When I meet a new acquaintance, the conversation usually goes something like this (and in FACT, this is the very first conversation I had with my husband!):
Stranger: Oh hello Michelle, nice to meet you. What do you do?
Me: I’m a birth photographer.
Stranger: A bird photographer?
Me: No, biiirth.
Me: No. B-I-R-T-H.
[I can almost see the image flash before their eyes, the one that horrified and awed them in their middle school health class. The flat flash lighting, the ‘head on” shot of baby crowning. The image that was meant to stun them into eternal abstinence.]
No, my friend. I photograph couples in the most epic moment of their lives as they welcome their child into the world, witnessing the first moments of life earthside, the first ever breath one takes. I photograph women in the most intense moment of their lives, harnessing every bit of courage they can grasp, becoming maternal goddesses in soul and form. I capture the moment a man becomes a father, a blubbering fool, truly understanding for the first time the most pure, unconditional love. I photograph brokenness and wholeness, love at its utmost, connection where it never before existed, and utter triumph.
Stranger: Oh. That’s nice.
To those who are intrigued rather than aghast, I LOVE explaining my mission:
1 To beautifully document the most profound and transformative human experience, the Story of Beginning.
There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing a family knit together. Every story is so unique and special. From the things you never want to forget, like an older brother as he watches with excitement and a bit of nervousness, to the smallest details, like the slippers hubby ran out to get you in the middle of the night so you wouldn’t have to wear hospital socks, or the Big Mac you insisted on when you should have gone straight to the birth center. It’s my desire that families look at their birth stories and are instantly transported back to that day, remembering the firm and unwavering hands of support, the whispers of love and confidence, the deep connection and conquering, the first breath and first cry, and dad’s face as he realizes he’s meeting a younger version of himself.
Friends, please write these things down, at the very least.
These are stories I believe need to be told, not only for this generation, but for the next, and the next thereafter. Our beginnings should be honored and held sacred, and when we see our birth stories, we come closer to understanding a mother’s love in that moment, and we choose to honor mothers henceforward, and we remember within our very DNA to honor our women and our beginnings.
This is why Birth Storybooks are so important to me. I will always offer them as affordably as I am able, because they deserve to be printed and not stored on a computer. Kids love looking through their birth stories… I’ve seen them light up, time after time, and I love to hear their comments as they browse. I think they’re wiser than us in so many ways!
2 To capture the woman’s pinnacle moment of strength and beauty.
I find it to be a failure on society’s part if people continue to view birth as “gross” or a “medical emergency” or something for women to be directed through, when they are better equipped than anyone else to instinctively know what is right for themselves and for their babies. Furthermore, it’s a tragedy if the woman never has the opportunity to realize her true beauty and strength if, inside, society’s stigma creeps, and she thinks surely the things she thought and felt in her most challenging moments couldn’t possibly amount to something so awesome. Giving birth and documenting birth through photos are just a couple of avenues among many that may inspire realization and inner love, and it’s one I’m passionate about.
3 To contribute to healing after a difficult birth.
I was discussing the healing power of birth stories just last week with a mom who'd had a Cesarean birth. The emotional healing process is a long one, and it's imperative for the birthing woman to see that, even though her birth plan went off course, it doesn't deduct from the fact that she, too, has carried a child for months, nurturing herself into an amazing mother physically and in spirit. She, too, has a beautiful story to be told. Moments of courage don't always feel courageous, sometimes being strong doesn't feel like strength. And she was courageous.
It sounds awfully cliché, but it’s true: photography has the power to slow down or freeze time. When your birth plan is thrown out, and seemingly everything that could go wrong has, when you find yourself being rolled to the OR as ceiling tiles pass so quickly above you, when you’re mere minutes from meeting your babe but the end seems nowhere in sight, it can be difficult to process, much less remember, the finer, more beautiful details.
Photography drowns out the chaos and focuses on what matters, allowing people to process their birth stories in a slower, more objective manner. So many memories can be brought back with just a single photograph.
Are you still reading? I got a little long-winded there.
I dunno. We all love to brag about our children, friends, and family. We take photos of everything, including sports tournaments where we showcase our athletic abilities, or prom to showcase a major checkpoint in our child's life, or our engagement to showcase our unmatched love, or our wedding to showcase the joining of one life to another. What I find most compelling is that the emotion derived from each one of these amazing moments comes together all at once during a birth. Why would we want to let something so powerful pass un-documented?
And if when I ask, "Why not?", you answer, "Because things happen in birth that are not beautiful, because I'm not a health class exhibit, because I'm modest about my body and private with my life", then I suspect you might be gazing at things from a different perspective. True, birth story photography is not for every mother, but it's important to understand that there's something much deeper to birth photography than the images themselves. It's about family, it's about the strength of a mother, and it's about being at peace with and owning your birth story, even if it doesn't go according to plan. And if you're still anticipating unflattering, head-on crowning shots, feel free to skip on over to my Gallery.
That's all for now :)