Beth and her husband meet their youngest son at their home birth in 2014.
Photo Credit: Birth by Beth
Photo Credit: Jessica Stampe of Stamped in Time
Photo Credit: Katlyn Kaat Photography
Photo Credit: Liv Lyszyk Photography
Making Kombucha at a birth
The Birth Photography Decision
Birth photography…it’s something that means a great deal to me, something I’m very passionate about. I’ve been taking pictures for a long time but nothing compares to capturing the moments of new life entering the world. I think what I enjoy most is that the photos taken create a wordless story of one of life’s greatest transformations. On one hand, you have people becoming parents (even if it’s not the first time), and on the other, you have a new person crossing the threshold from womb to world. And somewhere in the middle, there are likely care providers and loved ones who are a part of the story as well.
As a birth photographer, my main objective in the birth space is to simply blend in and become a part of the environment. More than just an observer, I’m thoughtfully documenting moments that will never repeat themselves. In my mind are the wishes of the woman in labor and her desires for what she wants to be photographed (and what she does not). In the mix of it all, I’m also looking for the little things that often go unnoticed or might be forgotten, like the look on someone’s face or hands lovingly connected. Birth can be intense, so it’s no big surprise that some things just aren’t remembered (even though they may have been very meaningful in the moment).
Is Birth Photography for You?
As awesome as I think birth photography is (I could look at birth pics all day!), I am reminded at times that it is not necessarily for everyone. When people ask what I do and I tell them, the responses vary greatly. Some people think it’s great and that it must be an exciting job (which it is), and others are like “People really want that?”. And I get it. It’s not for everyone and I’m sure there are a variety of reasons as to why that is.
For one thing, the birth space is without question sacred space. The idea of people being present who won’t be actively involved in the birth itself might feel like an intrusion. In fact, a lot of women feel that way. They know themselves, and they know that having an outsider in their birth space may cause them to feel uneasy and have a negative impact on their birth experience. That’s huge! Other women (like me), might really like the idea of birth photography but aren’t comfortable with the idea of seeing themselves in pictures. In all honesty, we’re self concious. A lot of women are concerned about pictures being taken “down there”. Others are concerned about the faces they will make or that the pictures will be unflattering. No matter how beautiful a woman looks in labor (and they ALL look beautiful), so many of us are critical of ourselves and struggle to see what others do. I think this hinderance is one of the biggest things I keep in mind when photographing every birth…that no woman likes to look at bad pictures of herself. So I always keep that thought in the forefront of my mind. I have to ask myself, will this woman feel good about the way I’ve photographed her?
And then there are some women that just don’t get it. It’s not their thing and it just doesn’t interest them. And then the fact that it costs money? It just doesn’t make sense to them. And guess what? That makes sense to me, too. Ultimately, women know themselves best. For women who like birth photography, though, and have either had it done or would like it done, they have their reasons as well. Whether they are just very fond of having pictures taken during life’s biggest moments, want to re-live the experience, view the experience from another perspective, or share with their families and friends, birth photography is meaningful and has a purpose.
Things to Consider
Is birth photography right for you? Here are a few points to keep in mind:
• Do you regret not having photographs taken at a prior birth?
• Did you have photographs taken at a prior birth and know you’ll want them again?
• Do you think you’ll feel comfortable knowing someone is taking pictures of you?
• Are you a sentimental person?
• Do you feel like you’ll regret not having pictures taken?
• Do you feel like it will be meaningful to your child to see pictures of their birth later on?
• Is your partner supportive?
If you answered yes to these questions, then it’s a pretty good sign that birth photography is probably right for you.
Now, those are just a few questions to ask yourself if you are considering birth photography. Even for women who know they will want it, there are still other points that deserve to be considered as well.
Additional Things to Think About
• Birth is unpredictable. In the instance that the birth experience is traumatic, photographs may serve as a trigger if viewed too soon or without the safety of support.
• Are you self conscious? Will seeing yourself in pictures while laboring and giving birth possibly bring you down? Be honest with yourself.
• Before viewing photos of the birth, allow yourself time to digest and create your own memories of the experience. The photos are meant as a keepsake. They are not intended to define the experience.
• Just how important is it for you to have photographs taken? Many women have friends and relatives that would be happy to do the photos for free. However, if you are particular about quality, you may want to consider a birth photographer even though there will be a cost involved.
• Sometimes things happen during childbirth that women consider embarrassing (like having a bowel movement or making faces). If you want birth photography, be firm in your desires with the person taking the photos.
• Do you really want pictures taken, or do you feel pressure from your partner, relatives, or others to do it? Since you are the one giving birth, you are entitled to have the final say on the matter.
Ultimately, the choice to have photographs taken during labor and birth is a deeply personal one. There is no right or wrong answer. Deep inside, women know themselves best. Just like pregnancy and childbirth, it’s important for women to be honest with themselves and follow their instincts.
Give us Your Feedback!
Did you have photographs taken during one of your births? Is it something you’d recommend or do again? Why or why not?
Or, did you forego having photographs taken? If so, was it intentional or just something you hadn’t thought about? Do you have any regrets?
For more information about birth photography and the other services we offer, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!
Getting out of the bathtub at Spectrum Health Butterworth, after laboring under the light of LED flameless candles.
— By Beth Singleton, Birth Quest birth doula and photographer
I still remember my last labor like it was yesterday. Waking in the wee hours to discover I was in labor, only to have it stall during the daylight hours and then ramp back up after the sun set. When pushing, the room was dimly lit and to make things even darker, I had my face buried into the couch.
What is it about darkness that seems to ease and promote the progress of labor? A very common desire among laboring women, I thought it’d be a great idea to look into this.
The need for darkness is observed in nature.
If you’ve ever had the experience of witnessing a cat during labor, you probably noticed her need for a safe, dark place. When my cat had her kittens a few years back, that’s exactly what she did. In a box under my bed, our proud momma cat gave birth to her babies. This need stems from the mammalian brain, a commonality that affects cats, dogs, mice…and humans! I mean, we’re mammals, too, so regardless of the countless ways in which we’re nothing like our pets, the biological event of birth reaches deep to reveal that our needs are ultimately very similar.
Bright lights can make a laboring woman feel exposed.
Birth is a very private event for a woman. During such an intimate moment in her life, bright lights shining down can cause her to feel like she’s being observed or like she has no privacy. In nature, laboring animal mother’s will stop mid-labor if they think they are being watched in order to find safety. In a hospital setting, though, a woman can’t follow in the footsteps of her fellow mammal mothers and relocate if she feels like she isn’t safe.
This increases brain activity during a time when labor progress relies on a woman’s primitive brain instincts. This stimulation can interfere with a woman’s ability to produce the hormones necessary for labor to progress and to help with pain. Some sources of bright light include:
• overhead lighting
• cell phones
In particular, electronic devices affect the body’s ability to rest. Blue light, the light produced from items like cell phones and tablets, interferes with the production of sleep-promoting hormones. So even in a room where the lights are off, it’s important to consider the effect of having the television on or staring at a phone if relaxation is the goal.
How does darkness aid in relaxation?
When the lights go down and the room darkens, this signals to the brain that it’s time for rest. One of the hormones produced is melatonin. Also known as the “hormone of darkness”, melatonin promotes relaxation and sleep. When a laboring woman is better able to relax, she will probably rest better and more deeply between contractions. Her contractions might also be less painful if she isn’t holding so much tension in her body.
There are numerous ways to labor with the lights down low.
Whether laboring at home or in a hospital, there are several ways to create a dimly lit setting.
For a home birth, consider some of these ideas:
• night lights
• LED candles
• string lights
• votive and/or pillar candles
• dimmable lamp
• blackout curtains
• indoor light projector
For a hospital birth, most of the above options aren’t as feasible. For example, a hospital probably isn’t going to permit burning candles; they will, however, allow LED candles. And items like string lights or lamps are bulky and may not be allowed, either. Night lights and indoor light projectors, on the other hand, are small and the room will likely have at least one outlet you can use to plug them in.
Sometimes, though, darkness isn’t the best option.
While it makes sense that many women desire to labor in darkness or a space that is dimly lit, there are
circumstances when the issue shouldn’t be pressed. Examples include:
• women who are afraid of the dark
• women who might become anxious if they feel the darkness would interfere with their care
• women with a history of trauma who feel safer with the lights on
• women who simply object to having the lights off
In the end, it all comes down to a woman’s preference.
Whether she chooses to labor with the lights on or off, the point is that she gets what helps her the
most. Ultimately, it’s the support she receives from those around her that will have the biggest impact
on her birth experience.
If you’ve already given birth, did you dim the lights? Why or why not?
We’d love to hear your feedback on this!
I’ve wanted to write about this for years. The profound effect crying has on people has always fascinated me. How can something that must seemingly come from a place of hurt lead to what can only be described as relief?
Now, for some people, crying comes easily. Maybe they are just instinctively good cryers or were fortunate to have the support from others to cry; I’m sure there are many reasons. But for others, like me, crying doesn’t come so easily. For pregnant women, this makes breaking through barriers during their pregnancies and labors more challenging.
Crying has always been hard for me, even though I know I need to do it. I know how much better I feel, how much less cloudy my mind is. But I also know it takes a willingness to be vulnerable, something I seldom allow myself to do. I need privacy and safety, as many others likely do. Often, those two elements don’t come together and so the need to cry builds. At some point, there’s no moving past what’s causing the hurt and the only way out is to be honest and let the tears flow.
Possible Hang-Ups About Crying
I know what my hang-ups are when it comes to crying. As someone who was bullied all through school, I did my best to hide my tears because I didn’t want to be seen as weak or give them the satisfaction of seeing me hurt. Like many other kids, I also remember being disciplined or scolded at times for crying too much. It’s about safety for me; I’ll cry when I need to, but never in front of anyone…not if I can help it. I also fear that I’m “too much” when I do get emotional, and that’s embarassing to me. So finding the nearest bathroom, bedroom, or private place is a must if the tears are going to fall.
And doesn’t anyone else think crying hurts? I hate how I feel when I’m doing it. I also hate how sometimes, it’s like an earthquake with aftershocks that pop up out of nowhere in the hours after the initial round of tears. Despite how much I hate it, though, I can never deny how necessary it is. It’s freedom, it’s relief.
So, for women who are pregnant, what are some hang-ups they might have about crying prior to and during labor? Here are a few possibilities:
- Fear of judgement
- Fear of appearing weak
- Fear of being vulnerable in front of others
- A belief that crying is a sign of weakness
- A belief that she’ll be “too much” for others to handle
- Fear of being seen as overly emotional
The reasons for these hang-ups no doubt vary from woman to woman, based on her individual life experience. Some of these impactful experiences might include:
- Upbringing (cultural, religious, etc.)
- Lack of privacy
- Lack of support
- Suggestion from others not to cry
The Benefits of Crying
Believe it or not, even if it doesn’t always come easy, crying is good for you. The list of benefits include:
- reducing emotional stress
- ridding the body of toxins
- improving mental clarity
- moving past barriers
- releasing tension
There is science behind the benefits of crying. One study found a difference in the make-up of reflex tears and emotional tears. While the reflex tears consisted primarily of water (approximately 98%), emotional tears included more chemicals. What I really thought was interesting is that one of the hormones found in emotional tears was prolactin, which is also associated with a mother’s let down reflex.
You can Google it all you want; the benefits of crying are real.
But what if you’re like me? What if crying doesn’t come so easily?
Practice is the Key
If you struggle to let those tears flow, consider the growing trend in Japan. I saw an article online that struck me a couple of years ago: Japanese men getting together to watch sad movies so they could learn how to cry. In a society where it’s considered a virtue to keep emotions in check, this trend is helping to “normalize” crying. Not to mention how much better the participants feel after a good cry!
Life is already stressful enough. Add to it the changing hormones, anxiety, and fears common in pregnancy. It’s very common for women to “get stuck” or plateau during pregnancy and childbirth. What isn’t so easy is giving in and letting it go with a good cry.
Any number of things can give a pregant woman reason to cry. From financial strain, physical changes, discomfort, to anxiety and fears surrounding birth and past trauma, it’s completely understandable to feel the need to cry. Pregnancy tends to be a time in the lives of many women where such issues emerge to be dealt with.
For a woman nearing the end of her pregnancy, it’s the perfect time to let the tears flow when she feels the need. Not only will it help her feel better, it’s great practice for labor. One of my favorite birth-related books, Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel, points out just how significant crying during pregnancy, and especially during labor, is. I was trying to come up with a good analogy to describe the way holding back from crying affects moving beyond barriers for pregnant and laboring women. All I could come up with was having to pee.
We all have to do it. We all know that if we hold it in too long, it’s all we can think about. There’s nothing else taking up residence in our minds when the need to pee has reached its nagging peak. Same goes for needing to cry. At some point, the dam will break.
I also think that Ina May Gaskin used a similar analogy that also applies here. She pointed out how most people have a hard time peeing in front of others. This, too, applies to crying. Having an audience, especially one that you aren’t sure supports you, is a real hinderance. Call it what you will (I think of it as a sort of stage fright), crying openly in front of others isn’t always easy.
As with just about everything else in life, practice is the key. Pregnancy is the perfect time to get in touch with your emotions and address any mental roadblocks you may be facing. Crying helps with this. A few ideas to help you with getting those tears to flow are:
- Find time to be alone
- Find safe people to talk to (your partner, a trusted friend, family member, counselor, or doula are excellent options)
- Journal about your feelings
- Watch a movie that makes you cry
- Listen to music that helps you cry
- Be honest with yourself about your feelings
- Give yourself permission to cry
As challenging as it may be, even one good cry during pregnancy can help to straighten out jumbled thoughts and emotions. It also helps to set the stage for the transition to childbirth. If crying during pregnancy helped to move past emotional barriers, remember that it can do the same during labor. Physically and mentally demanding, childbirth is no time to hold back from crying, especially in the instance of a plateau or intense transition. Tips for crying during labor include:
- Requesting privacy if there are too many people in the room
- Letting your care provider know ahead of time you plan on crying as an aid to help labor progress
- Making sure you have good support (your partner, doula, friend, or relative)
- Shutting out negative comments or advice from others (a support person can help with this)
- Practicing during pregnancy
- Trusting that crying is purposeful
- Reminding yourself of other times crying has helped you to feel better (a support person can remind you of this as well)
There will always be obstacles to crying, though. Many people, even medical care providers (they’re people with feelings, too), are made uncomfortable by crying. It’s possible that they or others (your partner, friends, family, etc.) might tell you not to cry. They may or may not give you a list of reasons why you shouldn’t cry or tell you what to do instead. Odds are, they are simply just uncomfortable with it. Generally speaking, I don’t believe most people like to see others hurt. It’s also without question a learned response. I know I’ve heard it and hate to admit I’ve said it… “Don’t cry”. While no ill is likely intended by telling someone not to cry, it takes away from the validity of a person’s emotions.
But crying isn’t about weakness or defeat. So in spite of your own hang-ups, or what others might think or say about it, it’s important to remind yourself that crying is an essential release that leads to renewed strength.
It’s kind of like the difference between transition in labor and the pushing stage: considered the most intense part of labor for many women, transition is often the time women are pushed to the limits of what they think they can take. Those viewing on will inherently want to help. If a woman is encouraged and supported through this stage, pushing often yields a more focused and less distressed woman. With the pain and intensity of transition over, women can catch their breath and get ready for the purposeful work of pushing their babies out.
If, instead of receiving encouragement and support during transition, a woman is told not to cry or is offered other options, she may miss out on the relief and satisfaction that waits on the other side of safely expressing her emotions through tears. Anxiety, fear, and other pent up emotions that are not let out cause more physical pain, as well. This is often the point where women face decisions that will affect how their babies are born. This is a very tender period for the mother. Practice in supporting a woman in this delicate phase is essential. Not only does it reduce her risk of interventions, it increases her odds of reflecting positively on the birth experience.
Just like transition, crying is temporary. It’s simply a part of the process.
Seeking out the support of a doula is an excellent idea if you fall into the category of women who struggle to cry as a way of dealing with pent up emotions or who lack needed support. Trained to listen non-judgmentally, provide encouragement and a feeling of safety, doulas know the difference that positive support makes possible.
For information about resources in the area or to inquire about our services, please contact us.