In the hours and days that followed the first birth I shot, I *tried* not to tell everyone I came across, but with only moderate success. I got a lot of responses that mirrored my excitement and a few hesitant “Uh… Oh? How did that go for you?” replies.
And then I remembered that birth photography is relatively new as a profession and not something that makes sense to everyone. So I thought I’d take today to tell you why this is something I’m fired up about.
When I was not quite 10, my mom had my baby brother in her bedroom and birth became just a normal thing women did. I knew there were medical conditions that would warrant a hospital, but birth didn’t seem like an emergency on its own.
When I was expecting miss Lilly, I was pretty sure she’d be my last. I wanted to normalize birth for my older girls, but they were 4 and 5 at the time. Given that I can barely handle having my husband around through, I did not see having a couple preschoolers touching me and calling for my attention throughout labor and birth as a viable option. So I called Sarah Lewis, whose work I’d admired for years, to document it, in hopes that having images of me giving birth would demystify it for my kids a little. Additionally, my births are basically the most badass moments of my life, and I wanted to have a way to remember that, since I’m hardly present enough to take mental notes.
I didn’t know how that decision would impact me. Looking through the images, I saw parts of the process I straight up didn’t know about, despite having done it four times. I was able to see the way Andrew looked at me throughout the labor. Somehow Sarah captured me as lovely throughout the whole messy, excruciating process.
The last several years, I’ve pondered over why I’m so drawn to birth photography as an art form. I’ve been following several accounts for years, and when I finally got a camera that could manage it late this summer, Sarah was one of the first people I told. I knew she was getting out of birth photography for practical reasons, and I mentioned how bummed I was that I wouldn’t be able to learn it from her. “There’s still time!” she texted back.
As I’ve considered the appeal of this niche of photography, I realized that my reasons for loving it and wanting to do it have a lot more to do with theology than expected.
There’s been a war on women since the garden. Then when God put a curse on the serpent and promised his demise through Eve, I imagine it further pissed him off. There she was, an image bearer of his Enemy, and through woman he was going to be crushed? Oh, HELL no. Actual Hell no.
So I look through history and see the battle. There’s objectification, either through pornography (in the broadest sense) or insane modesty demanded by men who hold us responsible for their lust and sin. There’s the devaluing of women in many cultures through millennia—we’ve been treated as chattel, our bodies valued only for the production of heirs or a workforce, our voices unrecognized in courts. Currently where I live, there’s a pervasive culture of assault and consumption that spurred the #metoo movement. There’s the patriarchy and pay inequity and both the denigration and idolization of motherhood and marriage, both inside and outside the Church.
This is war.
And one of the ways it shows up is birth.
I have heard several women say “I’m not one of those pretty birthers.” Or “I wish I were cute when I was giving birth like the women in those birth photos.”
Here’s this moment when a woman is at her most stunningly amazing. She’s mirroring her Creator in a way that’s unique and especially God-like—she is bearing life for heaven’s sake. (Actual Heaven’s sake.) And we’ve been conditioned to see it as generally terrifying and ugly and messy, even shameful, and “all that matters is a healthy baby.” NO. The baby does matter, obviously. But, whatever level of health the baby has, YOU ALSO MATTER. The very act of giving birth has value all by itself. It’s not the only thing, or even the best thing, but it is decidedly a valuable thing.
So, birth photography.
If I can show a few women how incredible they are during this time they feel less-than-lovely, like their bodies have become something they don’t recognize, it feels like reclaimed ground. It feels like beating back the darkness.
And that’s why I do this. I’m not into photography for the guaranteed bill-paying clients— seniors, weddings, families, classic newborn photography—not that they don’t matter, but there are plenty of photographers to do them. Birth photography isn’t always an easy sell and the hours suck. But I love it the most because it matters. It matters to mamas like me, who desperately want to know that their messy, vulnerable, terrifying offerings can somehow reflect Glory. In this one small geographical area, for a small number of women, maybe I can show them how they already do.