“Birth Photography”

What comes to mind when you hear the words “birth” and “photography” put together?  Does your mind immediately go to some graphic imagery of a baby crowning or a screaming, delirious mother desperate for relief?

If that’s the case, I don’t blame you for skipping forward to the next interesting article, but you should know that not only is that moment of delivery a very tiny part of the birth stories I have had the honor to illustrate, but those most graphic pictures are rarely even allowed to be taken in a hospital setting.  That way of thinking would be like hiring a wedding photographer to come in and only take a picture of your first kiss (although I’d hope that shot is a little less messy).

As I’ve had time to really process and reflect on my births and as the memories have faded, I’ve realized that capturing the birth stories of my children the way I am now able to do for my clients would have been every bit as valuable to me as my wedding pictures if not more so.  My first birth included 33 hours of unmedicated labor with 4 hours of pushing followed by a c-section, but the ONLY picture of me before he arrived was me lying on the OR table with an oxygen mask.  Where is the proof of the absolutely amazing woman I was through that whole labor?  I mean, look at me!  Defeated, half dead, I was devastated (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a smile under the mask unless they pumped a little extra something something on through to me).
I told my birth story dozens of times before I was able to look back and appreciate just how incredible I was without being distracted by the negatives that overwhelmed my birth experience.  I recently attended a birth that was like mine in so many ways and I cannot tell you how beautiful and powerful I found that mom.  I was so moved and wish I had been able to see that in myself a decade ago when I birthed my first child.  I’m glad I was able to capture that strength in pictures for her because otherwise, I think she too would be stuck focusing on mistakes and perceived failures when so much of her experience was heroic and empowering.  I like to think those pictures are healing for her.

Birth photography is not about the moment of delivery or even just those really cool, gooey newborn pictures.  This is the story of one of the most amazing day of your life and you deserve beautiful pictures to illustrate that story.  At the very least, see if you can’t borrow a good digital camera and invite a friend or family member to take as many pictures as possible for you.  They may not compare to what I can provide with my deep appreciation and understanding of birth and photography along with high end gear, but at least you’ll have something to reflect on and cherish.  Please don’t just hand a camera to your husband; he is very much a part of not just your birth support team, but a major part of your story and he shouldn’t be stuck behind a camera.  He should be at your side and he should be in the pictures.  Chances are, he’ll be so wound up in his role as your birth partner that he won’t remember to take pictures anyhow.

If you do invite someone to be your photographer, plan in advance and make sure she is someone who supports your birth wishes and makes you feel comfortable and calm.  Also keep in mind the time commitment involved not just with your actual labor, but the time leading up to your labor.  Birth photographers have to make a lot of sacrifices to make sure they don’t miss a birth!  If you aren’t signing a contract and compensating her for her time, don’t be surprised if your designated photographer has something come up, doesn’t answer her cell phone when you need her, can’t find child care, or gets sick and doesn’t have a back up photographer who you are comfortable with.  Even if she does show up on time, don’t be surprised when your images don’t only lack in quality, but quantity, crucial angles that allow you to share your pictures, and those special moments that seem to be over before they have started.  It’s a lot to take in especially for someone who has not attended births before.

The pictures I have from my second and third births are far from high-quality, but they mean the world to me.  I had my dream wedding on a hilltop in Santa Barbara and used an excellent photographer, but if I had to choose between having the amazing professional pictures of myself from the day I looked and felt the most beautiful and the pictures of the powerful woman I was on my daughters’ birthdays, bring on the messy hair, sleepy eyes, and swollen belly.  I go back to look at those labor and birth pictures far more often.  And I’m proud to share them as they better represent the goddess being a mother has made me.  So, yeah, I definitely wish I had known about birth photography a little sooner…I would have hired a professional birth photographer in a fetal heartbeat.