Speaking of Birth... How about the fact that birth photography is going mainstream?
Every year The International Association of Professional Birth Photographers (IAPBP) host their annual image competition to recognize “excellence in birth photography". There are four categories: Labor, Birth, Postpartum, & Birth Details.
Subsequently, every year a (noisy) chorus of viewers respond “eww!” “yuck!” “why?” “how?” Too much. Too private. Too public. Too old. Too natural. Too medical. Too beautiful. Too upsetting.
Many responses are downright visceral - people get offended and find the images “disgusting” saying “birth is horrifying” and "Isn’t it awful that someone would share these photos,” and “We don’t need to see the photos.” “This should be personal between the family.” “This is a private moment.”
And every year photographers, families, mothers, and birth workers feel the need to play defense.
So when labels of prude and exhibitionist go head-to-head in a virtual shit slinging competition with a simple loving moment, what’s a birthing mama to do?
When I deliver photos to clients, the best response is that they love the photos and that I captured so many wonderful moments, that they don’t even remember. Icing on the cake is when they express that they want to share their photos.
Here are some feelings my clients are NOT experiencing when they choose to share their birth photos online:
- I want to upset a woman who is having trouble getting pregnant.
- I hope to encourage a person who doesn’t want to have children to tell everyone so.
- I want to force the image of my laboring body into someone’s newsfeed, so they get really angry and start abusing people in the comments section,
- I want to challenge all the people in the world who think birth should be kept behind a curtain.
- I am a millenial exhibitionist and want to share naked photos of my birthing body to the world, just because.
Nope, these are not the feelings a mom or family has when she wants to share her photos.
The feelings are more along the lines of:
- I want people to see how wonderfully supportive my partner was at the birth of our baby.
- I want to share an amazing moment in my life and just how joyful the moment of meeting baby was (or a miriad of other positive feelings around sharing birth photos).
- I want to share photos of my natural low-risk birth to provide images for viewing public to see, so we can see what "normal birth" is and thus become more comfortable with it.
Maybe other mothers want to show people how they moved around and were not in the hospital bed, so that anyone considering a natural birth or homebirth, can see the photos and earn an automatic invitation to learn more, and to see what resources are available in their area, to support the birth they want. Oh and why shouldn't a woman have the birth she wants and enjoy birth, so she begins motherhood from a place a strength and love?
Believe it or not, many people find the birth photos beautiful - whether it be the power of a woman birthing or the reception of a newborn baby into the family’s arms or just the beautiful sight of mothers, fathers, partners, baby (babies), siblings, caring providers, dim lights, the birthing scene. Its pretty a scene, ya’ know?
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes? So it’s safe to assume that not everyone is going to think birth photos are beautiful, but why all the hate people?
Imagine birth is such a private and mysterious event that no one know or has ever seen anything about it.
Now imagine a photo of a woman in labor - lots of skin, maybe some fluids, big expression.
The reality is that people watch ridiculous birthing scenes in tv and movies all the time, but the scenes are made to be so short and such hyped-up ridiculous drama that it becomes entertainment (imagine your surprise sitting through a 12 hour birth scene during your favorite show?).
People say they want birth to stay private but what they are really saying is that they want real-birth, not media-birth, to stay private. They do not wish to know how a woman can moan and groan her way thru labor, or how her knuckles can turn white from gripping a nearby support, or the veins in her neck will pronounced with the force the blood pulsing within her body. They do not wish to know yes there is blood - not necessarily from a woman ripping apart as sensational media would like to think - but from amniotic fluids and bloody show that is a normally present in vaginal fluids at birth as membranes release and the nest of fluids that has been safely tucked away for months gives way to…. yes, a baby!
It is an incredible time in a woman’s life. Amazing birth of a baby and some people wish the share this experience the same way others share about big, beautiful, transpiring life events.
Too private? Yes, birth photos are voyeuristic by nature. This day in age when nothing is private and everyone shares everything - there is often too much oversharing, but it is accepted. Are we expected to have more personal and privacy boundaries with birth photos? This perception really shines light on our cultural perceptions of birth, and they are vastly negative. Society gives us a pass when share other stuff that shows just as much intimacy, just as much skin, just as much emotion but when it comes to childbirth we are scrutinized.
So the haters continue to hate and when large, main stream publications like Huffpost and People Magazine publish birth photos, as they have featuring IAPBP winning photos last year and again recently featuring a mother breastfeeding while in labor (which raised another of issues for those who feel a child should not breastfeed after a certain age) - the public responds in a big way.
See, another sad reality is that women feel they must keep a positive birth stories and images to themselves, because it is more acceptable to share about your horrible birth experience than your triumphant one. As a birth photographer or as a mother, am I supposed to hide my beautiful image because it might make someone feel badly about their birth experience or about their self-image as a strong woman? It is true that some viewers may have had a very medicalized birth or even a traumatic birth and viewing can evoke many emotions just by looking at birth photos featuring normal birth where mom is free to move and experiences only limited interventions. For some it is hurtful because maybe they cannot have children for biological reasons. Seeing the photos can be upsetting for some and hopeful for others. Some women have chosen not to have children and do not feel valued in their choice, or cannot related to the strong powerful woman in the photo, because their strong powerful self lies elsewhere. It is unfortunate that images and stories end up in our newsfeeds that we do not wish to see. It is true we want to be sensitive but does that mean we cannot share?
As a birth photographer, you can guess where I stand on the issue - I support birth photography and the mother and family are very capable, thank you very much, to share if they so choose and the viewing public is free to view or not to view. The problem lies in the responses - when an image shows up in someone’s newsfeed and they are disgusted and offended and then they choose to take time to comment, rather than just move on - it's confounding! Why such visceral responses? Why all the hate? IMHO, if you are offended by birth photography you need to be more honest with yourself about your cultural programming and media influence.
Check your preconceptions at the door, leave all your baggage behind, and meet mama in her moment, right where she is, not where you think she should be.
View this year’s entries and winners on IAPBP. No, it is not a competition for best birth by the way. It is a photo competition.