What happens when you spell “black” backwards? Last week a brilliant, if little-known, illustration appeared online, sending internet-speak alight. But even as it seized the attention of tens of thousands of readers, the artist discovered that her “only mistake” was no mistake at all. A miscarriage.
Moral of the story? Proof that babies are as “white” in reverse as in front.
The illustration by Brazilian illustrator Erika Franco – republished by the New York Times as its January cover illustration – has emerged to the bafflement of the late-stage pregnancy community.
Symbolism and symbolism. Language and understanding. So where does the baby part come in?
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That in reverse – as the illustration also shows – can also mean different things to different people, depending on whether one is the subject or the witness. It has a telling function for anyone in a relationship.
“In my case, when I look at the image, I’m picturing a baby in the womb,” says Elizabeth Woodham, a midwife based in Cornwall.
Woodham has seen herself transformed into a pregnant woman by the image: the image was taking up space as she gained weight and qualified as a midwife; she couldn’t stop comparing herself to the changing silhouette.
“If the child is your own, which it is for me, then the image starts to raise questions, not because it means that you could, but because how in a relationship you’re brought up or what influences you and how you see yourself creates the self-image you have and how we are comforted with this image.”
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Midwives and midwives’ experience of miscarriages, says Woodham, can differ widely. Some are shocked when a woman tells them she’s bleeding. Others can’t imagine it and are on their guard. They want to reassure the women about their health but also recognise that, in their absence, the significant and intimate aspects of pregnancy can take on importance. “If a woman is 15 weeks pregnant, no one is going to want to find out a child has been lost,” says Woodham. “They’re just going to say ‘how is your baby?’ in an awkward way, or say: ‘we know it’s not your baby.’
“This means that the artwork never allows her to get to the point of a past miscarriage or the moment when a woman’s past pregnancy was initially lost,” she says. “That’s important.”
For Woodham, the only reason the image has taken off as it has is because someone a baby after three years of pregnancy – a fact thought unimaginable to someone not born with a uterus – could just feel it too.
“When you hear a woman talking about what they’ve lost, this image reveals that so many of us, unknowingly or not, will,” she says. “And when we do, the picture resonates.”