frida kahlo miscarries -- 3/19/21

Today's selection -- from Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera.  Frida Kahlo's friend Lucienne comes to stay with her when Frida miscarries.

"[Diego] Rivera [could not] make Frida obey the doctor's orders and stay quietly in the apartment. She was lonely, sick, bored. He was fired with enthusiasm for his work and had no intention of staying home to look after his wife. So when Lucienne Bloch came to Detroit in June, he insisted that the young artist move in. 'Frida has nothing to do,' he told Lucienne. 'She has no friends. She's very lonely.' He hoped that Lucienne would encour­age Frida to paint, but Frida had other ideas. She was, Lucienne recalls, learning to drive instead.

"Lucienne slept in the living room on a Murphy bed that she would push out of sight in the morning before her hosts awoke so that they would not feel crowded. While Diego was away, Frida sketched or painted desultorily in the living room, and Lucienne worked at the dining room table, designing small figurines for a Dutch glassworks.

"As the end of June approached and the summer heat made the small apartment stifling, Frida began to spot, her uterus 'hurt,' and she suffered prolonged attacks of nausea. Nothing, however, could shake her optimism. Lucienne recalls: 'She was just hoping to be preg­nant, so I said, "Have you seen the doctor?" and she said, "Yes, I have a doctor, but he tells me I can't do this, I can't do that, and that's a lot of bunk." She did not visit him the way she should have.' 

"Frida lost her child on July 4, 1932. Lucienne's diary for the next day tells the story: 'Sunday evening. Frieda was so blue and menstruating so. She went to bed and the doctor came and told her, as usual, that it was nothing, that she must be quiet. In the night I heard the worst cries of despair, but thinking that Diego would call me if I could help, I only dozed and had night­mares. At five, Diego rushed into the room all disheveled and pale and asked me to call the doctor. He came at six with an ambulance and got her, in the agonies of birth . . . out of the pool of blood she had made and . . . the huge clots of blood she kept losing. She looked so tiny, twelve years old. Her tresses were wet with tears.' 

"Frida was rushed in the ambulance to the Henry Ford Hospital. Lucienne and Diego followed in a taxi. As orderlies wheeled Frida through a cement corridor in the hospital's basement, she looked up between painful contractions and saw a maze of different-colored pipes near the ceiling. 'Look, Diego! Que precioso! How beautiful!' she cried.

"Rivera was distraught while he waited for news of Frida's condition. 'Diego was tired all day,' Lucienne's diary records. 'Hastings tried to cheer him up by going with all of us to the fourth of July parade. In my mind, there was all the time the big chunks of blood and Frida's screaming. Diego thought the same. He thinks that a woman, to stand such pain, is far superior to a man who never could stand the pain of childbirth.' 

"Frida's thirteen days in the hospital were grim. A man lay dying in the next room. She felt like escaping but she was too sick to move, and the heat enervated her even more. She kept bleeding and weeping. Seized by fits of despair at the thought that she might never have children, at not really knowing what was wrong with her, why her fetus had not taken form but had 'disintegrated' in her womb, she would cry, 'I wish I were dead! I don't know why I have to go on living like this.' Rivera was appalled at her suffering and was full of premonitions of disaster. When they extracted liquid from her spine, he became convinced that she had meningitis.

Henry Ford Hospital, 1932 by Frida Kahlo

"But five days after her miscarriage, she took up a pencil and drew a bust-length Self-Portrait. In it she wears a kimono and a hair net, and her face is swollen from tears. And even in the midst of misery she could find laughter. When Lucienne brought her a parody of a condolence telegram that she had composed and signed 'Mrs. Henry Ford,' Frida laughed so hard, Lucienne recalls, that what was left of the decomposed fetus was delivered, and she bled profusely.

"Frida wanted to draw her lost child, wanted to see him exactly as he should have looked at the moment when he was miscarried. The second day in the hospital, she begged a doctor to let her have medical books with illustrations on the subject, but the doctor refused; the hospital did not allow patients to have books on medicine because the images in them might be upsetting. Frida was furious. Diego inter­ceded, telling the doctor, 'You are not dealing with an average person. Frida will do something with it. She will do an artwork.' Finally Diego himself provided Frida with a medical book, and she made a careful pencil study of a male fetus. Two other pencil drawings that probably come from this same moment, and that are more surrealistic and fanci­ful than anything she had done before, show Frida asleep in bed sur­rounded by strange images that represent her dreams, or perhaps the fleeting visions seen under anesthesia, and are attached to her head by long, looping lines. Apparently done using the Surrealist technique of 'automatism,' the images seem to have sprung into being through free association -- a hand with roots, a foot that is like a tuber, city buildings, Diego's face. In one of the drawings, Frida lies naked on top of the bedcovers. Her long hair flows over the edge of the bed and metamorphoses into a network of roots that creep along the floor."



Hayden Herrera


Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo


Harper Perennial


Copyright 1983 by Hayden Herrera


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