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Birth as... performance art?

Recently, several interesting moms-to-be have been making news.

First, there is Nancy Salguiero, a chiropractor, childbirth educator, and owner of YourBirthCoach.com. Mom to 2, she is planning a home birth with her third child (due yesterday!) and planning to stream it live on the internet.

In explaining why she is doing this, Nancy says:

"In our culture, we've created this idea of fear and this visual image of what birth is, with t.v., with sitcoms, with the stories that we've heard in the last few generations of birth and have really created just this culture of fear, of secrecy and privacy. We don't know what to expect as women going into labor ourselves and I really believe in support and for women to see what a normal, natural birth is like. It used to be something that we were exposed to all the time growing up. Women and girls were at births and it was part of normal life and normal culture, but we've had that taken away so we don't have an idea in our heads of what birth can be, other than these images that we've seen on t.v."

Salguiero certainly won't be the first mom to broadcast a play-by-play of her birth online. Moms regularly use the Twitter hashtag #twitterbirth to document their journeys through labor. Gina Crosley-Corcoran, the blogger behind The Feminist Breeder, live-blogged her daughter's birth back in April, and Talina Norris-Ryder from Harvest of Daily Life streamed her birth at The Farm over the internet in August (although they faced some technical difficulties with the stream along the way, making it tough for many folks to stay tuned in). And those are just a few examples.

Although I don't think I would ever feel comfortable streaming my own labor and birth live for the masses, I am grateful to these women for being willing to share their own. Is it narcissistic? Perhaps. But Salguiero's comments on why she's doing it really resonate with me.

We are, as a culture, disconnected from normal birth. Our cesarean rate is out of control, our rates of epidural use and "routine" interventions are ever increasing, the media loves to horrify us with tales of emergencies and near-misses, and most of us have little direct exposure to labor and birth until we arrive in the delivery room ourselves. Being exposed to normal physiological birth is rare for women of reproductive age in the U.S. today, and although seeing it through a camera lens is still a degree away from reality, these women's willingness to share their experience with others is, I believe, still immensely valuable.

That being said, there was one more mama-to-be brought to my attention this morning and her headline definitely made me do a double take:

Marni Kotak, Artist, Will Give Birth at Microscope Gallery, for Real

That basically sums it all up. Kotak, a performance artist living in NYC, plans to give birth in an art gallery. Kotak explains:

"In 'The Birth of Baby X,' I will be completely engrossed in the act of giving birth before a live audience. I will be focused on delivering my child into the world in the healthiest manner possible, rather than on how I look or what the audience may think. Everything I have learned about the birth process is that the more you surrender your mind and don't try to control the event, but let your body do what it naturally knows how to do, the better your labor progresses. This, to me, provides for the most authentic performance art situation. And the ultimate creation of this life performance will be a living being!"

As I read about this particular live birth, I'm left wondering what about it makes me so uncomfortable. Is it any more narcissistic or any less valuable to share this intimate experience for the sake of advancing your profession, rather than because you hope to make a difference for the women watching? And aren't the women who document their births live via Twitter or blog essentially doing the same thing (it's a great traffic-driver, no?)?

Is it the truly live nature of the event that makes it sit funny with me? I've already expressed disappointment that more women today aren't exposed to births in the real world more often, so what's my problem? Here's an artist, putting herself out there, inviting others to attend her birth in the flesh. I should be glad, right?

Instead, I sit here conflicted. I try my hardest not to judge other women for their birth choices. After all, I want to be free to birth in the way that I feel most safe and am most comfortable, so it's only right to extend that support to others as well. Yet there's this little nagging voice in the back of my head that's trying to yell, "That is just wrong!"

I'm so conflicted… yet intrigued.

What do you think?

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Follow Jo on Twitter at @outtajo or visit her personal blog, Outta Jo, Onto You.

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