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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.


1 Devon { 06.19.12 at 8:26 am }

I can see your point, people forget to actually live in the moment, to just be present. I had a C section and was disapointed that I didn’t get the first picture of me holding my daughter just minutes after she was born, or the family photo of the 3 of us, she was taken to the nursery and I got to finally hold her 4 hours later. There are several pictures of my daughter in her first moments when the doctor pulled her from me, they are precious, to me. I wouldn’t share them with anyone who didn’t want to see them. Me laying there with my stomach cut open and there is blood, of course i don’t see that, I just see her, but I treasure them, because the experience was not what I had hoped.
There have been many times she will be doing something totally awesome, and I resist the urge to pick up the camera to document it, because I just want to be there, completely enjoying the moment, and if I’m doing it behind the camera it’s just not the same for me. I do feel that everyone has the choice to make themselves though, but I know plenty of people who feel the same way about birth photos as they do about maternity photos.

2 Nicole { 06.19.12 at 8:56 am }

I think maybe I am a little bit jealous of have naively happy these people can be to assume two lines = baby and none of the rest even occurs to them. That these people can cheerfully plan and make baby registries and schedule birth photographers. Personally I didn’t want anyone to see any of that so I don’t get why people video tape births. I think my hazy memories are enough. My husband did put pictures on picasa and I made him edit them somewhat. In his enthusiasm he didn’t note that I wouldn’t want so many shots of me post birth available to everyone. Perhaps it is a symptom of oversharing in our society since everything is on TV anyway. Are we moving toward a world without modesty?

3 Kim { 06.19.12 at 9:02 am }

I have mixed feelings on this one. I completely agree that I would not want an extra person, essentially a stranger, anywhere near my delivery room. I am, however, grateful to have video my husband took. I had to have a c-section after 13 hours of labor when I began to bleed. I was scared, exausted, behind a curtain, and numb from the neck down. So, being able to see that and experience it later with a clearer head, hands that could squeeze my husband’s, and no vomiting was a gift. I agree that it is not meant for twitter, facebook, or dinner parties. That is our moment.

4 heather { 06.19.12 at 9:06 am }

I’m with you in the sharing of the photos on Facebook and other sites. I’m with you in that they shouldn’t just be handed out like business cards. Birth photos are personal and private. I don’t agree with professional photographers being there (different strokes for different folks).

However, there is one sentance that I disagree with:
“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?”

Those photos are also for ME. I gave birth to my daughters. It was a shared experience between me and them. When I see the pictures that my mom took of my first born and the ones of me and my second taken by my husband just after she was born it brings me back to that moment. MY memories.
When someone is born they aren’t born by themselves. There are people who are sharing in that same experience. My husband and I cherish those photos because it brings us back to our memories of the event. And, yes, we can do with them as we please. They are not just of my child but of me as well. Now, I’m not the type to throw them all over the internet. So they stay private, in a file on my external drive, to go back to whenever I want. If a family member asked to see them? I would probably just show them the ones where I’m holding my daughter minutes after their birth.
Either way, they are MY photos as much as my daughters.

5 gwinne { 06.19.12 at 9:36 am }

Oh, I don’t know. I have to say I started reading this NYT article and couldn’t finish it, probably for the same sense that this phenomenon is just weird. But I’m also a person who has watched films of birth on YouTube; while I wouldn’t put my own up there (you know, if I had one that wasn’t me being gutted like a fish) I don’t have a problem with other folks doing it…and clearly if it’s on YouTube I’m being invited to watch, along with the rest of the universe.

I love the pictures I have of my kids’ births (taken in both cases by the friend who joined me during the c-section) mostly because I have huge lapses of memory from the exhaustion and the stress and I like being able to look back. Those are moments I won’t share with the world (hell, I don’t even *have* a facebook account) but I’m glad to have them. Would I like them better if I had a professional photographer take them? Probably not, but I happened to have friends who took some good (and I don’t mean flattering) pictures of those early moments. And because I had c-sections and my kids were away from me for hours, that’s how I have even the vaguest sense of what they looked like, what happened to their bodies. And I’m so grateful to have those pictures.

Then again, I also find it incredibly weird that people have “maternity photos” taken by a professional photographer. Just thinking.

6 Delenn { 06.19.12 at 9:40 am }

I was surprised and little bit annoyed when a blog friend said she was hiring a birth photographer. My first thought was–“over the top much”; my second thought was “gee, am I missing some trend?” and then my thought was — great for them, not my cup of.

I had C-Sections with both kids. M’s was a hard fought pitocin induced nightmare ending in an emergency C-Section. W’s was a scheduled dream. And the person who shared it with me–my husband. And that was it and that is what life is about–experiences you share. Sometimes a photo is nice to jog the memory–but I did not need it documented–I lived it.

7 MaryAnn { 06.19.12 at 10:06 am }

From what I can tell reading the Mommy Blogs, everything is documented and published these days. Literally everything. I’m always amazed when people show the photos of their children misbehaving. And I think, really? You were behind the camera then? Implying to the child that what they’re doing is cute rather than bad? Good luck with that child when he/she is a teenager! As for the professional birth photos, just another example of over-the-top and money spent in the wrong way. One Mommy blog I read last week mentioned a birth photographer and WIC (free, government-provided infant food) in the same post! She could afford a birth photographer but couldn’t afford to feed her child. See what I mean?

8 Meredith { 06.19.12 at 10:11 am }

When I saw the headline, my mind immediately went frightening, touch-and-go deliveries and ultimately loss. On a side note, I deactivated from facebook a year and a half ago and have not missed it (I’m on twitter though).

9 Arwen Rose { 06.19.12 at 11:28 am }

Booking one a few weeks?! Crazy! I just hears a colleague talking about her sister who has booked her baby’s christenig , and a huge incredibly expensive one at that, when she’s only 12 weeks!

10 Alexicographer { 06.19.12 at 11:45 am }

I saw but did not read that article, suspecting it would annoy me (as so much of what is in the NYT when it comes to parenting seems to aim to do). Wait, Mel, you mean there are some things that are private and that shouldn’t be recorded? Huh, who knew? Oh, the Quaker meeting in care of which DH and I got married, for one (though in a quick web search I just turned up the reality that some meetings, at least, are now allowing audio recording of some events: ye gods).

Personally I think Jeff Foxworthy said it best, per his routine about being asked whether he and his wife had the birth of their child filmed: “No, but we do have some nice footage of the conception.” Ba-dum-bum.

11 serenity { 06.19.12 at 1:12 pm }

This post spoke to the heart of the trouble I have sometimes with being a mom in the day and age of social media. I am not a picture-taker but I’ve tried to be over the past few years because my family and some good friends are far away.

And I struggle with it. Because I HATE the idea of stepping outside of a moment’s real EXPERIENCE to record it for posterity. I’d rather call my mother and tell her something awesome Lucky did than take a picture or a video of it and plaster it on FB.

And that’s the thing. I grew up on STORIES. My parents didn’t have the money for cameras, so instead they told people all about the things we did as kids.Even now, she STILL tells the same ones; how I stuck a foot in her rib the last few weeks of my gestation, no matter what she did to try and get me to move. How I refused to breathe when I first came out, (late pr course), wanting to stay all warm and comfortable inside her uterus. How the doctor had to startle me into crying.

I don’t need birth pictures of my own birth to feel like I have a sense of what happened, nor do I need them of my son. But my birth story? The one I wrote out a year later? That’s something I absolutely cherish.

Nowadays, birth stories are are instagram pictures on FB and twitter.

I know I sound like an old fuddy duddy who is bemoaning the lost art of the written and spoken word. I might also be seeing through my own bias of how hard it is for me lately to see birth and pregnancy announcements on Facebook, so I don’t claim to be objective.

But for me, I’d rather stop and smell the roses, live in the scent of sweetness, write about my experience with that sweetness, than step back and get a picture of that rose. Or get someone to TAKE a picture of me and the rose. So I’m with you.

12 loribeth { 06.19.12 at 1:37 pm }

I read the NYT article… like many of you, I just kept thinking that the experience might turn out vastly different than both parents & photographer had bargained for. 🙁 We had a client come to our support group who was a doula — she had had an early miscarriage herself, but it did not affect her nearly as much as when she attended a birth that turned into a stillbirth. She sought support after that.

I also thought about my girlfriend, who was pregnant about a year before I was (about 15 years ago), telling me about her birthing class & the crunchy granola instructor who was talking about taking photos & video. She was shocked that my girlfriend did not plan to record the birth in all its glory for posterity. I guess things have only gotten worse since then, with Facebook, etc.

By the way, at my wedding, we were allowed to have a videographer (a newfangled thing then…!) & the photographer was allowed to take photos of us going up & down the aisle and signing the register, but not of the marriage ceremony itself. We posed some later after the service.

As a scrapbooker, blogger, genealogist, etc., I’m generally in favour of photos & documentation — but there ARE limits.

13 Erica { 06.19.12 at 1:39 pm }

I have a really hard time wrapping my mind around the kind of confidence it would take to hire a photographer for this. Not just confidence in your body (though that, too) but confidence that the baby would be born safe and alive and that the photographer wouldn’t suddenly be asked to clear the room while the child is rushed to the NICU and the parents are suddenly asked to make a series of crazily tortuous and difficult medical decisions. And, honestly, I don’t know if I admire that confidence, or think it rank ignorance, or if I’m so jealous of it that I have no shred of objective ground to stand on. I suspect the last.

People have been videotaping births for a long time and that was never something I was never remotely tempted to do. I wonder what the shift from home video to professional photographer means? Perhaps it is partly that everyone has a video camera or the equivalent now and the next status-proving thing to do is pay someone for tasteful black and whites…

14 Courtney { 06.19.12 at 2:20 pm }

I think the article is extreme & trying to make it out to be something that it isn’t. I’ve never known a woman to pick her birth location solely on the ability to take pics. My favorite picture probably ever was a pic snapped after my daughter’s birth. The pic was taken by our labor assistant, and I will treasure it always. So honestly I can see the appeal of having someone there to take pics. Many repeat csec mamas are requesting photography so they can remember more of their birth. In summary, I just think we would all be better off as women if we just supported whatever birth choices our friends make (epi or no epi, csec or vbac, pics or no pics, home or hosp, share or not share etc etc).

15 JuliaKB { 06.19.12 at 3:42 pm }

Not my cup of anything either (duh! :)). But many years ago, a friend was planning a repeat C (first was following a long labor, including hours of pushing, and this was less than 2 years later). Her husband asked if I’d come with them, as he was feeling nervous himself and thought he could use support. They actually let me be in the operating room with the both of them, and I brought a point and shoot. I was able to snap a few pics of the baby in a warmer, and, more importantly, a couple of the three of them, when they handed the baby to the father and he came over to his wife, who was at the time still being operated on. The pictures never got posted anywhere, but I know they treasure them. I am happy I was able to do that, but they didn’t invite me to take the pictures– they invited me for support. The pictures were just a very nice bonus.

To our own births, we bring the camera (except for A’s– I only had the phone then). But it never comes out of the bag until the baby’s on the scale or back with me. I only got to hold the Cub for less than a minute before he started going gray again and they determined he needed CPAP rather than just a special care nursery observation. We have a few pics before then, but again, not at all for sharing.

16 Cristy { 06.19.12 at 4:11 pm }

As a child, I was suggested to uncles who just had to show us the video that took of Jr. being born. Yes, birth is a beautiful thing, but it’s been a long running joke in my family that it was by far the best for of birth control. That and I still tease my aunt relentlessly about the hairy mole inside her thigh.

I think what it comes down to is what is the purpose of documenting the experience. Is it simply for you and your DH to share? Or do you plan on advertising to the entire world? Or it the rational that it’s for your children and, if so, what do you think they will really get out of it?

I’ll be honest, the baby photos of me are not something I as an adult have any interest in. They are for my parents and my parents alone. To have my parents share them with the world would be a a HUGE breach of privacy for me. So though I understand that there are once-in-a-lifetime moments, I really do believe that there are moments where the memory of them will be far sweeter (and make for better stories) than the pictures.

And, yes, after 2 miscarriages, I think the women who call when they’re 6 weeks ago are nutso too.

17 Tara Dawes { 06.19.12 at 4:21 pm }

Hmm if I am blessed/lucky whatever enough one day to actually be able to have a baby I don’t think I want photographic evidence of that child coming down the birth canal and popping out into the world – it just doesn’t seem like something that seems “photogenic”. I have always said I would like a picture of the moment when myself and my husband get to hold our baby for the first time but I kinda figured that was the job of grandma & grandpa or something – not professional photographers.

I also recall having some general worries having our wedding photographer (who was freaking awesome) be in the dressing room with me prior to my wedding (she was amazing about the whole thing though) – but just knowing I had anxiety about that I can’t imagine trying to give birth with a camera lens pointed at my naughty bits.

Also, as anyone in the infertility community will attest to, conception does not always equal delivery – the ability for some people to think that makes me sad and just a little jealous. Oh the knowledge we all have that I wish we didn’t have to have!

18 Brooke { 06.19.12 at 4:51 pm }

I did not, nor will I read the NYC times article-this is only a response to your post.

We’ve been on a journey to bring home our first baby for over three years. I naively started a blog after the first to help me get out what was going on in my mind because my first loss was a termination in the second tri due to a non viable pregnancy that had more mental baggage than anyone can prepare you for. I never wanted to be an infertile, or have an infertility blog-I didn’t start my blog to rage about infertility. I wanted to be able to share with my friends who live far away, and family who also live far away-a blog to visit if they wanted to see how we were progressing through our next pregnancy since no one lived close enough to experience it first hand. But unfortunately I ended up with an anonymous blog with 2 years of raging posts, and 5 more losses, getting over 1000 hits a day from other women suffering-that was my journey-but certainly not my choice.

I have had 3 years to think about those first moments one gives birth –I am not ashamed to admit that I never thought I’d get to experience those moments myself so I have always been drawn to other peoples first shots with their little ones. And as I wondered how it would play out if it we us-I began to realize that we would never have those shots-yes probably some lousy cell shots, or an occasional good one taken by my husband-because there will be no one in our room with us other than a medical team.
My mom is dead.
His mom is dead.
His dad is dead.
My closest friends live in other countries or states with family and babies to care for.
So having someone who can take a shot here or there isn’t an actual option for us.
Add to that the fact that I am fully aware something HORRIBLE could happen at birth–I mean why wouldn’t it? My history has me in the small lousy odds pool every time, why should I anticipate a normal birth with a healthy baby?
We could end up with a C Section. We could end up with a sick baby. We could end up having our little one wisked away to a NICU.
We could end up going home without this baby-forever.

And then there would be nothing tangible.
We would go home with broken hearts and try to recall in our minds eye FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES through the clouded mental lens of chaos and quite possibly drugs for me-the details that we will wonder about but never have.
No thank you.

Your last line…
“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.”

…is EXACTLY why I hired a birth photographer.

We want to be able to do just that-be fully in the moment, good, bad, glorious-what ever it may be. I will have my husbands full attention, his face wont be jammed behind some camcorder, camera or phone and we will be able to do so only because we are sure that those details and these moments will be captured and preserved.

19 Trinity { 06.19.12 at 5:06 pm }

Just to put it out there: I haven’t read the NYT article and I don’t plan to. But, I do have a few thoughts on this particular topic…

I had maternity pictures taken at 32 weeks, and I absolutely treasure them. They’re up on my walls, on my nighstand, etc. My pregnancy was so deeply meaningful (as I’m sure it is to everyone, especially after infertility and/or loss) and, after a point, I decided that I was going to own my pregnancy–meaning, I was going to shove the dark worries out, and invite excitement and hope and joy in. That is a hard battle in the ALI world–to actually LIVE in your pregnancy and give the finger to constant worry and hopelessness. My maternity pictures are symbolic of that.

We didn’t have a birth photographer, but I wish we had. Actually, I was so close to pushing by the time we arrived at the hospital that we left our own personal camera in the car accidentally, in our fast scurry to L&D. The only pictures I have of my son in those moments after his birth are cell phone pictures. Taken by my doula. They’re not perfect or even in focus, but they are so profound to me. I loved the birthing experience, every second of it, and I would love to have even one professional/half-decent photograph from those hours. My pregnancy, my birthing unfolding as I hoped it would, and my son’s arrival were life-changing for me. I wrote a birth story, and it, too, is meaningful, but oh how I wish I had at least one good picture. And not to share with the world. I agree with heather–that experience is very bit as much MY experience as it is my son’s.

All that to say I do not believe that hiring a photographer for maternity or birth is an act of conceit. How people choose to share those pictures is something altogether different.

20 Esperanza { 06.19.12 at 5:09 pm }

I have to play devils advocate here and say that while I don’t really have any opinion on birth photography as a “thing” (though did not really appreciate the NYT piece much) I ended up with pictures of my birth, because our doula took them (we had told her too but I completely forgot about it until she showed them to me later) and I cherish them in ways I can’t articulate. She took photos of us while we labored at home and at the hospital and pictures of us during the bit moment and they are so precious to me. To see my own face, to see the faces of my mother and partner (which I would have missed completely) to see my expression change from surprise to hysterical happiness to gratitude to peace, I wouldn’t give those photographic memories up for anything in the world. I was so happy to have a doula there supporting me but I was even happier to have those photographs. I never imagined, when I told her we were interested in that, that they would mean so much but they do. And they are absolutely for me, not for my child. That was the biggest moment in my life, and I want them for myself. I doubt my daughter will ever care about them the way I do.

I guess I should add that I did NOT post them to Facebook and while they are in my pregnancy photo book I don’t share that with anyone as it’s boring for people who aren’t me. There are a few in my daughter’s first photo book but only “appropriate” ones, no “tits and minge” as it were.

21 Ellen K. { 06.19.12 at 5:54 pm }

I tend to be a little envious of those first-moment photos. I didn’t get to look at or hold my twins for the first 25 hours because I was on bedrest after an unscheduled C-section and preeclampsia, and the girls were in the special care nursery. I was in and out of consciousness, and throwing up all over the operating table, so probably not the best photo op! Light-heartedness aside, L&D is not the time for professional photography (very expensive, too, as I know from my SIL’s queries). Things can go badly — very badly and very quickly and rather more often than the general population would like to think.

22 Io { 06.19.12 at 10:17 pm }

I didn’t have a professional photographer for my wedding, so I seriously doubt I would have one for the birth of a child. As a child I did love seeing the pictures of my birth (not like THE BIRTH, but me being weighed and my mom looking tired but happy) so I’d probably want some casual snapshots, but I doubt they’d go on facebook.
I love how you always seem to blog about things I have read and thought about (the article made made me think of people being *awfully* confident that things would go as planned) It is like you are in my brain. (glances around suspiciously)

23 anon reader { 06.19.12 at 11:02 pm }

well, we’ve lost two babies.
our first, our daughter, we found out in labor that she had died. we were too shocked to take pictures, even though we literally had 5 cameras packed in our bags to capture the happy moment of her delivery. thankfully, there was an l&d nurse who bravely took 3 quick snapshots of her, and that ultimatey is all we have of her birth.

it forever changed my perspective about life, death, birth, expectations, fortune, luck, & (mostly related to this article and post) priveledge. priveledge, because the fact is, birth is a priveledge, and most of the time, we are able to partake of the joys of that moment, when we welcome our healthy babies into the world. the vast majority of the world experiences these moments, and in our first-world, we get to hire photogs to capture this moment to put up on our personal online sharing methods.

but to those of us who have experienced loss, infertility, or any other tragedy or trauma that may have given us a different perspective on life, taking these types of pics may seem completely over the top in all ways- vanity, assumptions, and pure priveledge. as if it is our birthright to have this experience. documented. shared. as if it is all there is to life. but the thing is, it isn’t.

i have seen many sets of pics from births that went completely haywire, and ended in death of the baby. photogs there to capture the intensity for the parents- the intention and assumption being that it was going to go right. but then it all went wrong. just like you wrote- SHIT WENT DOWN. and there it is on digital imprint… for all of us to see. jesus, it is sad. to see these moments of intimacy beyond words, turn to tragedy… and relate 1000% to what has happened. when i see the espressions of sorrow in the eyes of a new mom who has just found out that her baby has died- yes, i have been there. but i didn’t have anyone to capture my moment of horror- it lives only in my memories of that day. seeing these pictures brings it all back. like a documentary. hardcore stuff.

so, there is that. when my son died a few years later, also stillborn, well, we had a few hours notice. we had NILMDTS come, and they took the pics that we needed to help us in our grief. he was just-born, and we have pics of us loving on him, holding him, and these pictures are for NO ONE but us- meaning me and my husband. maybe i have shown my mom or sister, but no one else. they are sacred! i almost feel as if they may be pushing the limits of modern grieving… is it OK to have these intimate moments of birth and death captured on film? it borders on pornographic, if that is the right word- meaning, did we exploit his birth & death by posing for portraits with him, no matter how “important” they may have been to our bereavement? i don’t know- because they were undoubtedly important to our grieving process.

a couple of years later, we had a living baby. his birth was nothing like that of his sister’s… we were scared shitless that he would die at any moment (because, you know, that shit happens), and didn’t plan for a thing. my husband took a snapshot of me seeing my son after he was checked over by NICU, and i seriously look as if i have seen a ghost, or have been hit by a truck. LOL. not exactly a kodak moment to share with anyone. especially not facebook! omg! i can’t imagine.

people who get the priveledge of getting pregnant easily, having easy pregnancies, easy births (complete with planned events such as refreshments and music, candles, photogs, etc…), then have it all captured for sharing on facebook or with family & friends… my goodness, let them have it! this is where we are. let these babies be born in such priveledge. because, you know what? 1000’s of babies are dying on their birth days, around the world- not captured on film, but rather silently, in the bush, in third-world hospitals, in homes, in nicus, on the side of the road. that is a fact. that is a fact.

do you remember when father’s were not allowed in l&d? or when the advent of video cameras came to invade the l&d, lots of shakey, very exposed shots of birth, never before seen or given access to? this is really no different than that. i remember when my sister had her first baby (24 years ago). her husband videotaped it, and it was like WTF?!!! no one wanted to see her hoo-ha with my niece’s half-emerged head poking out. but there it was. the modern age. and here we are.

i have to admit, i have teken the time to wonder how my pictues would have looked if my babies had not died. would i have had that glow? that smile? that look of pride- that look that says ‘look what *I* did?!!!’. haughty, almost. instead, i have pictures of my babies’ births that say ‘oh my g*d… what have i done?’. i am jealous of women who get to have that pride of accomplishment. of a good birth. and a living baby. and well, let’s be honest… i am jealous of women who get to hold their living baby even after a hellish birth that ended in a ramsackle cesarean. it must have been hard- that is true. but there you are, with the baby. the baby that you got a minute with, so they could see you, see your love for them. or hours, days, months, years…. the thing is, when you lose your baby, or you can’t keep a pregnancy going, or even get pregnant to start with… those pictures are pure priveledge. pride, and priveldge.

24 sushigirl { 06.19.12 at 11:07 pm }

This post reminds me of that “Vadgena Tampen Majesty” post on STFU Parents, where someone has put photos of her birth on Facebook.

I find the whole “birth is an experience” thing a bit worrying, tbh. I mean, it obviously is an experience. But you don’t get to pick what happens. It’s not like a consumer-centered event like wedding where you get a timetable and allocate a handy slot for photos. But there’s a whole industry devoted to promoting and selling the opposite idea.

I think some women – and I encountered one in hospital – read up on everything and” decide” what’s going to happen in advance, buy all the related accessories, then get terribly disappointed when things don’t turn out the way they wanted.

To state the obvious, birth is about having a baby, which can be risky, rather than getting a pre-selected ‘experience’, or feeling empowered, or whatever – nice if they happen but not essential.

I think birth photography is a part of all that for most people.

25 Courtney { 06.20.12 at 12:06 am }

I had a birth photographer, and it was the best decision I could have made. And no, I did not post the photos on FB. I have shown the DVD to my parents, my in-laws, and my sisters. There are no up-close-and-personal photos – they are all very tasteful. I had a c-section, but prior to learning I’d have that, I did want the crowning photos for my own viewing and asked that they not be put in the slideshow, and my photographer obliged (again, I ended up not having a natural birth). Birth photography is not what you’re making it seem to be in this post.

I had a birth photographer because I fought for 2.5 years to get pregnant and wanted every.single.moment of my child’s birth captured. I wanted photos of my husband’s reaction – I didn’t want him having to worry about taking the photos for me. I wanted photos of my doctors who helped bring this baby into our lives. I wanted to always remember the nurses who held my hand and kept me calm as I was prepped for surgery. I wanted photos of our parents with our son right away, with us BOTH in those photos. There are countless reasons why I wanted a birth photographer.

I think you missed the mark on this one, to be perfectly honest. Your issue isn’t with birth photography, your issue is with the sharing of birth photography. Having a professional photographer really is not different from having your mom or partner snapping photos during labor and delivery.

My OB was enthusiastic about my decision and said he wished he’d had a birth photographer for his own kids’ deliveries and has offered the idea to more of his patients. It’s really just about capturing the moments that you don’t want to forget. What’s wrong with that?

The biggest reason I am grateful for my birth photos is that I did not remember so much of my son’s birth. I had a scheduled section and was very drugged up. I knew I’d held my son, but I couldn’t remember how I held him. I couldn’t remember the order of events. I couldn’t remember the first things I said to my son when I held him. His birth photos brought that all back for me, and I am forever grateful for that. My birth photographer and I are now terrific friends, and she remembers the little details of my son’s birth that I am unable to remember. She remembers me saying, “take his hat off. I want to see his hair. Does he have hair? Show me his hair!” Even my husband hadn’t remembered this.

26 Lori Lavender Luz { 06.20.12 at 12:33 am }


27 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 06.20.12 at 1:45 am }

I’m all for being present at big moments, but I was decidedly not fully present at my twins’ birth. Between the drugs, the hemorrhaging, and being 3 a.m., there is a lot I can’t remember. I wrote down as much as I could for my blog as soon as possible, so most of it is there, but once my twins had been taken to the NICU and the team was trying to stop the bleeding/save me and eventually stitch me up, there is a lot of conversation we had with them that I just don’t remember. I asked them for every detail they could provide about my babies, since I had only touched Burrito for a few seconds and hadn’t touched Tamale at all (nor seen her except for a few inches of her face that weren’t bundled, far across the room). Obviously the details that have happened since then are more important, but those first moments are precious, and they are lost forever because we didn’t (and couldn’t, according to hospital regulations) document.

On the other hand, I can’t even imagine what would have happened if I’d had a birth photographer in the operating room (which I never would have, just what if). Presumably they would have kicked her out at the moment that they realized my life was in danger, lest the birth moments and death moments you describe co-occur right there, on film.

My scientific curiosity would have liked to have seen the c-section births and correspondingly my uterus outside of my body (only temporarily, though it seemed that it would be permanent for a while). My morbid curiosity would have liked to have seen the huge puddle of my blood on the OR floor.

And on the maternity photo topic, I never planned to have them, but they were included with the package for our newborn photos. I managed to have them done in the 3 days between my release from my month-long hospitalization and being sent back for good. No one has ever seen them except for certain family members and people who have been inside our house and seen them on the wall. They are so fantastically precious, as hard-won as the pregnancy and gestation of that length were. It makes me so happy to show Burrito and Tamale what I looked like when they “lived inside me, together.” I haven’t shown them the couple of photos we have of them from the OR (one each on BabySmiling and one each on their own blog, and that’s all I have), but I will someday.

28 Battynurse { 06.20.12 at 2:02 am }

I’ve been against the idea of photos of the actual delivery since I was about 13 and stumbled across some delivery pictures in a family photo album at a home where I was baby sitting. Totally freaked me the hell out. Why would they put them in the middle if a family photo album that was on the freaking coffee table?!?!

29 Emily @ablanket2keep { 06.20.12 at 6:27 pm }

To each their own, but I would not be able to do it. No pics or video of me giving birth please, thanks. I have not been through it yet, but just the thought of being in the moment with my Hubby is special. I personally love what Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep does, again I don’t think I would do it though. I am all for others doing it and I have no problem seeing the pictures. Is someone is comfortable with showing me the pictures and would like to tell me all about their beautiful children I am honored.

30 Jennifer { 10.26.12 at 11:28 am }

I am a photographer who has been asked by my clients to document this incredible moment in their lives. From my perspective I am invited into the delivery room to document the miracle of family. Some of my clients have been cautious at first with the idea, but by the second and third baby they are comfortable with their bodies, and OK with me being there. It’s often, me in a corner with a long lens documenting in a photojournalistic style, the husband and medical staff. I document the whole story, her in the hospital, contractions, the love, the excitement, the fear, the pain, the tears. One client was drugged up for her birth and said that she didn’t remember a lot of it. At least not the details. Once the baby gets taken for weight and testing, I documented all of that. I documented dad in his police uniform and his first moments of meeting his son. All of this happened away from the mother, so she was able to see this once it was all said and done. I captured the first moments of them meeting their baby. This allowed the dad to be part of the moment rather than him taking pictures of his wife. He was free to be connected with his family. These images are just for my clients. I don’t want photos for the internet. It’s a document for the baby. It’s their keepsake.

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