A few months ago I had the privilege of photographing my first c-section. It was not my first time to attend a cesarean birth; I have documented births that ended as a c-section a few times now. But I usually have to give a quick camera tutorial and then leave it to Dad or a nurse to capture those precious moments for me to tie into the birth story. The reasons why I am not allowed to accompany the parents into the OR are not usually clear. “Hospital policy”, “sterile environment”, “safety of the patient” are some examples of what I’ve been told. This time however was different! I have earned the trust of an Austin area OB (Dr. Seeker) over time, and he pulled some serious strings for me so that I would be allowed back into the OR to document Sterling and Dusty’s baby girl’s entrance into the world. This was such an incredible moment for us all. Why?
- All birth stories are worth documenting and preserving. Not just vaginal births. This is especially important to a c-section mama once she realizes she can’t see anything that’s happening as her baby is delivered. Neither can Dad if he’s comforting her.
- Birth photography helps the mother see the big picture. It details every stage of birth – labor, delivery and post partum. But without the visual reference, c-section mamas are often stuck on that moment they lost the opportunity to have a vaginal birth. It can be depressing and preventative of them enjoying the outcome of their healthy baby. Because “things didn’t go as planned”.
- Birth – all birth – is beautiful. Moms often tell me during our consultations that they aren’t very “pretty” during labor. Or that they’re worried about bloody pictures. And ugly expressions. And the sterile environment of a hospital or OR. Their cluttered house. Losing control of their emotions. The list goes on. Bottom line is – that’s not what birth is about! Yes birth is as real as you can get… Mama’s beads of sweat, furrowed brow, clenched fists, fighter-like expression, vulnerability, even the moment she is actually birthing her baby (whether vaginally or by c-section) are all raw, real, but BEAUTIFUL and MIRACULOUS moments. As for the difference between a vaginal birth and a cesarean birth, the anticipation and emotion you feel about meeting your baby for the first time is all the same.
- Seeing the beauty in a cesarean birth image is encouraging because c-section moms often feel like their birth experience has been diminished, reduced, or voided out, quite simply, by unavoidable circumstances (in most cases).
These are the reasons why I chose to enter my big cesarean moment (shown above) in birthphotographers.com‘s recent “Image of the Year” competition. I felt an allegiance to c-section mamas everywhere who feel like their birth was somehow not picture-worthy. Amongst all the images of peaceful water births and mothers catching their own babies and bringing them immediately to their chest, I can see why they feel this way! 90% of what I share looks like that. And that kind of moment is typically what I would enter in a competition like this. But I am so glad I didn’t. Even though I didn’t so much as place this year (I happened to win the People’s Choice Award last year) I feel like I made a statement. The picture I entered says loud and clear that “this too is birth”, “this too is beautiful”, “this too is a miracle”.
Here is what Sterling has to say about her experience with an emergency c-section. It sums up perfectly the emotions that nearly every mama in this situation goes through: “Throughout my pregnancy, the one thing I was both terrified of and adamant about not wanting was a c-section. When I found out that my body wasn’t doing what was necessary to bring our baby into this world, I was heartbroken. I felt like my body itself was broken, that it wasn’t doing something that should come naturally and just happen. And when we found out her heart rate was low, I felt like my body was failing her, too. My fear was becoming my reality. Luckily, though, we’d decided to hire someone to photograph our daughter coming into the world. We were also lucky enough to have a physician who understands and values birth photography, allowing our photographer to come into the operating room to document such an important moment in our lives.”
She went on to say, about those first images of her daughter: “These aren’t typical birth photos. Seeing these pictures, seeing our daughter take her first breath in a situation in which I normally wouldn’t have, however, showed me that my body didn’t fail. I grew and nourished this beautiful little girl who has blessed our lives in ways we didn’t even realize were possible.”
And when I announced that I’d decided to enter her baby’s picture into the contest she said: “Today, I found out that this is the photo our birth photographer will submit to birthphotographers.com for their “Image of the Year” competition. I hope this image is shared and embraced for all of us mothers who didn’t get the ‘ideal’ birth, who thought that our bodies were broken, who didn’t get to see our child take his or her first breath. Thank you, Leilani. Thank you for showing me the beauty of a caesarian.”
My heart is full knowing that birth photography serves so many purposes! It’s not only beautiful and intriguing, but in some cases, healing as well. Mothers see their pictures and are better able to process their births. This image reassures this mama that she did indeed “give birth”. The disconnect she felt during the cesarean procedure is taken away because she has this happy moment captured and preserved, forever.
To see more images from Sterling’s birth: