Earlier this year, my work as a birth photographer was featured in the Daily Mail. That’s good, right? A bit of national exposure for work that I adore and would happily shoot lots more of. Here’s that article in all its glory.
Pssst. There’s no need to squint, you can read the full article by clicking here.
And yet, I know that birth photography can be a marmite subject – you either love it or hate it. So where best to unleash that fierce opposition but in print and online with the infamous Daily Mail commenters.
But they actually surprised me. Quite a bit. Of course there was a fair bit of indignant moral outrage coupled with thoughtless rudeness, but there was far more support than I expected and a smattering of quite understandable reticence. Although some had reservations, which I would absolutely expect, I found that a lot of the fear was based on misconceptions of the birth photography that I offer.
So why not chat about those worries here? I’m never going to convince those that immediately purse their lips at the idea. And that’s ok. This is not for everyone. But you might be on the fence about it. You may have just heard about the idea and you’re interested to learn more. You might just have a negative assumption that I can dispel.
Let’s give it a bash, with a little help from the Daily Mail commenters who shared their views online.
Worrisome thought #1: It’s a private moment that shouldn’t be shared or exploited during a photo shoot.
There are a couple of things here. Firstly that such a private, personal experience should remain closed to others. The short answer to that is that it absolutely can be. I’m very lucky to have worked with families who are happy for their birth stories to be celebrated and shared with others, but that isn’t a requirement from me. You can choose to keep your images absolutely private. I’ll even supply you with two versions of the birth story slideshow – one that is just for the parents themselves, the other more vigorously edited version that you can share comfortably with friends and family if you like. If you are happy to be featured on my blog, that’s great. If you’d prefer not to, that is a decision that I absolutely understand and respect.
The other worry is based on an assumption of what a professional photographer does during a photo shoot. Here’s what I do: I work to document the story without interruption or manipulation. That means no additional lights, no set ups, no manhandling of subjects. I work on my own, quietly and discretely using only the light that is available to me. There’s no flash, we don’t do things twice, or invent anything – I’m an observer in the background witnessing an incredible experience heavy with emotion.
Fiona from Dublin is adamant:
No way! Very, very private moment in my life. For god’s sake is nothing sacred anymore?!
Obviously this is not a choice that suits everyone. Clearly. But for some it is a sacred moment that they want documented and preserved. And they want it captured beautifully, not an iphone full of grabbed snapshots in a darkened room by a sleep-deprived dad.
Worrisome thought #2: I don’t want another stranger in the room when I’m feeling so vulnerable.
By the time I’m photographing your birth story, I won’t be a stranger to you. Before we confirm your booking, you will have met with me and we’ll see if we are a good fit for each other. There’s no doubt that this is an incredibly personal experience for you, so I want you to be absolutely comfortable with me being there. I also want to get a sense of how you really feel about having a birth photographer in the room. The idea of it may be attractive, but I want us to discuss the reality of it, so that I can be sure that birth photography is right for you and your partner. Everyone has to be happy. If they’re not, I won’t book it.
Kym from Yorkshire writes:
As long as the photographer is taking photos that have been consented to, and isn’t barging into random delivery rooms and happy snapping away, I think it is a lovely idea.
And that is exactly the point – this session is consented to, thoroughly discussed beforehand and dearly wanted. I’m not hanging around hospital wards waiting for waters to break.
So after that initial chat (probably over cake), I want to schedule at least two other get togethers, so that you can get to know me better, and I can more fully appreciate what it is you want captured. When you go into labour, I won’t have to ask you any questions because I’ll know we’ve discussed everything in detail beforehand.
But this process also allows for changes of heart in the moment – at any point, you or your birthing partner can ask me to take a break or not to continue until baby arrives. You are in control. I’m documenting your story, but you direct the action.
Worrisome thought #3: It’s just for narcissistic women who want to show off their bodies.
My experience is that the women who want their birth stories captured are not interested in a glamour shoot where they look their best and have a full face of make up on throughout labour. What they understand and want is a photographer who recognises that this emotional event is about much more than themselves. It is about the birth of their families, as well as their child. It is more than a physical process, it is a story of connection, affection and love. The stories I tell are emotion-focused, not body obsessed.
I think some people hear “birth photography” and just think of the moment of crowning and actual birth. There’s no doubt that is a pivotal point, but it is actually a very small proportion of what I capture for you. The story starts well before this, and continues a while after. I’m there to document that full emotional arc for you.
So you won’t have me at the business end of things unless you expressly request it. I’m not trying to tell a clinical tale of bodily process. I’m witnessing the pride on dad’s face as he keeps a careful watch, the relief in your face when you finally hold your baby in your arms, the joy of you both becoming parents for the first time. For the second. For the third.
And personally, I don’t think the female body is taboo, despite what Tom from Leeds via Oxford says:
These exhibitionist women who will use any excuse to show their ghastly breasts and bodies…disgusting!
Well Tom, I think the female body is capable of the incredible, amazing act of giving birth. It is a beautiful thing, this little wonder of labour and birth. Why shouldn’t that be celebrated in photographs? Because my idea of beauty is not one of sterile perfection. Beauty can come in gasps of pain and tears of joy.
Worrisome thought #4: Birth is unpredictable. What if it all goes wrong?
This is a very real concern that should be fully addressed before you book your birth photographer.
There is no straightforward birth. Things will never follow your ideal plan. So a couple of things to be aware of. Firstly the health and welfare of you and your baby are the most important things to me. We will have discussed what you would like me to capture, but once you are under the care of medical staff they have the final word. Before you book I will ask that you obtain the permission of the medical staff who will be caring for you, whether that’s a midwife from the Home Birth team, or your consultant and midwife on the ward. I will know what you planned for me, but I will listen without question to the directions of your midwife. If they feel it is right for me to take a break from photographing, I will. But I’ll also wait to hear when it would be possible for me to resume.
And it’s not fun, but it is important, so let’s tackle the terrible thought. What happens in an emergency, if things go horribly wrong? This is lead very much by you and what we discuss well before your due date. If you find yourself rushed into surgery for an emergency c-section, or there are other complications, I’ll be there waiting for you when you return, ready to capture the first images of your family together. The caveat being, if you want me to be there.
If before I reach you at home or in the hospital, we find it is not possible for me to photograph the actual birth itself, all of the money you have paid will be transferred over to a newborn session with me. It will pay the session fee of that newly scheduled session and provide a print credit for you to put towards your final order. This is so that I can be as flexible as possible, whilst recognising the significant time and care I will have dedicated to your booking.
No two birth experiences will be the same. I’m able to react and respond to events as they unfold, discretely and professionally. I’ll take my cues from what we’ve discussed before, what you tell me you want in the moment, and the medical staff on the day.
Are you still with me?
I know that was a lengthy blog post to read through, but it’s all important stuff. You may still have questions to ask, or kinks you want worked out. That is great. Clearly, I like talking about the subject so I would love to chat with you some more. Why don’t we meet up, say hello, talk about your birth story and how I can help you retell it in a beautiful way. I like an Earl Grey with a lemon drizzle sponge – what are you having?