I missed the birth of my third child. That sounds odd, right? I was there, of course - but due to a variety of complications it was decided that our son would best make his arrival by cesarean four months early, and there was no time to lose. They ran me down the hallway, various people in scrubs surrounding me and monitoring my baby by portable ultrasound while we raced into the OR. The last thing I remember is the nurse next to me saying, "It will be okay," as I cried and prayed my son would still be alive when I woke up. Then the mask was over my face and everything went black.
When I woke up in recovery I was conscious only a few moments as they assured me our 22 ounce son was still alive, then I was out again. They told me I saw him that first day but I have only a vague memory of my bed being wheeled alongside his incubator and a dozen machines. The medication I was on made it impossible for me to even focus my eyes and see him. My mother went into the NICU to photograph him the next day - the image above is the first photo I saw of my tiny son. While I was grateful to see any photo of my child, I was also grateful my mother was a professional photographer! She was able to fade out the equipment in a sense, and bring into focus the miraculous little fighter hidden by all the tubes and wires and monitors.
Recently several articles have been written about birth photography, though I'm not going to link to them. The most high profile article (in print and online) suggested that any mom wanting photos of her baby's birth must be an exhibitionist and anyone choosing to be a birth photographer must be somewhat of an oddball because why would anyone want to document that - right? 🙂
I understand that not everyone wants their birth photographed and that's okay! Though I don't know anyone who didn't want photos of their new baby. With our first two births we did want it more quiet, though it would have been nice if the midwife had shown up to at least catch the baby the second time! (We've since learned that a well trained birth photographer is so quiet and unobtrusive that you can literally forget they are even in the room!) But our second birth went so quickly that we have literally NO photos of the labor and birth, and the hospital took her away to the nursery and refused to return her for hours, and wouldn't let us into the nursery. We have no pictures until she was finally brought back to us, which makes me sad to this day. (It also made us go with a birth center midwife for our next pregnancy!)
Unfortunately our next pregnancy did not go as smoothly as we hoped, and I was hospitalized on bedrest at 22 weeks gestation. When our preemie arrived I missed his birth, and it took me a very long time to process the experience. As terrifying and traumatic as his arrival was, it was still his birth story and I wish so much that I had pictures of his first day of life.
During our four months in the NICU my sister, a professional photographer, came to take photos. I treasure the images she captured, and despite the medical equipment she was able to create truly beautiful photos of our son. We now have a large print of one of those photos hanging in our living room!
When we were expecting again we were understandably anxious. Once we passed some of those scary milestones my sister offered to take maternity photos - celebrating my growing belly and the baby still safely inside of it. I loved the photos so much that I now use them on my doula site! The contrast between the belly shots I was getting at home (from my well meaning but not professional photographer husband) and the portraits my sister was creating was so apparent - I thought, "Hey, I want HER taking my birth photos!"
When I first approached my sister about attending our birth to take pictures I'm not quite sure what she thought - maybe she did think I was crazy, though she was too polite to say! I just knew that this birth I needed photos. And I am so very thankful she was able to be there, because the moments she captured are priceless to me. I see these pictures and remember how I felt, my husband's hands comforting me, seeing his face when he first held our daughter, smiling with relief the first time I nursed her. Our daughter is turning six this summer and absolutely loves seeing the photo book of her birth and hearing her birth story.
We asked my sister back for our fifth birth, and you can see how different the images are - they capture HIS story, the light and laughter and joy, just as my daughter's images convey the warmth, the soft lights, and intimacy of her birth. The photos tell their stories. In this picture I'm hitting transition, I'm 8cms dilated and telling my husband (as we sit on the floor together) that I'm afraid it's going to start hurting, as I wasn't feeling much pain. He smiled and laughed and pointed out I was having a baby, then shared an inside joke of ours - "It's not pain, it's pressure." I started laughing, then went on to birth our biggest baby within a couple hours of this picture being snapped. Whenever I see this I remember that conversation and I smile!
My sister wasn't available for our sixth birth so we explored our local options and hired the talented Keri Duckett. Thanks to her I can now laugh as I show my son the picture of the two of us doing Wii running together as I labored with his baby sister. I can see the expression on my face as my husband and I breathed such a sigh of relief, having our littlest miracle safely in our arms.
Immediately after birth you are pretty distracted, and I would have missed seeing the way my older children greeted their newest sibling if not for Keri's intuitive eye. (That little guy in the far left of the picture is our preemie, now seven years old.)
Our oldest was madly in love with his baby sister. We told him new babies are easily startled but if you gently place your hand on them it's soothing. He remembered this, and stayed close to his sister with a soft hand on her. I didn't know that, until I saw the birth photos - and then I cried because it was so sweet!
I wish so much that I had a photographer at our first three births. And it was worth every single penny and more that we paid for our birth photographers. Birth photos aren't graphic (unless you want those candid shots) or unflattering or gross, if you hire the right photographer. 😉 They are part of the beautiful love story of your family, and they are precious and worth capturing.
My fourth and fifth births were taken by Rebecca of ThadenPhoto.com - she serves in and all around Dallas, Texas.
Our sixth was photographed by Keri Duckett who serves the DFW area.
To see more examples of birth photography you can see my gallery here.