Birth Photographers: Booked in Advance
I’m going to admit first and foremost that I had a very strong, visceral reaction to reading the New York Times article on birth photographers. So I want to preface this by saying that if you are all gung-ho to use a birth photographer (or if you already have and are in possession of a photo album of your child’s birth), go for it. Unless you show me the photos, it doesn’t affect me at all. You can choose to use one and I can choose not to use one, and like Ladyhawke, we’ll just find those bloggy moments together when the camera is neither out nor put away.
By which I mean you may want to click away now if you read that New York Times article and it didn’t bother you. If you continue reading this post, you’re going to hear my gut reaction.
Not only would I not want to have a birth photographer in my delivery room if I’m ever lucky enough to get to deliver again, but I don’t really want to view their work if they take photos for my friends and family. Not because I have a weak stomach and can’t view an image of a human being sliding out of my friend’s vagina, but because I don’t feel I have any business seeing said visual. That’s an intimate moment, a personal moment. A person’s first second of life. Don’t people deserve to have a few seconds of their lives — their birth or their death — which are simply lived and not documented? Or if they are documented, have them documented for the person themselves and not for other people (including the parents of said child) to do with as they please?
Because you know that if people have quality shots as opposed to whatever they snap with their excited, shaking hands, they’re going to be uploaded to Facebook.
I obviously have strong opinions on this, and I know that as I write this, I am possibly offending someone deeply who loves their birth shots and uploaded them to Facebook. (And for the record, I see a birth photographer as different from your partner snapping a picture or two of you on the big day or your child a few minutes after birth. And for the second record, I did tell you to stop reading if you might possibly become offended.) I am sorry about that. But is it such a bad thing to hear a heads up that not everyone in your Facebook feed would be thrilled to get to witness your child’s birth from afar? Some, I’m sure, would. But no matter how much I love that child, no matter how divine I think the one-hour-after-birth pictures are, I don’t want to see your child’s first seconds of life. I don’t want to see them online, I don’t want to see them in your scrapbook, I just plain don’t want to see them. I want you and your child to own those moments and selfishly not share them with the world. Those are your seconds; take them.
And to be completely honest, I don’t see a lot of difference between a mother uploading her birth shots to Facebook and a husband uploading his wife’s death shots to Facebook. Would the latter be appropriate? And if it isn’t, would the former? I’m sure some will disagree because they see birth = wonderful whereas death = horrible. But I see both of those transitions as simply intimate, important moments. We who are here before or left behind process those events through our own lens based on how they affect us, but to the person going through the birth or death, they are the bookend moments of a life.
The twins’ birth wasn’t an intimate experience. We had two teams from the NICU, several doctors, and a gallery of medical students all eager to bear witness and take notes. And yet there was something also magical about being the only two people in the twins’ lives who saw, heard, felt, smelled, and touched what happened there that day. Would I have paid attention if I knew it was being documented? I have to admit that there are times when I’m filming something or I know Josh is photographing something and I zone out, knowing full well I’ll be able to relive it the next day. The first and last seconds of life feel too enormous, too important, too emotional to get to relive the experience again and again.
There were a few lines in the New York Times article that cemented in my mind that this is just a plain bad idea for me.
- “Women who are crestfallen when their births do not go according to plan and C-sections are ordered — not the image they wanted to capture.” [Okay, I have to admit that I judge less if someone tells me they were disappointed with their C-section because they missed out on an experience vs. if they told me that they missed out on the PICTURES THEY WANTED.]
- “In home births, photographers say, the mother calls the shots.” [It really freaks me out that there are people who would opt for a home birth just to be able to get the photos they want.]
- “In Cincinnati, one woman called Melanie Pace and Kelly Smith of Beautiful Beginnings Birth Photography the day she got her pregnancy test results, Ms. Pace recalled. Several have called when they are five or six weeks pregnant. “I’m like, ‘Seriously?’ ” Ms. Pace said. “Can you go to the doctor first and confirm this pregnancy?” [You know exactly where my brain went with this one, and I know that is more indicative of my own personal experience than of general statistics, but do people really need one more thing to possibly cancel after a loss?]
It’s probably that last quote that gave me so much pause. Maybe I’m jealous of the hubris, that self-assuredness that birth = baby. Oh my G-d, I asked myself as I read the article. Who the hell are these women and what blogs have they been reading? Because in my corner of the world, shit goes down. All of my losses have been early, but it is impossible to virtually meet all of you and not have your stories affect me, have me understand that other side of that statistic on late term loss. It’s not even borrowing pain or premourning-while-pregnant. It’s just plain cautious common sense. I won’t plan for a loss, but I will certainly be mindful that it happens. And not book a birth photographer at six weeks.
Where I think the work that Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is beautiful, giving parents a chance to have images of their child just as every other parent gets to have over the years, I find birth photographers more conceit than memory building. In a world where we are constantly asking people to LOOK AT ME on Facebook, Twitter, our blogs, I find the idea of recording this moment to be more forward thinking to a share than it is about considering how your child may want these images in the future.
Or, I can respect the idea of birth photography if the photos are taken and put away for safe keeping, a document handed over to that child in the future akin to other baby photos, a first lock of hair, or a family tree. But share those photos, and yeah, you get my judgment because you just drew me into your experience. To witness a moment I never wanted to witness.
The first seconds of birth. The last seconds before death. These are the two moments that ask us to put down the cell-phone-Twitter-feed, put down the camera, put down the keyboard, stop trying to record. And just hold each other. Bear witness to the transitions.