When the anesthesiologist cheerfully grabbed the camera from my husband to document my son’s entry to the world via emergency C-section, neither of us had the focus nor the energy to object. We now cherish the slightly gory images, especially the one where my alien-Buddha boy is not yet fully out. He, too, is fascinated by the creature he sees in his baby book. Would I have planned to have the photos taken? No way. But I may be part of a shrinking demographic. Hiring a professional birth photographer is the latest way to snag the ultimate memory aid. If you thought births were already getting crowded with all those nurses, doulas, doctors, midwives and lactation consultants vying for space, the trend toward adding a photojournalist onto the roster is growing across North America. (Texas is a hotbed, apparently.) In Canada, there’s a new directory for parents-to-be to find a lenswoman (this is a female-dominated line of work) called Canadian Birth Photographers.
The quaint infant footprint announcement doesn’t stand a chance. You can’t blame the parents who are booking the $500-to-$2,000 sessions. They’re expected to e-blast their family and friends a photo and/or Facebook it as soon as the baby has been weighed, named and had his or her first cuddle.
And thankfully the snapshots needn’t be of active labour; birth photographers have found a way to keep their work family-rated when asked.
“When I do get photos of baby emerging generally they’re done in such a way that they’re still tasteful. I get creative with the angles,” says Carrie Duncan, a Toronto birth photographer. “A client recently told me it’s something she can show her mom and not feel awkward about it.”
The majority of photos on photographers’ sites instead feature a window onto the drama of birth: Red, wrinkly babies with their umbilical cords still in tact, moms wiping tears from their eyes and dads who look like they’re terrified of squishing their impossibly tiny charge.
“The first time people hear about birth photography, their reaction is to go ‘ewww.’ They think birth is graphic, but it’s not,” Canadian Birth Photographers’ founder Jaydene Freund says in a statement announcing the website. “There might be one crowning photo out of 200 photos taken that day. Once they see a birth story through a professional lens they want those photos in their own family albums.”
Duncan has photographed water births and hospital births, but no C-sections yet, as some hospitals do not allow photography during a surgical procedure. There have been umbilical cords wrapped around necks (they’ve all been fine.) She says this is photojournalism.
“My goal is to be as unobtrusive as possible. I like to be a fly on the wall. It’s storytelling at its most intimate and raw.”
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