Visualizing the Mind/Body Connection through Sarah Ulrich’s “Birthing Quilt”
The Birthing Quilt (Copyright 2008, Sarah Ulrich. All Rights Reserved)
This beautiful quilt made by artist Sarah Ulrich becomes all the more incredible when viewed in the context of the birth stories behind its making. I have tried for several months to reach Sarah but have been unsuccessful and yet feel that the image of the quilt and the stories attached to it are so helpful to other pregnant women. Sarah’s story of a cesarean birth followed by two natural VBACs is empowering to all birthing mothers. Her descriptions of overcoming her fear of birth and of focusing on the connection between her body and mind during labor and birth are extremely insightful and may be read as tools in helping other women to prepare. The story of how Sarah made the quilt during the birthing years of her three children is beautiful, suggesting a deep connection also between the way that artwork and other material objects may take on a powerful ideological import.
I include the moving text of her birth stories for my readers below. Sarah Ulrich is an artist based in Lumpkinland, Pennsylvania. Her contact information is listed on her blog, and more of her work may also be seen at her Etsy shop.
It’s finally completed. After 6 years of working on it. I started this quilt after the birth of my first child. We had planned a home-birth but ended up with a ton of interventions and a cesarean. For a long time I blamed my fear of motherhood and birthing on the “failed” outcome. But then, over time I came to realize as I now realize about everything- All things happen for a reason. My first birth experience led me to begin this quilt. I wanted to reflect on the power it takes for a woman to give birth and the incredible link we must have between own minds and our bodies at the time of birth. They must be working together through the whole process. The way I explored this concept in the quilt was through the use of vines which represent being rooted in ones self. I felt like the the vines growing up around the birthing mother signified her connection to the earth and the birth as an ancient ritual. I also used the embroidered Joan of Arc quote “i am not afraid, I was born to do this” as a background element and it becomes the mantra of the quilt. It doesn’t matter how many times one gives birth, there is always that element of shock and fear which must be overcome while your in the thick of it. It’s that mind/ body connection.
When I became pregnant with my second child, I again began working on the quilt. I spent many hours thinking of the inspiration behind the quilt and hoping to finish it for the big event. My first VBAC. This time i was going to concur my fears and embrace the birthing process fully. Follow my bodies lead and let nature take its course. My second birth was amazing, everything I could have hoped for. The quilt was however was still not completed. Later that same year when my husband Kurt died, I assumed i would never finish the quilt. I assumed I was finished having babies (a crazy thing for a 26 year old to assume, I realize, but being a young widow is a tough thing to wrap your head around).
When I dug the birthing quilt out three years later, I intended to finish it in earnest this time. I unfolded it from storage and discovered that the safety pins with which I had secured the fabric layers had rusted and left spots of orange throughout the quilt top. At first I was disappointed and I think I actually cried upon seeing those spots thinking I had ruined the quilt by storing it so hastily. Now, I love those tiny rust spots. Suddenly the quilt was alive. It had aged along with me over those years between my last baby and this next one. The quilt had weathered the storm with some scars to show for it, just as I had.
Six years ago, Kurt helped me paint the figure of the birthing woman, because I couldn’t quite get her proportion right. At the time I started the quilt I didn’t like the fact that I needed his help, I wanted to do it all by myself. That sound so childish now, but that’s the way I felt. Now, three and a half years after his death, as his older brother Lorenz and I prepare to welcome our first child together into this world, I am again reminded that all things happen for a reason, and Kurt’s contribution to this quilt is priceless to us now.
It feels so good to have completed this quilt. It will hopefully be a source of inspiration for my children and their children as they grow and experience the birthing process- becoming mothers and fathers themselves.
It’s storming outside now. A lovely moody night to birth a baby, I think. My contractions started last night and have been coming slowly but surely all day. This labor is slow and seems to have started only as my body’s reminder to me that I need to stop running around trying to prepare for this baby. So I’m staying cozy in my little nest of a bedroom tonight, hoping to hold my new baby soon.