Arla Patch’s “Homage to the Uterus, Portal of the Universe”

Arla Patch's "Homage to the Uterus, Portal of the Universe"

Homage to the Uterus, Portal of the Universe by Arla Patch

In this beautiful relief work by Arla Patch, colored coils of clay coalesce in the creation of an intricate labyrinth, revealing a rich image of two uteruses and their ovaries.  The forms mirror one another in celebration of woman and womb, bearers of life.  Large sperm swim towards an actual aperture at the center of the piece, as if sensing that this bright white circle represents the path to the womb.  Culminating from this same central passageway are two long red flowers, both of which curve as they grow, reaching out towards the edge of the piece.

Aesthetically pleasing to look at, Patch’s Homage piece may also be used as a tool in the visualization of fertility, pregnancy and birth.  The vibrancy of the image is a representation of the vibrancy innate to the actual uterus with which it correlates.  In looking at Patch’s artwork, we can imagine the rich potentiality of our own uteruses, envisioning the impressiveness of these organs inside of our bodies.  For purposes of fertility, we visualize sperm meeting egg in the fallopian tube, where they will unite and then travel into the healthy pink fruit of our wombs. The rich landscape of the uterus, so integral to our bodies, welcomes the fertilized egg.  In pregnancy, we picture our babies nurtured and nourished within the thick-walled homes of our wombs.  And in birth, we acknowledge the absolute power of the uterus, realizing that this organ of ours is so capable and ready in its abilities to birth our babies.  

The coils of clay also look like labyrinths, which in themselves act as strong tools in the visualization process of birth.  See post on Labyrinths of Birth for more information.

In addition to fertility, pregnancy and birth, however, there is one other important element to Patch’s piece, and that is the visualization of the uterus in menopause.  In the image’s lower uterus, two white teardrops appear, expressing a woman’s mourning at the ending of her childbearing years.  This moment of menopause, characterized by an array of emotions, including sadness, also marks an essential rite of passage for a woman as she commences the rich autumn of her life.   

In her own words, Arla Patch describes this amazing internal landscape that is depicted in her creation of Homage to the Uterus, Portal of the Universe:

Now as my ovaries are turning away from their full time function of producing eggs and my childbearing ends, I have even greater appreciation for this magnificent, yet hidden part of my body.  It was the first home for my son, giving him the start that would make the blueprint for his lifetime.

-Correspondence with Arla Patch 12/03/2011

Arla Patch, BFA, Ed., MFA, is a creativity midwife, writer and artist whose own life generated the focus of her life’s work.  An early trauma history sowed the seeds of a transformative recovery. Her artistic nature led her to use art as a tool for healing for herself and to support others in their healing.

Her two award winning books are available on her website at, and her artwork is available through her online gallery at Fine Art America.

In conclusion, I include a long but very helpful segment from Ina May Gaskin’s  Guide to Childbirth, in which Ina May discusses the incredible capabilities of the uterus.  I do believe that the reading of this segment helps in visualizing the power of the uterus:

There is no other organ quite like the uterus. If men had such an organ, they would brag about it. So should we.

The membranous, nearly transparent bag of salty fluid–a miniature ocean–contains the baby and its umbilical cord.  The cord leads to the placenta, a short-lived but wondrous organ that, maintaining its attachment to the baby at the navel, is planted in the rich uterine lining of blood vessels and serves a multitude of purposes in pregnancy.  The placenta does the work that will later be taken up by the baby’s lungs, digestive system, liver, excretory organs, and the two chambers of the baby’s heart that mostly don’t function during intrauterine life.  In some languages, the word for placenta translates as mother’s cake, perhaps in recognition of the vital role it plays in the baby’s intrauterine growth.  The placenta literally feeds the baby.

The cervix (the word means neck in Latin), the circular opening like a bottleneck at the lower end of the uterus, is a powerful band of muscles that holds the uterus tightly closed until labor begins.  Picture a knit purse with a gathered opening held tight by a string.  This thick cervical muscle has to be strong enough to hold the uterus shut despite the pressure of approximately fifteen pounds of baby, placenta, and fluid against it–and considerably more in the case of twins and other multiple pregnancies.  The cervical muscle is the kind that is able to remain closed without exertion in its prelabor state. (Once labor begins, its task is to thin and get out of the way.) The cervix is sealed during pregnancy with a plug of thick mucus, which is expelled during the hours before labor begins.  Usually this mucus is slightly tinged with blood, giving it a pinkish reddish, or brownish color.  When this mucus, called show, is expelled from the cervix, it signals that labor will soon begin.

The top part of the uterus is also muscle tissue, but of a different type from the uterus. The three layers of muscle fibers of the main body of the uterus are amazingly powerful yet stretchable and flexible.  They must expand to contain even a multiple pregnancy and still be able to expel everything inside when labor time comes, no matter how large or small the baby or bits of tissue may be.

Before pregnancy occurs, the uterus is a hollow muscular organ the shape and size of an inverted pear.  It is located in the lower half of a woman’s belly, held in place by strong ligaments.  After conception, the fertilized egg is swept from the fallopian tube to the interior of the uterus.  There it burrows into the uterine lining and develops a placenta and a water bag containing a future human.  As the baby and placenta grow, the uterus expands with them.  During pregnancy, the uterus grows to approximately the size of a large watermelon if there is just one baby inside–even larger if there is more than one baby.  By the time a baby is ready to be born, the top of the uterus has risen above the lower rib cage and has pushed the stomach above its usual position. (This is why pregnant women often find it necessary to eat smaller, more-frequent meals during the last weeks of pregnancy to avoid heartburn. Some don’t avoid it.)

At the time of labor, the walls of the uterus are relatively thin.  Even so, their power to squeeze during a labor contraction is sufficient to push a big baby through the open cervix and out the vagina, which must also expand and open.

During the last few days of pregnancy, hormones called prostaglandins cause the thick cervical muscle to begin to soften and thin in readiness for labor.  This process is called ripening. The cervix, which feels something like a nose during pregnancy, becomes extremely soft to the touch when ripe, losing its distinctive necklike shape.  No longer a bottleneck, it, it becomes part of the bottle.

The part of labor when the cervix is opening is called the first stage. Given the choice, most mammals are restless during this part of labor, for this is the time when the baby is pushed, jostled, wriggled, and turned into the most advantageous position to pass through the maternal passageway if she is not already well-positioned.  Hoofed mammals tend to be born feetfirst.  Primates, such as humans and the other apes, are usually born headfirst, although bottom- or feet-first babies can be vaginally born as well.

Once the cervix is pulled completely open, a combination of uterine contractions and some pressure from the abdominal muscles pushes the baby outside of the mother’s body.  This is called the second stage of labor. It lasts until the birth of the baby.  Gravity can greatly affect progress during this part of labor. So can a lot of other things, but we’ll get to that later.

As for the water bag, sometimes this breaks before labor, sometimes during labor, and sometimes it is intact at birth and has to be broken and peeled away so the baby can take her first breath….Rhythmic contrations of the upper part of the uterus think and pull back the cervix during the first stage of labor.  During the second or pushing stage of labor, these contractions also push the leading part of the baby down through the lower part of the pelvis.  Only rarely do the dimensions of a woman’s pelvis significantly interfere with the birth of her baby. (Civilized nineteenth-century women, though, often suffered from pelvic deformities caused by vitamin D deficiency, and such deformities did obstruct vaginal birth.)  Meanwhile, the baby’s skull (which like the pelvis, is made up of separate bones held together with flexible ligaments) is able to temporarily mold itself for easier passage through the maternal pelvic bones.

One of the best features of labor is the rest periods that occur between these rushes.  Hardly anyone seems to talk about these in birth preparation books, but they are one of the most brilliant features of labor. Savor every second of them.  Appreciate them. They are your chance to relax and enjoy feeling “normal” and alive.  These rest periods may be ten–even fifteen–minutes apart in early labor.  In the second stage of labor, they may be only a minute or two apart until the birth of the baby.

The third stage of labor lasts from the birth of the baby until the expulsion of the placenta.  The uterus continues to contract after the birth of the baby, quickly diminishing its size to that of the placenta.  Further contractions shear the placenta from the uterine lining.  This event is usually signaled by the expulsion of dark red blood within fifteen or twenty minutes after birth.  More contractions then expel the placenta.  Gravity and gentle traction on the umbilical cord by an attendant may aid this process.

The fourth stage of labor is the postpartum or newborn period, roughly the six weeks that follow childbirth.  This is the time during which the mother’s body adjust to new motherhood and returns to the nonpregnant state.

-Ina May Gaskin, Guide to Childbirth, pages 144-146