For those who missed it- here is the interview i did for Wake Up on TEN with Natarsha Belling, James Mathison and my beautiful client, Emma Isaacs. Exploring the big question- “why” birth photography.
This week I was asked to be a guest on the morning television program Wake Up on Ten to discuss the growing trend of birth photography. Thrilled, I agreed. I was asked to bring one of my clients with me so that together, we could give them both sides of the story- in front, and behind the camera.
There has been a lot of media flying around about birth photography over the past couple of weeks in reaction to a story from the UK’s Daily Mail which stated that 1 in 5 pregnant women would consider getting a birth photographer. As often happens with such an article- particularly with something new like this that challenges people’s comfort levels, there has been very strong feedback from the public both in favour, and vehemently against the concept.
In preparing for the show, I wasn’t sure what angle they were going to take with the interview. Would they be in support of this growing genre? Or would they ask the questions that seem to arise time and time again regarding ‘invasion of privacy’, ‘intrusion on the sacred space’, and the predictable ‘that’s the last bloody thing I’d want anywhere near me while I was going through THAT!’
As it turned out the interview was very positive, the gorgeous hosts were on board and the whole segment gave a beautiful spin on birth photography and showed it in all its glory.
But the preparation for this interview made me think. I needed to clarify my line in my own head about why I strongly believe birth photography is a good thing. What is it that draws women to hire me? And what is it that makes people react so negatively to the concept of this?
Here is the thing. There are aspects of birth photography that I know are not always ideal in the birthing space. After 8 years of working as a doula, one of the biggest lessons I have learned is that the less disturbed labour is, the more straightforward birth will be. And by disturbed I refer to, amongst other things- medical interventions, light, language, shifts in location (e.g. travelling to hospital), and being watched. [You can read Sarah Buckley’s insights on “Undisturbed Birth” here.] Inhibition is bound to stall labour. That is because birth takes part in the primal part of our brain- our primal selves and our self-conscious selves are not friends.
Being watched. Isn’t that exactly what photographing someone is doing? Yes.
Yes it is.
Here’s another thing. The other, equally as important thing I have learned about a labouring woman is that the thing she needs most, is support. She needs to feel safe with her caregivers and her support people. She needs to feel loved and protected and free to be whoever she needs to be to bring her baby into the world.
So… in terms of birth photography- how does this all piece together? How and when does a birth photographer not disturb the balance of a woman’s birthing space? I believe this is where it is ALL about the connection between the woman, and the photographer. Is the photographer a person she connects with, feels safe with, and trusts to be in her sacred space? Does the photographer have knowledge of birth physiology and the delicate dance of hormones that allow a woman to birth her baby? Does the birthing woman feel secure in the knowledge that the photographer is there to support her journey and capture her magnificence? And does the photographer have a heightened sensitivity of the woman’s needs- is she responsible for the energy she brings to that space at all times?
When all of these factors are aligned, the relationship can become one of deep support and respect, which can enrich, rather than disrupt, one of life’s most magical journeys.
Beyond the Birth
Why do women choose to have their births photographed? The most common reasons are to have a record of their baby’s first breath, to capture the moments when her and her partner become parents to this little being, the first moments they meet their new love. But when I deliver birth photographs to families- I get the feeling that the meaning of those photographs goes a whole lot deeper than that. A woman who laboured beautifully at home in water and birthed her baby right where she visualised she would will often look at the photographs in awe of what she achieved and say “MY body did that!”; a woman who hoped for a natural birth but made decisions different to what she had planned will often look at her photos and be reminded that she put in an enormous effort before the journey took a different path and realise that it wasn’t all for nothing; and a woman who has her baby by elective caesarean in theatre will be reminded that going into an operating theatre at any time- even when it is by choice- takes a lot of courage and is an overwhelmingly huge experience.
I believe it helps women OWN their births. And heal their births.
And further again I see that it gives women an insight into the incredible amount of love and support that was surrounding them through their birthing process. To be able to witness the look of concern, and utter awe in her older child’s face, when her own face was buried in the side of a birth pool- riding one of her countless contractions, to see her doulas red thumbs, pressed into the small of her back as rocks side to side on the birth ball, to see her partner keeping guard by her bed, not leaving her for a second while she sleeps after the exhausted decision was made to have an epidural. All of these perspectives that she otherwise, would not have seen.
And on a broader scale- when birth photographs are shown to the greater community- I believe that in a small way, we are clawing back the vision of birth that movies and media have mis-portrayed to us over the years. The image of a woman in theatre, dressed in a blue hospital gown, legs in stirrups, screaming at her partner and being rescued of her baby by a masked doctor. You know the ones. That is the image of birth that society is fed, time and time again. And sure, maybe that picture is sometimes a reality, but it doesn’t have to be.
Birth doesn’t have to be scary and bloody and screamy and dangerous.
Birth is beautiful. Birthing women are magnificent. Every single one of them. And the more we start to see of that, the sooner we will start to heal the wounded image that we as a society carry of birth, and will open ourselves to the deep magnificence it has to offer.
And that is why I photograph births.
(Clearly, a five-minute slot on a morning chat show was not the space unleash these thoughts to the world. But if you would like to watch the Wake Up on TEN segment entitled Capturing The First Breath, you can do so here)
I feel a bit lost shooting landscapes. It feels strange to have no little feet to chase after, or no labouring woman to marvel at and capture the beauty of.
I feel overwhelmed by being surrounded by the immense proportions of a world so beautiful- how can you capture that in a shot? Or even a series of shots?
None the less, occasionally, I try. Sometimes I feel I have no choice but to try and freeze some of what my eyes are seeing- perhaps in an attempt to digest the beauty at another time, because in that moment it is too big for my heart.
That was how I felt last weekend during a visit to Falls Creek, Victoria. I have never been to this famed ski village in winter when it is bathed in snow- it would be another world entirely- but in summer it is beyond glorious.
The powerful charge of the mountains and the crisp, thin air make you feel, literally, on top of the world.
I have a story to tell you about little girl named Lily, and her amazing parents, Dave and Jess.
Dave and Jess were ready to start their family, so were thrilled to find out they were pregnant with their first child. That elation got turned on it’s head when, at 16 weeks pregnant, Jess’s waters broke. They were told there was nothing much they could do except to stay on bed rest and hope for the best. The baby’s chance of survival was 1 in 100. Rather than expecting the worst, Dave and Jess decided that without doubt, that 1% chance was theirs. They welcomed their community to send their energy, prayers and wishes to their fragile little baby, and Jess spent the next 8 weeks at home in bed.
At 24 weeks pregnant, the little fighter was still holding on, despite being in an amniotic sac which never resealed, so Jess was moved to Royal North Shore Hospital where she spent the next 5 weeks. On the 13th March 2013, at 29 weeks pregnant, Jess went into labour. Plans for a caesarean section were being made but this clever baby had other plans. Before they could make it to theatre, Jess birthed a breech baby girl named Lily Mireya Missio, weighing just 1.67kg.
Lily spent the next 5 months in intensive care and the following 2 months in the children’s ward- her biggest challenges being lung function and digestion. Remarkably, Jess expressed breastmilk for every single feed for her little girl, to give her the very best chance possible. During Lily’s time in hospital Dave and Jess tag teamed an around-the-clock roster (whilst Dave held down a full time job)- so they were with Lily every step of the way.
After 205 days in hospital, it was decided Lily was well enough to go home. Still on constant oxygen and a feeding tube, there are some challenges to overcome, but given the tenacity she has shown thus far, no one has any doubt she’s up for the challenge.
I was lucky enough to capture Dave and Jess finally taking their little girl home. This was only the second time she had been out of the hospital walls, into fresh air, and it was the very first time Lily had felt the sun on her face. What a beautiful day it was.
Oh, and you might even spot me in there having a little cuddle.
A couple of months back I was thrilled to hear that this birth photograph i took back in March had been selected as a finalist for the Renaissance Photography Prize in London. This competition raises money for the Lavender Trust, an amazing organisation committed to supporting young women with breast cancer.
I was particularly thrilled that they chose a birth photo to be part of the exhibition, as i firmly believe that the more that people see how beautiful and powerful and unscary birth can be, the more that we as a society can start viewing birth as a normal, physiological event not to be feared, but to be embraced and rejoiced.
The exhibition has been on this week in London, with framed prints of the photographs being sold for the Lavender Trust. You can check them out here.
And I thank Rebecca, my divine subject, for inviting me into her birth space and allowing me to share this image with the world. You can see more images from Rebecca’s birth here.
Well hi there… so nice to see you here. Welcome!
POP! Hear that? That’s my blog cherry. It’s all terribly exciting.
To mark the occasion I would like to share with you a birth that I documented not too long ago…
This birth was a so very special (ok you’ve got me, they all are, every single one of them). It was the first birth that I attended alongside my doula sister, Lucretia McCarthy. What a treat it was to watch her work… she was calm, compassionate, thoughtful and funny. Oh, and she does a mean double-hip squeeze. All the things a doula should be.
But the real treat was witnessing Rebecca, this strong, beautiful woman, and Philippe, her unflinchingly focussed, loving partner, welcome their second little boy into the world. They worked so beautifully together, and between them, Lucretia and their wonderful midwife, the room was filled with a complete trust in the wisdom and ability of Rebecca’s body to birth this baby.
Welcome to the world, Tosh.
I’d like to take a moment here to thank the families, and especially women who give their permission for me to share these extremely personal images with you all. I am in awe of every one of you and eternally grateful.
Please, do not share, edit or reproduce any images here without permission.
Your respect is requested. In fact, it is a requirement of attendance.