Contraception and miscarriage art


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I really like Aliza Shvartz’s art project. She has done some videos of herself bleeding into the bathtub and I think some paintings with her blood, described thusly:

a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself ‘as often as possible’ while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages and to show what a miscarriage looks like.

Now, that description could encompass having an IUD, or possibly being on low-dose birth control pills, and having heterosexual penis-in-vagina intercourse with no condom, and doing some art with your menstrual blood.

I’m just here to tell you it is the same thing.

It is what she is calling it — “miscarriages” — and her stated intent.

An IUD does not prevent sperm from fertilizing your egg. Birth control pills don’t always stop you from ovulating — they also change your endometrial lining so that fertilized eggs can’t implant. For example, Norplant, and the mini-pill do not necessarily prevent ovulation or conception.

Morning-after pills like Plan B and others with progestin + estrogen also prevent implantation.

I am very interested in this performance piece and in the reaction of hatred and horror it is bound to provoke. I think that will be very interesting to expose people’s attitudes towards abortion and contraception.

Contraception, morning after pills, and abortion, are legal in this country. So is IVF and so are drugs like Clomid. Both IVF and “fertility drugs” have a high rate of miscarriage. But because the intent is to have a baby, and not to create art and make a statement, there is not a huge reaction of shock and horror (except from people who are against abortion in general, I think.) I will bet you that a lot of people who think IUDs, minipills, morning after pills, IVF, and fertility drugs are okay, will react in extreme ways to Shvarts’s artistic statement. So, I am pointing out that would be an inconsistent position.

I had an IUD for over a year and I had sex while it was in. How many “miscarriages” did I have? Was I an evil babykiller who deserves to die and have like 100 commenters in Jezebel wish lifelong infertility upon me? Look at the comments on the Jezebel piece, and the hatred there. Look how quickly people leap to judge. If I documented every one of my period when I had that IUD in, and called it art about miscarriage and abortion, what would you think?

Me and my ex-IUD

You may not agree with me or how I feel about the project, but I hope I have made you think twice about your initial reactions.

I suggest that instead we direct our horror and hatred and disgust towards people like Princeton professor Peter Singer, who believes in euthanasia for elderly and disabled people and that it is ethical to kill disabled infants because their parents might be unhappy at the burden of caring for them. Though I don’t know the details of Shvarts’s piece and haven’t seen it, I am impressed already. Yes, miscarriage can be hard and terrible, and abortion can be a tough decision. But, we have abortions. We should not be ashamed of them, and we should be able to look at what we do, right in the face, or in this case, look at the blood and look at the decision making process.

Thank you Alisa for this thoughtful and intense documentation project.

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24 Responses to Contraception and miscarriage art

  1. Erin, Queen of Spain says:

    Hard Core. Very Hard Core. And destined to bring much discussion-which is Exactly the point. Rock on with your bad self.

  2. Professor Kim says:

    Hi Liz,Much as I love you, I have to disagree.I think there are significant differences between what Ms. Shvarts allegedly did (I am still not sure I believe the story), and what you describe. An IUD or morning after pill user isn't trying to get pregnant. I can't imagine a professor allowing a student to deliberately impregnate herself multiple times in order to induce miscarriages for a class project. It's not unusual for us to have to go through an IRB process just to question human subjects, and this student was allowed to subject herself to medical risks as a thesis project? Finally, there were other ways to get the images she got for her project — they just would not have been pictures of her own body.This reminds me of the exhibit that toured the US a few years back of cadavers with their skins removed, except in this case, organic material was created and discarded for the sake of an esthetic experience. Even Peter Singer would be troubled by that.

  3. Al says:

    There is a procedure in which one can trace eggs that are released and resulting fertilization. I think it involves dyeing? Not sure. I was shown a study which indicated that less and less eggs are released and/or fertilized over the time of having an IUD. In addition, some IUDs thicken cervical mucus so that the swimmers have a difficult time getting to the egg. Bottom line: in the beginning, you’re “miscarrying” many more fertile egss than toward the end of your IUDs life, as little by little your girl parts are more and more difficult for sperm to maneuver.

  4. Suzanne says:

    I'm not so into Aliza's project, but thank you, Badgermama, for stopping me in my jumping-on-the-bandwagon-attack-tracks and making me think. Personally, I think you accomplished much more.

  5. Beatrice M says:

    It's a hoax. The whole process was an art piece – but not the "art piece" in question – that isn't happening.

  6. betsyl says:

    plan b is not abortion, it’s contraception. so far as we know, progesterone does not prevent implantation.

    bitch ph.d. explains it better than i can.

    as far as this woman and this art project is concerned, as a person who isn’t medically infertile but still doesn’t have the baby that i’ve fiercely wanted for the past six years, i find both her and her project appalling. i’m troubled by some of the responses to it (bitch ph.d. has a really good post on that, too), but on a personal level, it makes me angry. almost more so now that we know it was a hoax.

  7. Rivka says:

    If fertilized eggs never implanted when you had your IUD, then you were never pregnant – and therefore, you never had "miscarriages." Fertilization is something that happens to gametes. Pregnancy is something that happens to a woman, when a fertilized egg implants in her uterus and triggers intensive hormonal changes. In women who aren't using conception, something like one in three fertilized eggs never implant and just naturally pass out of the body. We don't call that miscarriage. We call it "fertilized eggs not resulting in pregnancy." Ask any woman who's had a failed IVF about the difference between having a fertilized egg inside you and being pregnant.Are you unaware of the fact that exactly the kind of false blurring of the distinction between fertilization and pregnancy that you're doing is being used by the Religious Right to deny women access to safe and legal contraception? Your rhetoric isn't just medically inaccurate, it's medically inaccurate in a way that is a real and present danger to women's reproductive freedom. I will bet you that a lot of people who think IUDs, minipills, morning after pills, IVF, and fertility drugs are okay, will react in extreme ways to Shvarts's artistic statement. So, I am pointing out that would be an inconsistent position.I fall under that category.Eleven weeks ago, I entered the second trimester of a dearly wanted pregnancy. I told everyone, including my two-year-old daughter. Ten weeks ago, blood poured out of me and I wound up having emergency surgery which may have impaired my future fertility. In the course of a few hours I went from expecting my second baby to fearing that I will never have a second baby. I have had to explain literally dozens of times to my preschooler that there isn't a baby growing inside Mama anymore. And the grief has been so fierce and intense that, ten weeks later, it can still blindside me and leave me humiliatingly crying in public.Aliza Shvarts appropriated one of the worst experiences of my life to make a rhetorical point that seems to boil down to "look at my shockingness!" The Yale Daily News informs us that she came to be very comfortable telling her classmates all about her "miscarriage experiences." My reaction to her project is similar to what I imagine a rape survivor would feel if an art major's senior project involved realistically-simulated false claims of having been raped.Even if Shvarts hadn't been completely lying about what she did, she still wouldn't have the right to call what she experienced "miscarriage." If she weren't lying, she would be talking about abortion. She has no right to pretend they're the same thing.And neither do you. Something tells me that you've never had a real miscarriage. If you had, I'd hope you would know that an induced abortion is not a miscarriage, and your cute little thought experiment about your IUD and all those hypothetical pregnancies is not a miscarriage either.

  8. dorothy says:

    I see your points, Liz, but the initial description that provoked the reaction, I think, was the word “intentional.” It’s my belief (I have no data) that most people who have abortions in no way ever intended to become pregnant in the first place. If you’re on birth control, you don’t intend to become pregnant, either.

    Lots of horrific things happen in this world, but we as a society usually judge based on whether or not there was intent to do the horrific thing, or whether it was an accident, self-defense, whatever. I think the student has now said she never really impregnated herself and then aborted, so perhaps it’s a nonissue, but I do think there is an ethical problem with intentionally impregnating yourself for the express purpose of aborting that pregnancy, though I am a supporter of legalized abortion.

  9. yatima says:

    I didn't believe Shvarts' story as presented – conceiving multiple times over nine months? Magickal herbal abortifacents? Yeah, and a pony. And I shared the widespread squick reflex, but had trouble articulating it.I think my concerns do come down to appropriation. I have read Rivka's LJ for years; a friend called to cheer with me when she announced this pregnancy; I called the friend back to weep when Rivka lost the baby. So when I saw the stories about Shvarts I was hyperaware of how it would feel to be coming at them from a recent and bloody pregnancy loss.As you pointed out in IM, Badgermama, we have no way of knowing Shvarts' story, and if she has at some point had a miscarriage then this isn't appropriation, not in the Black Like Me sense. Still, I do think it is good to respect other peoples' dead, and that a person who pisses on graves is kind of an asshole. So to invoke the Holocaust analogy (Godwin!), on the scale of Maus – to Life Is Beautiful, I'd have to say that for me this falls closer to the Life Is Beautiful end of the spectrum. Not having seen Schvarts' work or, for that matter, Benigni's film! In each case, the squick factor of the premise acted as a deterrent.(Also: Badger, Otter, please don't fight! I suspect there's a decent number of us who greatly admire you both!)

  10. lquilter says:

    Rivka, please don't make assumptions about people's experiences based on their beliefs or the questions they ponder or ask us to ponder. I'm sorry for your loss and I sympathize, but you cannot presume that other people who have had similar experiences will come out of it with the same responses you have.

  11. Liz says:

    A few points really quick and then i have to get back to work,and will answer more thoroughly later. I appreciate all the comments and thank you for talking.

    First, I am noticing how objections shift. She did it, she didn’t do it, she experienced it, she didn’t. Hmmm.

    Second, thank you for raising the topic of appropriation. Definitely bears some talking about. I am thinking on that and will write more.

    Third, even if we arrive at some shared conclusions about appropriation, identity, and experience, we cannot assume that Shvarts has not ever had a miscarriage or an abortion.

    Fourth, I did not do super thorough research on the mechanisms of action of progestin-only pills and of IUDs, but much of what I did read seemed inconclusive, or to say that estimated 50% to 3 % of the time, on progestin one does ovulate and therefore fertilization is possible. I do understand that anti-choice people use this as fodder against birth control and that is a problem. But, it also looks to me like no one is sure and the research on it sucks.

    Fifth also on that subject, terminology is important and interesting. Do we talk about passing a fertilized egg, miscarriage, blastocysts, fetuses, or losing a baby? There are specific definitions for development, implantation, pregnancy, etc But, despite how those things are defined medically, different people define it differently to themselves. For example, my first miscarriage was called technically a “missed abortion” because my baby was dead inside me for a while and was starting to decompose. And that is just the name for it. But, it meant that in the hospital recovering from infection, I was subjected to judgmental nurses who thought I had given myself a botched abortion. But, listen to how *I* experienced it — which was “I lost my baby”.

  12. Liz says:

    Also — Rivka I am very, very sorry for your loss.

  13. Liz says:

    Another thought real quick and then I swear, back to work.I get this sort of feeling of anger and ambivalence and experience/identity appropriated when I read about those people who amputate a limb with Body Integrity Identity Disorder. Since I am disabled and not by choice, I have some intense feelings about it. It's their body, they can amputate what they please, right? Certainly by what I have been arguing here.What about the public health cost, and the services they use -Are they mentally ill -Is it just an extreme form of body art -Keep in mind I used to maintain the faq for rec.arts.bodyart and am pretty darn familiar with people who do extreme body modifications. So, for example, Yale's public statement that a person who DID get pregnant and abort on purpose would be mentally ill, is not the end of the story if you think of all the body modification people, and the artists, who have done what other people think of as self-mutilation.That is not the same thing as aborting, but, it is a related area because of how people are talking about Shvarts harming her body or risking her health.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Right on to everything you say here.Actors and actresses routinely lose and gain massive amounts of weight to play certain roles. There are many of us who have gone through either extreme weight loss or gain because of illness. And many have, or are recovering from an eating disorder. And so, such artistic projects might be a trigger to us. Still, it's never a consideration that Renee Zellweger or Christian Bale might trigger someone by going through weight extremes for a role. Nor should it. Art does not exist to make us all comfortable. Sometimes it exists to do the opposite, as is the case with Ms. Shvarts art work.What I find disturbing in the responses on the parts of liberals is that the anti-abortion side has done a very good job of convincing us that the very moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, life is created. Human life. Sacred life. A life that actually to many people, means far more than the life of fully formed woman that surrounds it. And so, even though Ms. Shvarts may not have EVER been pregnant (she never took pregnancy tests) the fact that a sperm MIGHT have fertilized her egg is enough to have her labeled a “murderer” by both liberals and conservatives alike.You don't inspire fury for using birth control because from the perspective of your readers, those eggs went unfertilized, hence, no life was ever created and therefore, you are off the hook. Not a killer of babies. And the difference of two – three weeks of having a potentially fertilized eggs which she then deliberately induced her period to be rid of is the act that has made this courageous woman so reviled by both the left along with the right. And in reviling her, you buy the anti-choice brigades framework for what constitutes our "own" bodies as opposed to what makes our bodies the "property" of society. A potentially fertilized eggs changes us into no more than vessels for birth. It makes a murderer of her, and by extension, it makes a murderer of the rest of us who have aborted a pregnancy.So think about it. Is this the way you view your own body? Would you be okay with getting an abortion if you didn't want a baby as long as you felt deeply shamed over your actions? Is abortion okay for those who feel shame, but the act of a murderer if you do not?Please, THINK ABOUT IT!Rose (signed anonymous because I didn't want to start an account so early in the morning)

  15. magdalen says:

    Appropriation is a very tough issue. Who "owns" the concept of miscarriage? Who has the right to instigate conversation about fertility, abortion, blood, language?I've never been the victim of war, nor have I ever fought in a war. Yet I conceived, commissioned, and co-curated a series of visual, performative, and literary artworks for a project called "The End of War." I don't have any personal ownership over the concept of war. It could be argued that I *appropriated* war in "The End of War" and other political projects. Should I leave war and discussion of war only to the people who "own" it via experience? Am I a bad person for appropriating the imagery and discussion of war in order to create and disseminate art and conversation?The idea of appropriation implies such ownership. I have no answers, just questions. My piercings from many years ago were inspired by reading stuff that was inspired largely by Fakir Musafar, who was inspired by rituals and practices of other cultures… should I not have piercings? Should I have not discussed them? I've never given birth, something that causes me great pain. I'm working on an art project that occurs over many months, involving creativity, new beginnings, and childlessness. If I create a womblike environment as part of the Easter Island project, if I refer to the "gestation" of this project, am I appropriating the imagery and language of biological mothers? Do biological mothers own that act and every representation thereof?No answers, just questions.-tiffany of Nymphe

  16. zale says:

    Liz, I would be seriously concerned about both the professionalism and level of medical care from any nurse who treated you that way. Not knowing what “missed abortion” actually means is unacceptable. Judging a patient, allowing their personal beliefs to impact patient care, is utterly unacceptable. This sort of thing should be reported to the hospital and to the nurses registering/licencing body.
    And something for everyone to keep in mind “abortion” is a medical term… not a political or emotional one… especially not in a hospital.

  17. Aliza Shvartz is a well talented artist and I have seen so many of her works. They were really amazing. I think this is the best platform to share this kind of posts. Thank you very much for sharing this post here!

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