Kelly Pappas, mom of two in San Diego, has only a few memories from her first birth three years ago. She knows she labored alongside her loving husband in the hospital and that it was a peaceful experience overall. But there’s not a lot of evidence from that day. She has only one fuzzy picture of herself, taken by her husband in the maternity ward’s poor lighting.
Now a DONA-trained doula and childbirth educator, Pappas was determined not to make the same mistake when she gave birth to her daughter, Selah, at home last October. So she went ahead and hired a professional birth photographer to take pictures on the big day. And despite not looking perfectly made up in every shot, she loves and cherishes the photos.
Like Pappas, many women are hiring professional photographers as part of their birth plan. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for those who can brave seeing images of themselves during one of life’s most vulnerable moments, professional birth photos can be a beautiful souvenir to keep long after meeting your baby for the first time.
Hiring a professional
It’s true that there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved in the labor process, so if you are wondering why on earth would anyone want to see herself in pain, you aren’t alone. But Pappas says it’s important to see the beauty in capturing the experience of such an important day.
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“As a doula myself, I see couples working together during labor and am awestruck at the little moments of pure, raw beauty in it,” she says. “I see them swaying, touching, kissing and loving each other in these gentle ways. Often-times, the couple can’t even recollect those moments postpartum, [they] just remember the way they knew they felt connected.”
Hannah Parker, mother of two and owner of Fresh Love Birth Photography in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, says there are practical reasons for hiring a professional as well, especially if you are looking for high-quality, crystal clear images. “Professional birth photographers have knowledge and experience working in a variety of lighting situations, so the pictures will come out clear and sharp,” she assures. “Usually, professionals don’t have to use flash photo-graphy as their equipment can handle low light much better than the average point and shoot camera.”
Beyond quality, Parker’s reasons to hire a professional are personal. Her older son was born prematurely and whisked off to the NICU immediately, leaving her with no photos of his first moments of life. “When I had my first child, I didn’t know what a birth photographer was and didn’t understand why anyone would want pictures of [her] child crowning,” she recounts. “But I only got to glance at [my son] briefly before he was whisked away, and to this day I have no idea what he looked like when he was born. I didn’t get to see him without tubes for almost two weeks.”
Parker hired a photographer for her second son’s birth, and now, as a professional herself, she tries to make sure new moms don’t go through the same experience she did with her firstborn. “My second child was also born early, but the photographs from his birth are so helpful in healing from the experience, and I am so happy I have them,” she says.
Focusing on the task at hand
Instead of running around with a camera trying to capture different angles, hiring a birth photographer allows you and your partner to direct all of your attention to the birth experience, says Lynsey Stone, mom of four and owner of DFW Birth Photography in Dallas.
“When a woman is in labor, there are so many things happening that she might not really notice—her husband crying as the baby is born, the concerned look on his face when she is in pain, the baby having his footprints taken across the room when mom is still in bed being seen by her doctor.” She adds, “They aren’t able to appreciate all of the beauty going on around them when the birth is taking place because they are focused on the task at hand.”
She also thinks it’s important that support partners are able to experience the birth in a way they wouldn’t be able to if they were assigned to the job of photographer. “The husband would most likely be trying to take pictures right after baby is born, rather than just getting to stand by mom and baby, admiring them and touch-ing baby’s little hands and feet,” she notes.
Stone says couples generally forget that she is even in the room, as birth photographers are as respectful of the family’s space as possible. “It is very important as a birth photographer to be quiet and unobtrusive, so that you are not a distraction to the laboring mom,” she says.
Parker takes a similar approach. “Most birth photographers love birth and would never want to come in the way of letting it happen the way mom desires it,” she says. “When I enter a birthing room, I am usually not noticed for a while. I enter silently. When the mother is finished with the contraction or in a place where she wants to have a conversation, she will usually look around and let me know how excited she is that I have arrived to fulfill this portion of her birth plan. Everyone I’ve worked with has stated so many times that working with a professional birth photographer makes you forget that she is even in the room.”
If the idea of having professional photos taken is appealing to you, but you’re shy about being in front of the camera, you needn’t worry, assures Stone. Most birth photographers will do a prebirth consultation as part of your package, so you will be able to discuss what you feel comfortable having photographed and what is off-limits.
“I have had a few clients who wanted pictures of the actual birth from above, with absolutely nothing graphic showing and no breastfeeding shots. Others, of course, want as many pictures as you can take. This is really important to talk about beforehand, so there are no uncomfortable moments during and no disappointments after,” Stone says.
Remember: Who sees or has access to your photos is completely up to you. Parker says that her more modest clients—and those who want to share their photography with family and friends on social media—often dress in a dark colored sports bra or swimsuit top through labor to avoid having their breasts showing.
“Birth photography is first and foremost about the mother and documenting this amazing journey for her. If she wishes to keep the photography private … there is absolutely nothing wrong with that,” Parker says. “If you are very shy or modest, your photographer will be able to work from angles that don’t show as much. Cropping is also a magical tool.”
(Photo by and courtesy of Lyndsey Stone)