An Eye Is Upon You - 220: A Pregnant Pause

Published: 03 January, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 220, January, 2013

My son’s class were recently given a sociology project – to interview a family member and establish how that person defined their identity…

Nate had chosen me and he’d filled in one box without feeling the need to check first – ‘tattoos’ – bold, proud, underlined.

He was surprised when I pointed out that I had other interests too – some with a relationship to tattoos, such as art and writing, some quite separate, like cycling, and some seemingly unconnected but with shared characteristics – feminism, dancing, vintage fashion, music, family.

Each of us has a similar list that contributes to our sense of self and helps to make us unique. These elements also help us to find others to whom we can relate.

Our interests + experiences + familial traits = us. And us + commonalities with others = friendships.

We aren’t ‘what we eat’, instead we are what we like, do and live. So what does it mean when we can no longer do one of the things that we define ourselves by?

For most of 2011 I was pregnant – I had one tattoo right at the beginning of the pregnancy before finding out* and then took an enforced hiatus. I had a few appointments booked, artwork already drawn and a convention I could no longer attend, partly because I felt obliged to give a reasonable and truthful explanation for cancelling and we hadn’t yet told the family, partly because I spent the afternoon being sick in a wastepaper basket. It was a frustrating time.

As 2011 wore on, many of my other defining activities also fell by the wayside or were compromised – I managed to cycle and dance (slowly) right up to the end, but generally, I didn’t feel like me and I could not behave like me, and not getting tattooed was the most difficult of these concessions to make. Attending a convention without even the smallest possibility of getting tattooed is like standing in a cake shop with no cash and a handbag containing nothing but cabbage.

If you are a tattooed person, you are invested in the action of acquiring a tattoo in a way that cannot be matched in any other art form or collection. We don’t simply seek out, purchase, or commission; we sit and we pay in hours and pain as well as money. The end result, the tattoo itself, is augmented by the phenomenology of obtaining the tattoo. When one is no longer able to experience the tattooing, the tattoos lose (some of) their joy.

Pregnancy is just one of many circumstances that can force a tattoo enthusiast to halt their collecting – we might find we have to pause due to physical reasons like sports training, injury or illness, or practical reasons, such as finances or career limitations. Sometimes we stop due to external pressures from families or romantic partners. Whatever our reasons, not getting tattooed undoubtedly impinges on our happiness.

After my own year-long abstinence, I found myself in a different place – rather than go straight back to the bigger pieces I had put on hold, I’ve gone for little and often, spontaneous rather than pre-booked. 2012 marked the 15th anniversary of my first tattoo and was a year almost as exciting as those earliest days. I’ve been tattooed more or less monthly by my husband, Daniel Morris, his co-artists, Jemma Jones and Danny Rossiter, the wonderfully diffident Bradley Tompkins, Jamie Greaves, Hexa, Harry Morgan, and best of all, he of the sociology homework, my 12-year-old son, Nate.

The end of one year and the beginning of the next is a natural opportunity for self reflection, so I hope you can forgive me this self-indulgent column. Luckily, 2013 is shaping up to be the year of tattooing that 2011 should have been, and Rachel Baldwin’s Tattooing for Cancer Research event, taking place across 27 British tattoo shops on January 19 is going to be a great place to start a new year of tattoos; I hope many of you will be joining me.


*Having a tattoo is prohibited during pregnancy. All tattoos carry a small element of risk, minimised by the proper conduct of a professional artist and agreed to by the signing of a consent form. Unborn babies, like all under-18s are not capable of agreeing to accept risks, legally or morally.

There is always a short period between becoming pregnant and confirming the pregnancy via testing, and my tattoo took place before I knew, in this grey area. The result was a beautiful tattoo that just would not heal – my body was far too busy growing a new person to take care of a wound too.


Text: Paula Hardy-Kangelos