When I tell someone I've just met that I am, among other things, a birth photographer, I am met with a wide assortment of incredulous facial expressions, from thinly veiled repulsion to shocked intrigue. Often, it's misunderstood that I arrive at the birth place right AFTER the birth to take the very freshest newborn photos. "No," I must clarify, "I'm actually present whilst the baby is being born!" To this, my new conversational partner replies with a change of subject or honestly exclaims, "Does anybody WANT that?!"
Birth IS a very private affair, and one that needs to be protected and preserved, unhindered and undisturbed. Therefore, it can seem a little counter-intuitive to consider inviting someone and her camera(s) into that space to make photographs. I get it. In fact, I've even wrestled with that, wondering if I ought to stop offering the service, for I very much have no desire at all to be a part of making a laboring woman feel watched, pressured, or disturbed.
But I keep coming back to it, in large part because women keep inviting me to do it, and it's a joyful thing to say yes to. Also, I've come to see that the manner in which it is done is everything. There is a way to carry a camera into a birth space with reverent respect, holy hush, and minimized distraction, leaving birth undisturbed and a woman feeling safe to enter into her primal brain to do the work she must do... and still walk away with a collection of beautiful images. I think I've figured out how to do that, and that feels really good.
So for YOU, dear mama, why the heck would you even want a selection of photographs showing you laboring, pushing, and receiving a gooey wet newborn into your waiting arms? Won't you look unattractive and strained in those moments? Won't you feel exposed and immodest? And besides, who in the world would you ever even show the photos to? What will you even do with them (cos they surely aren't getting framed and hung over the fireplace)?
- Because someday you may need/want to pick through those photos, drinking in every nuance and detail as you struggled to recreate the memory in your mind of the day you welcomed your baby.
- Because looking at them, you will see yourself in a new light: you'll see the things that rose up in you that day that you never knew where there before. Like the courage, the perseverance, the doubled love, the raw strength in your body. All that, and more.
- Because you will be able to see in them how well you were loved. While you were diving deep into yourself, or soaring into unseen realms to do the work of birth, you might not have noticed the people who surrounded you, offering you sips of water, a gentle touch, a reassuring word, or the simply the constancy of their supportive presence. But now that you're back, you can see that love in the photographs.
- Because the way your baby looked when he/she came out of your womb and up to your arms will change SO FAST. The misshapen head, the changing skin tones as he/she transitioned to life outside your womb, the balled up fists, and the birthday frosting... it'll be gone in DAYS, and you might not have been able to properly drink it all up with your senses before it vanished. The photos can offer it back to you.
- Because whenever you begin to doubt if you're capable of doing hard things, you can see how you did the hardest thing that one time... and came out victorious. You can do hard things.
- Because someday your child will ask you about the day they were born, and you will be able to use your words -- and the photographs -- to give them the most vivid, true adventure story in which they were the hero or heroine. They'll look at those photos and see how special they've been to you right from the beginning. They'll ask to look at them over and over again, and every year on their birthday.
- Because there is an entire generation of younger women who aren't mothers yet and who probably won't get to witness a birth until it they are the ones giving birth. They're hungry to get a glimpse and a taste of what lies ahead, and your courage in sharing your story and your photos can help normalize and positively reframe the experience of birth for them. It's a great gift you can offer, to whatever extent you feel comfortable or called.