Birth As Performance Art

A 36-year-old woman put on quite a show last month at Brooklyn’s Microscope Gallery. She gave birth as performance art. It was called, “The Birth of Baby X.”


Inside a cozy area made to look like a bedroom -- complete with a birthing tub, the bed in which the baby was supposedly conceived, a portable shower, a fridge, a microwave oven and other comforts like a rocking chair -- Marni Kotak hung around inside the museum then went into labor, giving birth to a baby boy weighing in at 9+ pounds in late October. She was lucky in that her labor, attended by a midwife and a doula, went smoothly, as many births don’t go as cleanly or as peacefully as Kotak’s did. They can, as we know, be messy, bloody and turn women who are normally in control of their faculties, to lose it and bellow in pain in front of strangers in scrubs.


Better her than me, I thought after I read the stories about the birth and how the exhibit, which will run through the beginning of November, will include video of the blessed event, as well as “blood-stained pillows and sheets” and the placenta, umbilical cord, according to news reports. When I gave birth to twins it was a freaking circus with medical personnel on hand to attend to me, doctors for the babies, and nurses, med students and an anesthesiologist packing the room. The only person other than my husband who I’d actually met before I was put into a vulnerable position as I delivered my 5½ week premature twins was the ob/gyn who delivered them. I simply cannot imagine throwing paying customers into that mix. Certainly I wouldn’t want to expose myself to criticisms of how I was laboring (slowly), how I was responding to the pain (ear plugs were needed) and whether I’d dolled myself up for the occasion. (An article in the Boston Globe last year spotlighted women who felt it important to go glam while pushing a baby out of their nether regions. I clearly never got THAT memo.)