The Woven Child – reflections on the Louise Bourgeois art exhibition

The Woven Child – reflections on the Louise Bourgeois art exhibition

Opening Disclaimer: Please note as was expressed in booking at the gallery, it is important to mention that should you wish to visit, the following exhibition includes artistic depictions of a sexual nature, nudity, pregnancy and childbirth – which may or may not be triggering to those attending or reading this article.

It was my absolute pleasure to spend a Spring afternoon at the Hayward Gallery in London, exploring this vast yet intimate collection of key pieces of art by the artist Louise Bourgeois.

I must confess that I knew very little about the artist prior to the exhibition, however am grateful to have a friendship circle whom are self professed textile enthusiasts, and suggested we go together, which in itself was lovely as one of my first ventures back into the “real world” not only post lockdown but also sans children, signalling the transitional end to my maternity leave and return to *clinical work (*I make that distinction as anyone whom has children knows, looking after children is an very much hard work in itself which should be treated with respect and recognition).

The collection itself is the largest curated body of her textile based art work, which I was surprised to find out that she only pieced together in the last two decades of her life, from the age of 80 until her death in 2010, at 98 years young. Of the many reflections I have of the exhibition, this is probably the most poignant, as it got me thinking about how many of us rush through life like there is a deadline to complete, or achieve milestones by a certain age or imaginary date – pressured about the uncertainty of our final hour – when in actual fact there is no age limit on our ability to evolve, create or start a new chapter.

Despite my morbid introduction, the exhibition itself focussed very much on the aspects of birth and mothering, both the child and the woman herself as she is “birthed” into the role of motherhood . Louise was able to articulate and express herself through beautifully intricate yet simple sculptures, paintings, and textiles. She experimented with various fabrics and objects, often jarring with one another (delicate silk lingerie, next to jagged wood for example) the manipulation of a number of techniques to include weaving, embroidery, sculpture, quilting, printing and painting, to name a few.

One of her most famous art installations is that of the Maman, a large sprawling metallic spider sculpture made of steel, which gave her the apt nickname “spiderwoman”. I have memories of this being installed at the Tate Modern in London over twenty years ago now, though at the time in the follies of my youth I never thought to think of its significance. Louise describes the Maman as “an ode to (my) mother” – and likened the spider to mothers in how they weave a web of family life and memories together, and are also helpful and protective creatures as they eat mosquitoes, an insect carrying toxins and that would bring harm to others. This is not unlike the many mothers I meet in clinic and on maternity ward, whom, within a few seconds of giving birth, note a complete overhaul of their priorities, roles and responsibilities, and where the “mama-bear” protectiveness becomes paramount. The Matriarch is born in front of our very own eyes, and even when a child grows up, leaves home and has a family of their own, these somewhat primal instincts and neurochemical tinglings of love and affection never truly fade, as being a mother takes centre stage in her core identity of being.

I was moved by a number of the works, but mostly the namesake of the exhibition which was on the ground floor. I was particularly struck by the doll like woven padded female figurines placed in various positions not uncommon in the mothering journey, including the pregnant body, image of the foetus (incased in a pink mesh), lying in the foetal position on the bed and another on her back with baby born still attached by the umbilical cord. The art works were sexual and graphic in nature, and at times shocking and uncomfortable, but still retained an element of femininity and wonder – much like pregnancy and childbirth itself.

Its hard to pick a favourite piece of work, but if I had to choose I would say it was the sculpture of the “Good Mother”, pictured above. It is of a female figure, on her knees, her breasts attached to 5 spools of thread around her. The art evoked in me a strong a sense of sacrifice and selflessness, to have the spools attached, or should I say, literally hanging by a thread off her nipples whilst she has a tired and forlorn expression. I am yet to meet a mother whom has not had that experience, often smiling through the exhaustion, of trying to being more than “good enough” (which although Winnicott writes about poetically, is often easier said than done). I also began to wonder what these spools represent in our busy modern lives – Louise Bourgeois created a lot of art with themes centred around not only motherhood and parenting, but also on domesticity, childhood trauma, hidden emotions, mental health, sexuality and the patriarchy. In actuality, there are many things, places or people, both past and present, in our fantasy and our reality, that we may be holding onto, even by just a thread. Those of you whom have worked with embroidery thread will know that it may appear dainty and fine but it is extremely strong and not something you can easily break – so the act of being pulled in different directions, coupled with our efforts to continue to live up to the exceptions (of ourselves as much as of others), is enough to weigh anyone down.

The Woven Child is on display until the end of the week, 15th May 2022, so if you are in the area and/or passing through Southbank in London and have an interest in motherhood, sexuality, perinatal mental health or just want to see some great textile art – please do consider going along.

Final Disclaimer: It goes without saying, but I suppose I must declare in the world we live in now that this was not a paid or sponsored post – I am not an “influencer” in any fashion, but rather just someone that enjoys art and wanted to share her reflections as a Perinatal Psychiatrist, Mother and Quilter (not necessarily in that order).

An ode to breastfeeding

An ode to breastfeeding

Hi everyone

Well, hello from the “otherside” – apologies for the radio (blog?) silence but for good reason – I am officially a mother now to our beautiful baby girl born six weeks ago – she is absolutely precious and what a month it has been. I have so much to say and so much to tell you – but have to grab the few peaceful minutes here and there whilst my newborn naps (as I am sure many of you will understand).

Whilst on maternity leave one of my resolutions is to write more on the blog, I want to continue to embrace the dialogue surrounding maternal health, with the added bonus of sharing my own “lived experience” which will no doubt accent my academic understandings.

The go to first topic to discuss would be around my pregnancy and labour experience – but I will intentionally leave this for another time, as I feel a pressing need to give attention to something very rarely talked about in clinical settings – and that is the topic of breastfeeding. It is something I know quite a lot about from a medical perspective, and was kindly invited to speak at the Great Britain Lactation Consultants conference last year on the use of medication whilst breastfeeding, however only recently have had first hand (breast?) experience of.

There is often so much emphasis placed by staff and patients alike on the birth experience (and yes, I have seen laminated birth plan 5000 word essays) but by doing so its almost like focussing all your energy on planning the wedding without giving a second thought to the aftermath of having a happy and healthy marriage.

The topic of feeding your child is complex – specifically the intention to breastfeed and the emotions evoked when this is not as easy as one hopes/assumed it would be. Nursing your child carries a heavy psychological weight. It is associated with being a bountiful women able to nourish and provide for her baby from her breast, with any deviance from thus idealism deemed as defeat with feelings of failure, guilt and shame… emotions I have often seen women in clinic struggle with, and many have told me the stress  of which triggered their postnatal depression. There is also an additional dichotomy women face of being divided in their position between the maternal and the sexual – with the depiction of breasts throughout modern history as erotic rather than a practicality perpetuates this (often collective societal subconscious) conflict. I remain in awe how a woman can be half naked exposed on a massive billboard on a train platform, marketing, well, anything (don’t you know sex sells, darling) yet a woman trying to breastfeed her child on same platform with a fraction less exposed skin will face all sorts of spoken and unspoken commentary. This manifests itself in those same feelings of guilt and shame, except this time when needing to nurse.with a third of women feeling embarassed to breastfeed in public .


Although it is well known that breast feeding has a range of benefits for the child, The UK interestingly has one the lowest rates in the World, with only estimated 1% of mothers exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months postnatal. I would recommend everyone to check out the great baby friendly initiative from UNICEF if this is something of interest to you – as they are championing change in attitudes towards breastfeeding on a societal and political level. The Lancet also published a fantastic comprehensive series on breastfeeding with an interesting economic analysis, with a noted difference through rich and poor, in sickness and in health – with rising popularity (and prices) of substitute milk formula, preferred by many lower socio-economic communities as breastfeeding is becoming to be seen as “primitive”. Since becoming a mother of course I have naturally become interested in the activity that takes up most of my day, but there is so many opinions and conflicting information on the subject – and then theres the pumping and expressing..


                    ... dont even get me started on expressing and the world of breast pumps!


All of that is fascinating in theory – but what about in practice? I put myself to the test and just had my first experience of trying to breastfeed alone in public – in a busy Starbucks no doubt (insert despair emoji here).

It was all going so well, until the little one started screaming and there was no where to hide. I suddenly felt all eyes on me, and a sense of “why can’t you control your baby  – you are ruining our afternoon coffee”. I then realised this was my moment to fly the #normlisebreastfeeding flag – so i sat down, got my big muslin shawl and tried to console my newborn, but i couldn’t get comfortable as she continued to scream and i got so frazzled trying to not expose myself i ended up getting tangled with my head under my scarf ! when i managed to detach myself I realised my “quiet corner” was in fact in front of a full glass wall, with plenty of onlookers witness to my meltdown. Just before I tipped into full panic mode I decided to try make a gracious exit – but the pram got stuck in the doors as the entrance wasn’t wide enough – i pressed the disability button (for wheelchair access assistance) but the baristas paid no attention to me or my screaming newborn. Eventually a man helped by unlocking the double door and I RAN as fast as my buggy would allow.

Although on the surface it wasn’t the best experience and the young women next to me gave me and my screaming daughter a disapproving stare – I am glowing with pride for leaving the house alone with my newborn for the first time (after an emergency caesarian section) and for managing to overcome my fear to feed her in public.  I still have a lot to learn, but I feel proud I did my tiny part in challenging societal assumptions and normalising the highs and lows of breastfeeding! I am a huge advocate of the movement “fed is best” , rather than the “breast is best” mantra many women have grown up with. Breastfeeding of course has a wealth of benefits, but none of these matter if you are either unable to physically breastfeed or the perfectionist pursuit is causing nothing but stress and anxiety (both of which will rapidly cease your milk supply anyway!)

However a women chooses to feed her child through breastmilk, formula or a combination of both – it is our duty (as health professionals and members of society) to empower them and eachother to create a space (physically and emotionally) that is safe for families to nuture their children. I have learned so much in these short 6 weeks, and will continue to advocate this issue with a passion as I believe it is a womens basic human right. I think we also need to do a better job of preparing women in pregnancy for the reality of life in the immediate newborn period, because it is not all cute baby clothes and cuddles (although there is a lot of that!).

What are your thoughts on breastfeeding ? have you had any experiences of nursing in public? do let me know in the comments below or on twitter

Much love