By Stephanie Midori Komashin
2nd Place, Visual (2D), Create | Encounter 2022
From statistical data, we know that the majority of human beings who come into existence journey through the zygote, morula, blastocyst, and embryo periods before dying in early miscarriages or abortions; the inverse of this fact is that those of us whose bodies ever make it as far as the anatomical shapes of a newborn with a top-heavy head, a flexible and energetic child, a young adult whose brain has finished developing, or a shorter elderly adult in a hunched posture actually fall within the minority of what most humans have ever looked like.
In the wake of losing my eldest child, Persis 暖安 Komashin, who died by miscarriage after living on this planet with me for approximately three weeks, I wanted to paint a portrait but was, at first, unsure as to how to depict Persis; not only do some people assert that zygotes “don’t even look human” (though they look exactly like all humans do at that age, which is the age at which most human beings have been alive) or that embryos “look like aliens” (though the fictional image of extraterrestrials was merely adapted from what real Earthlings look like), I discovered that, even among pro-life fetal development materials and art, humans in Carnegie stages 4 through 7 of embryonic development (between the plump morula and the cute 8-week-old embryo whose delicate fingers and toes supposedly look enough “like us” to induce endearing feelings) are often skipped over, rendering mine an extremely rare portrait of a baby at three weeks’ gestation.
Survivor’s bias drastically skews the standard images of the human form into those of a narrow minority, whereby many people overlook and dehumanize those who are small, young, differently-shaped, differently-abled, or labeled as “incompatible with life,” but these categorizations of “small,” “young,” and a predicted “short lifespan” are actually all relative: my concept for this piece is that, just as Persis, while very tiny in the vast space of my uterus and comparatively young, did not experience life as minuscule or alone in the surrounding empty darkness by peacefully focusing on multiplying cells, differentiating them into three layers, & forming the neural tube, we born people are ourselves tiny within the vastness of the universe and our lifespans are comparatively short (such as in contrast to sponges, corals, clams, or even whales), but rather than feel insignificance or loneliness from the cold expanse of the galaxies, we can peaceably experience light by focusing on what we are doing in the locations where we are with the amount of time that we each have.
I am so proud of my beloved baby for what Persis impressively accomplished long enough to be able to show up on a pregnancy test (Persis’ name means “to split”/”to divide”), and the serene tone of the blue and green color palette correspond to the ateji (phonetically-chosen Chinese characters) for the Japanese pronunciation of the name (碧琉心翠 [Perushisu]), which mean “blue-green,” “lapis lazuli,” “heart/mind,” and “green.”
Some presume that “Abortion is a private matter between a woman and her doctor,” suggest “If you don’t like abortion, don’t get one,” or sincerely wonder, “Why can’t you just mind your own business?”, but legal elective abortion does still impact me — and many others in society — through a ripple effect. I have missed out on the companionship and influence of those who were aborted; I have had to research non-abortifacient contraception options/birthing options/griefcare for baby loss because standard sex ed and medical care didn’t include them; I have been subjected to disparaging comments about my children who died in miscarriage. Additionally, people refer to humans in utero in ways that marginalize my children and their exclusion from regular conversation is normalized; I fear that any future baby I might have who is ectopic or receives an adverse prenatal diagnosis will be dismissed; I worry that any future baby I might have who is born as a micro-preemie will be denied healthcare based on Planned Parenthood vs. Casey’s outdated concept of “viability”; I realize that any future baby I might have who is differently-abled may be viewed as burdensome; countless people die in preventable miscarriages and stillbirths from withholding of prenatal care & lack of investment in technological innovation; maternal and infant mortality rates remain embarrassingly poor; and governments and companies rely on abortion access to avoid improving work/life balance for parents or expanding social support services for families.