The Best Laid Plans
This is the beauty of the comment section: because I fumbled through a post, feeling something very deeply, but it took the comments before I could understand (1) what I was feeling and (2) why I was feeling it. There were two comments that captured similar thoughts perfectly: Anon, who spoke about privilege and Sushigirl who wrote about the birth experience.
Both brought me the thoughts that had been floundering about in my mind as I read that article, and it’s the same thing I think when I hear about things such as Ricki Lake’s documentary on birth choices or when people talk about their birth plan. I am amazed and confused and genuinely in awe of people who believe they can conduct this physical event that takes place inside and outside their body in the same way they plan for things — as Sushigirl points out — like a wedding.
I’ve been attempting to lose weight the last few months, and while I know it’s a simple equation of fewer calories in/more weight lost, it doesn’t really work like that. I can eat the same menu day-after-day, do the same exercise day-after-day, and some weeks, I lose one pound. And some weeks, I lose three pounds. And many weeks, I lose no pounds. Because it’s only moderately under my control and there is still so much we don’t understand, so many factors that come into play that I can’t account for. We see the same thing happen with illness. We can’t control how our body reacts to treatment or surgery. We can take medications and have them work one day, not work another. With illness, we spend more time hoping for the best. Preparing for the worst.
But we get to childbirth, and somehow all realizations that so much of the body is outside our control fly out the window and people start drawing up birth plans. Not birth preferences, birth it-would-be-nices. Plans. And as Sushigirl so eloquently captured, birth does start to feel akin to a wedding, with showers and a babymoons and 4D ultrasounds and all the experiences we’re convinced by magazines and companies and our friends that we should have, including birth photographers and millions of keepsakes. But birth isn’t a wedding, even if it may also be one of the most important days of your life. Birth is a physical event that has more in common with losing weight and illness than it does to weddings or Bat Mitzvahs or sweet sixteens.
There was a lot of jealousy in that post, and incredulity, because I want to be that woman who believes that she is in control and can guide the experience, who trusts her body and trusts the universe at large. And I’m not that woman. I don’t know if I was ever that woman (Josh lovingly calls this side of my personality a host of famous pessimists’ names), but I know that infertility beat whatever vestiges of it out of me in regards to birth. I don’t trust that I will have anything to do with a good or bad outcome, but that something will happen and I will witness it. It makes me a little sad that I think this way, but I own it: I think this way. And sometimes I think it’s a healthier way to think, to not mix up my ability to control other things with the idea that I could control my bodily functions. And sometimes I think it’s a profoundly unhealthy way to think because it’s a dark, pessimistic way of seeing the world. But it’s mine. And I own it.
I do want to clarify something. As I wrote in that post, my feelings extend to those minutes after birth, those minutes before death. Those are the minutes that I don’t know if they should be captured, as Anon so beautifully put: “is it OK to have these intimate moments of birth and death captured on film?” I don’t have a concrete answer. Instead of looking at this from the side of birth, I chose to look at it from the side of death and apply my thoughts to both ends of the spectrum:
How would I feel if I were dying and Josh picked up the camera and started snapping my picture? Would I understand that he needed to do that for his own process? His own mourning? If he explained that to me, would I feel at peace knowing my last seconds were perhaps not what I needed, but they were exactly what he needed? How would I feel if he uploaded those pictures to his blog or Facebook to tell the world that I was dead? What if he wanted to publish them so he could write a post about how he felt taking those pictures? Would that disturb me to think about or would I understand where he was coming from, know that it was what he needed to do?
And then I reversed those thoughts, taking the idea of mourning into the idea of using those images in joy. To celebrate the beginning of a life instead of marking an ending. Again, I don’t have concrete answers; just amorphous reactions to these two possibilities.
Of course we have images from when I first held the twins — many hours after their birth. I love those pictures even if I’ve never shown them around. I wouldn’t necessarily not show them around except that they bother the twins, and therefore I don’t show them to others out of respect for their feelings. I can also understand that having those images can be empowering, a fuck-you if you will, an act of overcoming. I loved how one commenter pointed out that having a birth photographer there can free you to stay in the moment knowing someone else is dealing with the act of recording.
I do see a birth photographer as different from your doula snapping a few pictures or your mother jumping in to snap a picture the first time she sees you holding your child. A birth photographer has no other role than to record the event; they are professional artists who are hired to record the event much in the same way a wedding photographer records your ceremony. A doula or a nurse or your partner snapping a picture is more akin to your friends taking candid shots at your wedding. They are there as guests, but they happen to capture a moment with their camera. So that post meandered through the idea of having a professional photographer in the delivery room as well as the idea of uploading those pictures online or sharing them with others.
As someone who cherishes her photographs, there was so much said in the comment section that resonated with me too. Even if I can’t wrap my mind around the idea of booking a birth photographer at six weeks.