HAPPY BIRTH DAYS is a participatory project which piloted at my solo show RE:COLLECTION - Regathering Social Practice at St Anne's House, Bristol in November 2023 and was exhibited in London from 4-6th March at All is Joy Studios, 75 Dean Street. 

Read my article on this piece for Maternity and Midwifery Forum: HAPPY BIRTH DAYS - Using Art to Make Space for Conversations on Birth


An installation acknowledging the birth day for the m/other. 
Write a birth-day card of support to your birthing self, or to the person who gave birth to you, and add it to the party.

HAPPY BIRTH DAYS is an ongoing project by artist Ellie Shipman in the form of a birth-themed birthday party acknowledging trauma, grief, joy, hope, and incredible change. A group of m/others attend the birthday party, write a birth-day card of support to their birthing selves, enjoy cake and birthday snacks and take part in supportive discussion of birth in all its traumas and triumphs. The remnants of the party are then left on display, inviting visitors to add their own birth- day cards to the growing installation, revealing our own internal dialogue and reflections on the complexity of the birth experience.

HAPPY BIRTH DAYS was conceived as an artwork during a year of developing new work exploring birth and new motherhood supported with Developing Your Creative Practice funding from Arts Council England.

Ellie was struck by a grief-like feeling on the first birthday of her son alongside the joy and celebration of her child, and found there was little to no space for reflection on the birth itself on the anniversary for the m/other or parent. HAPPY BIRTH DAYS aims to widen this conversation, visualising this juxtaposition through a birth-themed birthday party for fellow m/others, with the aim to shed light on the diversity of the traumas and triumphs of birth through inviting attendees to write their own birth day cards of support to their birthing self - a copy to take home, and a copy to leave anonymously for others to experience. The remnants of food from the event will be left on the table throughout the remainder of the exhibition - because no Mum is going to come and tidy up!

Members of the public are invited to add their own cards of support to the installation - either as birthing people or as support to the person who gave birth to them. The cards form a growing installation and celebration of shared experiences around the remnants of the birth-day party.

“HAPPY BIRTH DAYS is a participatory artwork which attempts to playfully visualise conversations around birth experiences and highlight the commonality, nuances and complexities birthing people have gone through. In inviting a group of 10 birthing people to write cards of support to their birthing selves, the artwork attempts to shed light on a powerful internal dialogue around birth and bring hidden reflections to the surface.”
Ellie Shipman

We (as carers) are providers – so to have something provided to us was bliss. It felt real and honest, calm and open. Ellie opened a space that allowed us to reflect on our own birth / mothering experience. By doing this as a group, it felt powerful and you could feel the care in the room!” 
Adeline, London participant

This should be a service on the NHS!”
Bristol participant


Read my journaling Mini Guide for Maternal Journal, who facilitate journaling groups on motherhood and parenting, creativity and mental health, on writing a birth-day card of support – write your own here.  

HAPPY BIRTH DAYS is in its early stages – perhaps the fourth trimester – out in the world but still developing with every day. I am interested in finding a home for the birth-day cards written by attending mothers – these handwritten moments of incredible internal dialogue deserve to be carefully archived alongside libraries of medical texts and feminist histories. I am looking for places to tour the artwork, particularly art galleries or white spaces which feel blank and slightly removed from a domestic or medical setting. And of course, I am looking for collaborations with researchers and funders who could help make this work a larger scale piece, with academic perspectives on the cards collected, and outreach to invite mothers from a wide variety of ages, communities, backgrounds and experiences. I endeavour to hold these powerful conversations with different groups of women to inform how we understand internal dialogues around birth and our innate ability to access a deeper strength we didn’t know we had.