian

          Congrats on the new baby! Both of my children were also born at Vandy, and I agree that the staff are fabulous.

    • hurricanewarningdc

      Congratulations! Wonderful for you and your family!

  • Zornorph

    I don’t know that it’s really any grosser than that Beatles album cover with the raw meat and the dolls. Can’t say the kid’s going to be very happy about it when he gets older, though. But of course, the photo is all about her as she’s the ‘hero’. He’s just a prop, like that puddle of placenta on the floor.

    • Certified Hamster Midwife

      I KNEW this reminded me of something!

    • http://kumquatwriter.wordpress.com/ Kumquatwriter

      Have you seen the entire series of pictures that the “Butcher Cover” was lifted from? It’s actually vaguely appropriate here… From the description (http://www.eskimo.com/~bpentium/whobutch.html)

      The first photograph is of the Beatles, facing a woman with her back to the camera, hanging on to a string of sausages. This picture was supposed to represent the ‘birth’ of the Beatles, with the sausages serving as an umbilical cord. Whitaker explained: “My own thought was how the hell do you show that they’ve been born out of a woman the same as anybody else? An umbilical cord was one way of doing it.”

      The photograph that would have been used for the other side of the triptych is one of George Harrison standing behind a seated John
      Lennon, hammer in hand, pounding nails into John’s head. Whitaker explained that this picture was intended to demonstrate that the Beatles were not an illusion, not something to be worshipped, but people as real and substantial as “a piece of wood”.”

      • Zornorph

        I hadn’t seen the sausage picture, but had seen the nails in the head one. All in all, sounds like some weird artist thinking he’s clever and in fact, just being gross and stupid. Rather like the woman we are discussing above.

  • Teleute

    MY EYES ARE BLEEDING!
    But seriously, it looks like she slaughtered that baby.

  • Lori

    I’m amazed at the hoards of totally clean childbirthers in here! I’m reading all these comments saying how it’s impossible to get blood all over you at a birth and feeling like I must have been an exceptionally sloppy birthing lady because I was actually shocked at the mess and I’m a nurse for goodness sake. I even recall someone washing blood off my face before pictures were taken and my husband later told me I had somehow smeared blood across my face and I looked like someone who had engaged in some primal warfare. I think that was from a blown IV site rather than the actual birth though.

    • Lisa the Raptor

      Oh I don’t doubt it is possible. I just doubt that is the way it went down. It totally looks placenta-ed on. Plus I am starting to doubt that it is even blood or else they got to the shoot pretty fast, because blood dries fast. I remember dripping blood on my way to the bath room, but that was after birth.

      • SkepticalGuest

        Maybe. But it’s also possible that the placenta ended up on her when they put the baby on her, simply because the placenta/cord was left attached. That would give it that “placenta-ed on” look, even if it wasn’t deliberate.

        • Lisa the Raptor

          Why am I picturing umbilical cord like a rubber band being pulled until it breaks and smacking a placenta on the mom….complete with cartoon noises ..

    • moto_librarian

      I don’t really know how much blood got on me during my pph because I’m assuming that they cleaned me up while I was in the OR. There was a bit on the gown (the same one that I delivered in). I am certain that my second delivery didn’t have nearly as much blood on me as the woman in this picture does.

  • Allie

    I’ll give her this, she puts the “mental” in “documental” : )

  • Guesteleh

    Look, if your name isn’t Ron Athey, Karen Finley, or Andres Serrano, go home. Shock art’s been done to death. Just because the blood comes from childbirth (maybe) doesn’t make it special.

  • Megha Jolly

    Ugh. I see no difference in this and letting ur period run down ur legs and sitting in a pool of just because it’s natural and primal.

    On a slightly OT note, I was perusing the homebirth board on bbc and came across this thread:

    http://community.babycenter.com/post/a46084129/choosing_a_midwife_experience_versus_better_degree

    Please take a look. It would ALMOST be funny if it weren’t babies lives at risk by the idiocy of these women. Midwives with no degrees, trust in god, have faith in birth etc etc blah blah blah! Dr Amy you are right – you will never run out of stuff to write about!

    • Trixie

      Naturopaths are allowed to call themselves MDs in Arizona? Yikes!

      • Lisa the Raptor

        When I was reading a history of the Frontier Midwifery school, they talked in great depth about Granny midwives, but also, apparently there were many men who were medics in the civil war, had done some emergency medicine and surgery and started calling themselves doctors and selling services after the war was over. It was hard to tell if anyone was legit back then which is why they came up with the title CNM so that they could prove they had the education. Women who wanted to be a CNM would get a nursing degree and then go to Europe to be trained by the midwives there, because there was no such equal training in the US, until some of the first midwives started teaching younger generations. Then they were given a horse and a dog and were sent out to serve the women of the Appalachians. My Great Grandmother was one. I tell this story because I am still amazed that fake doctors are still around, and a Naturopath is not a doctor. Although I did once meet a man who was a practitioner of Chinese medicine, and he called himself a physician. I called him a fraud.

        • Trixie

          Great story! I was delivered by a Frontier-trained CNM.

    • http://kumquatwriter.wordpress.com/ Kumquatwriter

      I suggest you not google “Menstrual Painting” then.

  • http://kumquatwriter.wordpress.com/ Kumquatwriter

    Anyone who has done or knows much about a photo shoot would know that for every one picture there are many, many, MANY test shots and alternate angles. I wonder how long she and her baby were naked and posing.

    • Lisa Cybergirl

      Test shots, alternate angles, tons of almost-but-not-quite-its, and absolute wheelbarrows full of screwups. I hope the room was nice and warm!

    • Teleute

      Please… don’t even go there. I can’t imagine…

    • Lisa the Raptor

      Wouldn’t the photographer be considered the artist?

      • Nashira

        Actually, that’s more complicated than you might think. Kinda like discussions of much of Andy Warhol’s silkscreen prints – who was the artist, him for the idea or the artisans who helped make the print? (Usually, art people go with “the person as wot had the idea”, but… it’s complicated.)

        Plus, there wasn’t necessarily a photographer involved – you would be amazed what one can do with a self-timer.

  • Dr Kitty

    This is less artistic than the guy who squirts paint out of his tear ducts.

    Tough day at work.
    Really, giving birth is just the beginning, parenting is the tricky bit, and goodness knows not everyone can do it, and some people definitely shouldn’t.

  • Amy M

    There was a lot of blood when I hemorrhaged, but my babies weren’t around for that (they were in the nursery just then) and though it did get all over the place, it didn’t get on my face or in my hair. Also, I was in no way capable of smiling for a camera at that point, I was barely conscious, so if a woman is truly a bloody mess, wo/having deliberately spread it around, like this woman seems to have done (and a little certainly can go a long way), she’s probably in no shape to send any kind of political message. Her only message would be “S.O.S”

  • Dr Kitty

    Ok…she must have rubbed the placenta over everything.
    Because no, you don’t normally end up covered in that much blood at a birth.

    • Teleute

      Oh god, the horror. WHY, Dr. Kitty?!

  • Antigonos CNM

    Obviously faked. You have to work very hard to get blood that high up. I’ve done bi-manual uterine massage on hemorrhaging women without making such a mess. BTW, she’s not giving birth in that picture;she’s nursing, or trying to. It looks to me as if she’s rubbed the maternal side of the placenta all over herself. All that wet blood must be chilling the baby; there’s a reason babies are wiped dry and wrapped up after birth: they are prone to hyperthermia.

  • Lisa the Raptor

    Isn’t there a mental disorder where people like to wallow in things like poop and blood? I thinks she has it.

    • R T

      There’s a whole group of people with a blood play fetish! I have a few girlfriends who are blood play fetish models!

      • Guesteleh

        I hate to ask, but is it real blood? Because if yes, that’s suicidal.

        • R T

          Honestly, I don’t know, but surely not! I would think its fake! The health department would probably get involved if it was! I mean they’re being paid to do it and paying taxes on the income so there must be regulations of some kind.

          • Nashira

            It’s pretty easy to make realistic-enough looking “blood” using some corn syrup, food coloring, and a few other things.

          • Amy M

            Or go to the butcher and get some animal blood, or bloody meat.

  • Clarissa Darling

    I don’t believe that is real. How did she get her hair and face so perfect when the hands and the rest of her body are so bloody? I guess she could have had someone else to make up her face and do her hair but that kind of cancels the “not staged” angle if you ask me.

  • Mom2Many

    Why is it that when I read a warning of a graphic pic, that I still click the link? I really hope that some young girl/newly pregnant woman does not get completely freaked out by that image.
    I’ve given birth 4 times, none of them were any fun, but seriously? That childbirth ends up being a bloodbath like that picture shows? What a complete misrepresentation. Grow up already, and focus on your new baby, instead of trying to impress with this photoshoot.

    • Lisa the Raptor

      That is what I am saying. i thought they were in the sac until they came out and didn’t get a whole lot of blood on them, maybe some spots, but this baby looks like she sponge painted it at her.

      • sarahh.rosanne@gmail.com

        Forceps delivery? It’s the exception to see this much blood but it can happen. I hope it is in some way staged or photo shopped. This wouldn’t be a safe or productive use of time in the moments following such a delivery.

      • Jennifer2

        Oh, my son’s water had broken long before he was delivered, and he came out a goopy, bloody mess. I actually thought he might have fairly dark, reddish hair until after his bath when we discovered he is as blonde as can be.

        Still, this picture is ridiculous. Love the baby. Feed the baby. Let the placenta shrivel and then eat it. Whatever. But why the need to give birth for an audience?

  • Prolifefeminist

    This could’ve actually been kinda cool if she was gazing down at the baby instead of smiling creepily at the camera.

  • Durango

    oh dear, is it wrong that I laughed out loud when I saw the picture?

  • LovleAnjel

    By “image manipulation” she meant in-camera or post-production changes.

  • Lisa the Raptor

    Hm. My babies were not bloody like that. It that usual? Or did she rubbed blood all over her and the baby? Either way this is silly.

    • Stephanie

      My first child had a little bit of blood on her after she was born due to the severity of the tearing I had sustained giving birth, however nothing like that child is showing.

    • AmyP

      Yeah–as I recall, my babies all came out purple and cheesy. Not super photogenic, but no blood in sight.

      • anh

        yup, perfect description of my daughter. purple, cheesy, and if I recall a little bit of blood at the back of her head, but nothing like this gorefest. ugh. what is the damn point?

        • Lisa the Raptor

          Yeah, see, any blood I remember was like a glob here or there. Certainly not like this. Though they must have done it quick before it got crusty. Ew.

    • Mishimoo

      Mine came out with only the tiniest bit of blood on them and no vernix. Two also had slight meconium staining (the last decided to poop everywhere once he was feeding) but that was still less messy than that photo. I don’t know how she’s done it, unless she’s wallowed in the post-birth blood, but it would be a pain to clean up.