I didn’t want my seven-year-old to see the painting.
A woman lies naked on her bed, her legs spread open, a baby birthing with all the blood and vagina you’d expect. The mother’s face is covered with a sheet like a corpse. The baby has emerged only up to her neck; her head lolls to the side, her eyes closed, her eyebrows the black wings of a raven.
I was at the exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s paintings with my daughter. I was glad the picture was above her sightline. I didn’t want to explain it to her. When she drifted off toward a fantastically colored dress like those Kahlo used to wear, I stepped closer to read the description of the painting.
She created it not long after a miscarriage. While she was painting it, her mother died.
The painting was profoundly unsettling to me. It also called out to me as something very true. I didn’t want to look at it, and yet I was desperately glad it existed.
Why? I had two lovely births, but I hemorrhaged dangerously with the second. Birth can kill women—how often depending on where you live. There’s the postpartum depression that almost drowned a friend of mine. Our own SheLovely Michaela Evanow cares for a terminally ill daughter. There are the miscarriages. The infertility. The simple daily challenge of childcare.
We love our children. And we are deeply unsettled by the act of bringing them into the world.
And it wasn’t just that painting. So many of Kahlo’s works were disturbing explorations of pain, of surgery, of infidelity, death, marriage, and anger. Each was beautiful and unsettling, all at once.
Kahlo was famous for her self-portraits. I imagine her looking at a mirror, and examining the lines of her face, the curve of her eyebrows, the strength of her chin, and committing those lines to memory.
She recorded what she saw in ochre, scarlet and azure.
When she saw something unsettling, she traced its contours with a steady hand.
I wonder: am I brave enough to look in the mirror and be unsettled? Am I willing to be honest about that unsettling with others?
I’m at SheLoves Magazine today, writing about the beautiful, fraught, unsettling journey we are towards our Father. Join me?