"You're a birth photographer? Isn't that a bit gory?" Alex Warland is now used to that question, and but instead she admits to the privilege of witnessing a woman at the pinnacle of her power, and the birth of a new family.
"Of course your partner can take pictures at your birth, but with a photographer, their experience is captured as well." says Alex. "I had no idea how supportive my husband was, yet he was there the whole time!" says Luna "I'll treasure these pictures forever... I now wish someone had photographed my mother in her full power giving birth to me."
The birth photography profession has gone through a significant boom in the last few years, especially with the proliferation of social media. These images appear to be so emotive, women in particular are inspired to document these peak, yet intensely personal experiences in their lives.
Still, birth photography lacks general acceptance and understanding. Rhiannon hired a photographer for her second birth earlier this year, but her grandparents questioned her choice. "Of course I'll have a photographer there." she told them. For Rhiannon, the bringing in of new life is "better than any wedding day".
Rhiannon discovered birth photography after the premature birth, and subsequent passing, of her firstborn nearly five years ago. In the haze and shock of the experience, the hospital offered her access to a birth photographer for free to document her and her husband's final hours with their baby. She admits she would never have thought to ask for this, and is so glad she was offered the services of Heartfelt - a volunteer organisation of photographers. "Without the photos, I would have forgotten so much about our first baby."
So for her second birth, Rhiannon was clear she wanted a photographer present - "so many details you forget, or don't see", and this birth was to be a rarely-offered procedure known as a maternal-assisted c/section. Rhiannon herself would be able to lift her baby out of her belly with her own hands and she wanted to capture everything.
"Every detail of your child's birth is so important." says Rhiannon. In our podcast "Capturing the Moment" Rhiannon refers to one photo in particular of a nurse in the theatre looking at Rhiannon with tears in her eyes, as she looks at her baby for the first time.
Birth is such a hormonal process, and in Rhiannon's case, technically complex as well, so birth photographers need to be extremely careful to not disturb the woman or her team in any way.
Scholars of birth, such as Dr Sarah Buckley, say that a woman needs to feel "private, safe and unobserved" to give birth efficiently, as well as bond and establish breastfeeding. "Your birth photographer needs experience in being in a birth space. They must be quiet and respectful at all times." says Alex.
Birth photographers tend to already be working in the field, which gives them this understanding. Alex Warland is a breastfeeding counsellor and Rana Rankin, who took Rhiannon's photos is a midwife.
It's a profession that also calls for a special dedication, with birth often happening at inconvenient times. "It's like being a doula or a midwife" says Alex. "You've got to be on call and ready to drop your kids with friends or family at any time."
Anita, a midwife before becoming a mother, knew from her first pregnancy she would hire a birth photographer, and that they would need to fade into the wallpaper to not disturb her. "I had absolutely no idea where she was in the room the whole time." she says. "Yet she knew what to capture and when."
Tips for hiring a birth photographer
Here's a list of pointers, compiled with Alex's help.
"One day, photographers will be at most births, the way photographers are at most weddings." says Alex. With the huge international interest in these highly emotive images, I'm inclined to agree.
For more inspiration from professionally taken birth images, check out this compilation of "a birth photographers' why".
Author: Sally Cusack
NE PLUS ULTRA
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