While being in labour may seem to last forever, it’s amazing how quickly we forget the finer details of giving birth. Some say it’s precisely because we don’t remember that we choose to do it all over again, but the magic of first holding a new life in your arms tells another tale. There is simply nothing to compare to the wonder of a newborn as they take their first tentative breath and open their lungs to the unknown. For many new parents, it’s a time they want to capture forever in a birthing photoshoot.
A Delicate Intimacy
Giving birth is both an awkwardly public and incredibly private affair. There’s nowhere to hide from the strangers who are poking, asking questions, and tracking an endless array of monitors. Everyone seems very busy as the patient waits in trepidation for the next contraction, wavering on the cusp of motherhood. It seems an unlikely place for a photographer, yet the subject is surprisingly easy to capture. The camera is the least of a woman’s concerns as she prepares for the delivery room.
Photographing a birth means accompanying a woman on a very personal journey, and one from which she will emerge forever changed. It requires a level of trust that needs to be established in a consultation held long before the day of delivery. All of the decisions about how (and where) the reportage will occur need to be established in advance because once labour begins, there’s no chance of saying “let’s try that again.”
A Warm Welcome
Taking the final maternity picture is a little like photographing the presents under the tree before the children get up on Christmas morning. The baby is so close to being born that he’s now the gift that lies tantalisingly beneath the distended wrapping. I composed the photoshoot in black and white to capture the myriad emotional contrasts before me. Happiness with a layer of trepidation. A miraculous event being recorded on an ordinary clipboard. Rolling towards the birth room with an instinctive urge to help the nurse hold the doors open. One of life’s remarkable moments enveloped in the mundane.
There were but a few precious minutes following the birth when I was able to capture that first cuddle with mum in the birthing bath. Then it was off to the first in a lifetime of check-ups. Some of the images were taken purely to record statistics, but I am particularly fond of the photograph of the baby who has now opened his eyes, as if looking worriedly for the familiar warmth of his mother.
The final shot is a marvellous reflection of closure. The baby has arrived, everyone’s happy, and now its time to let the world in through the medium of a digital age. An occurrence as familiar as time yet always astonishingly unique.
Birth photography isn’t for everyone, and it does require the ability to partake unobtrusively in a deeply intimate event. As a mother myself, I understand the desire to capture these fleeting moments which will all too soon be lost in the ever-changing chaos of childhood. The arrival of a baby remains one of the most deeply moving experiences I have the privilege to photograph.