According to the Department of Labor's website, Labor Day is "dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers". That's terrific, but what about the other kind of labor -- the "I think the head is crowning" labor?
Laboring moms past, present and future, unite! Isn't the greatest social achievement on the planet the reproduction of human beings? After all, without labor (and the subsequent childbirth), there would be no workers!
So happy Labor Day to all -- especially those who have birthed children, or helped in the process. (Shoutout to the doulas, OBs, midwives, nurses ... and the occasional cab driver.) In your honor, I've created a mini gallery of art depicting labor throughout the ages. (Incidentally, finding art that depicts childbirth was no small task. Despite being one of life's great miracles, childbirth isn't depicted artistically quite as often as, say, sunsets. Well, no surprise -- it must be hard to capture that exact moment when worry begins to forever permeate your very being, and "true love" takes on a whole new meaning.)
Art that Celebrates the Strongest Laborers: Moms!
Temple of Hathor at Dendera
A squatting woman gives birth, assisted by the goddesses Hathor and Taweret. Bygone rituals are fascinating. In ancient Egypt, one pregnancy test reportedly had the woman drinking crushed melon mixed with the milk of a woman who had birthed a male baby. If the preparation made her sick, she was pregnant. (And if it didn't, she was entered as a contestant on "Fear Factor: The Ancient-Egypt Edition.")
Mother and Child, 2002. Mueck is a hyperrealist sculptor. (You know what else would be hyperreal? Less perky breasts and a pillow under her head, because really, does anyone have the energy to lift her own head after labor?) Snide comment aside, I like this piece because it transports me to the moment I met my baby and felt that emotional rush of elation and utter exhaustion -- and the realization that I had no idea how to change a diaper.
Temple at Golgoi
Hellenistic Cypriot childbirth scene, 310-30 B.C. Here, a woman is assisted in birth by an attendant whose head is missing. (Perhaps she said, "Just breathe through the pain" one too many times.)
Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston. This sculpture shows Britney Spears birthing her son, Sean Preston, on a bearskin rug. (In reality, she had a C-section.) I think I find this image more disturbing than the ones in which Britney shaved off all her hair.
Jacqueline Marie Musacchio
"The Art and Ritual of Childbirth in Renaissance Italy." This book is a treasure trove of art honoring the wondrous act of childbirth. It did pique my curiousity about what cravings were like in Renaissance Italy. (Giardiniera and gelato ...?)