by Ashley Weeks Cart
When I informed my family and friends that a birth photographer would be among the group of people present for Addison’s birth, I received more than a few wayward glances and eye rolls.
You honestly want pictures of THAT? You’re going to look a wreck. It’s all blood and guts and pain! Why would you want that documented for all of time? Are they going to, ya know, take pictures of your… ya know?
Ah, how birth is so very misunderstood.
I had been doubtful when my doula had offered up the idea. But then she showed me the portfolio of the woman who then captured Sunny’s arrival, and my vision of what “birth photography” implied forever changed.
There was nothing gory, or gross, or inappropriate about those images. They were images of love. And strength. And fear. And triumph. And pain. And care. And tenderness. And bravery. And oh the love. The love love love love emanating from the family and friends supporting the woman in labor… from the woman to her child and back again. Those images were the stuff of miracles.
I was fascinated. And also unbelievably fortunate to live in a city that would not surprisingly be on the front lines of this new trend and thus have photographers willing and available for the task. Brianna of Shoots and Giggles was just breaking out on her own and into the world of birth photography. She was looking to shoot an unmedicated birth (i.e. a woman actively moving around and in motion during labor. If you have an epidural, you are restrained to the bed, and thus there is only so much photographing of that process to be done before baby arrives.) Her services and photographs were free in exchange for their use in her business. Sunny’s arrival is still prominently displayed on her site. I have my doula to thank for Brianna’s presence at her birth.
(Brianna was featured in the New York Times article about birth photography last June. It’s clear reading that article, and the follow up articles and responses to it, that birth photography, much like birth, is greatly misunderstood. Not surprisingly, I would like to have a hand in correcting that – thus The Beauty of Being Born.)
Looking back, I would readily and gladly pay for a birth photographer’s services three times over, for the gift that Brianna gave to our family that day is indescribable. To watch myself triumph through that pain… to watch my sister grasp my hand, her eyes tense with worry and care… to see James’ face of pride and love and tenderness as I battled through that process… to bear witness time and again to the first words I utter to my newborn child… to have captured that moment when I become a mother, when I make that transition, when James makes that transition to father… there are not words for having such raw, beautiful, powerful imagery as a reminder of the most important moment of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen photographs more filled with the true essence of what it means to love, really love, another human being… unconditionally, unabashedly, unfalteringly. I can’t tell you how many times James and I have sat down together and watched these images unfold before our eyes, taking in that love, that process, that moment, that unfiltered, raw, vulnerable emotion and interaction that is so readily apparent during labor and birth. It is incredibly powerful. Restorative. Affirming.
THAT is what birth photography is about. We document weddings, and graduations, and first birthdays… why wouldn’t we want to document the arrival of new life?
So with all that being said, I’ve become a bit of a birth photography junkie. I was disappointed that no one in our area was available to document Courtland’s birth – and so James and my sister did what they could while simultaneously supporting me through labor. As I’ve spent more time learning my way around the camera and my interest in maternity and childbirth has intensified, birth photography has seemed like an ideal outlet for these two burgeoning passions. And it’s something lacking in my community. Granted, the demand in Western Massachusetts slash Southern Vermont pales in comparison to Los Angeles or New York, but why not fill that gap if it’s something I find deeply valuable and enjoyable?
And so, two weeks ago, I had the honor of photographing my first birth. And it is with great pleasure that I share that story here.
I want to thank James, as always, for his unbelievable ability to marry music and image. I selected down the photographs, edited, picked songs and slapped it all together, but it wasn’t until James took the time to painstakingly pace and transition each image through the music that the true emotion of the journey came through. Since the birth resulted in a C-section, I wasn’t able to be present for the surgery and was struggling with how to move from that moment when they headed into the OR to the arrival of sweet baby. As you’ll see, James absolutely nailed it. I didn’t expect to cry and cry when I watched his final cut, and yet the tears flowed. As my partner in The Beauty of Being Born said, “The whole thing really captured the waiting and waiting and waiting that is labour. The foreverness of it all followed by the sudden motion of now.” So beautifully put. Thank you, Libbie.
And most especially, thank you to Bea and Lee and Baby William for the privilege of being present. And for reinforcing in me why this is exactly the kind of work I want to be doing.