“Believers, look up – take courage. The angels are nearer than you think.”
You are about to meet Svenja and Jason, and witness one of the happiest days of their lives.
I met these two amazing souls on the darkest, most umimaginable day of their lives. I was called to a Heartfelt session in January 2015 to photograph a beautiful little baby girl. A little girl who had never taken her first breath. That afternoon I photographed Svenja, Jason, and their stillborn daughter, Luna.
As sometimes happens when you meet people in the most raw moments, we kept in touch, became friends. You understand a part of them that many people don’t, or cant, and there is a comfort in that.
After not long Svenja was pregnant again, growing a new life- a life that would provide the ultimate test of her faith. Her faith in her body, in birth, and in life itself.
Being asked to photograph the arrival of this little soul was an honour i didn’t need to think twice about. To witness this birth and watch the journey that this beautiful couple went through to bring their rainbow baby boy earthside is something i will never forget. Every birth requires parents to dig deep into themselves, to find strength, courage they may not have known existed.
The depth of this journey at times, i’m sure, felt bottomless. But surrounded by an incredible team of experienced midwives who held the space for Svenja and Jason to go where they needed to go, little Arlo found his way out into the world, straight into his daddy’s hands. Never has a baby’s first cry meant quite so much.
I thank my beautiful friends and clients for their willingness to share this story… and i hope it helps to show some other families who may be in the depths of their pain, that sometimes, rainbows really do come true.
I see a lot of couples in their most vulnerable, cracked open moments. Where the depth of their relationship is ploughed to it’s base, unveiling their union at its most raw, with all of it’s superficialities peeled away.
To me, the beauty in these moments can be breathtaking.
This beautiful birth is such a divine example of that beauty- the intensity of the love between these two as they birthed their baby together made my heart skip many a beat…
A gorgeous family, at home on a chilly Sunday evening. Their birth team trickle in as it becomes apparent this babe is on it’s way. Mum attempts to put her scrumptious toddler to bed, knowing it is the last bedtime he will be an only child, but of course he knows there is something happening and there is no way he is sleeping. But that’s ok, a close family friend is there to give him all the attention he needs. Quite simply, that involves cars, driving meticulously on any available surface. She is up to the job.
The pool is filled, heartrates checked. Labour takes more and more of her focus, and as she slips into the warm water the room draws quiet. She is calm, she is working hard. And she is ok. Her lover takes care of her with massage, water and tenderness.
Then, late in the evening, her labour changes. We are all roused from our slightly sleepy state that is often induced when in the presence of a calm, labouring woman. The babe is closer.
A couple of magnificent, involuntary howls from mum tell of the immanent arrival… dad gets ready to catch his second born while the midwife, calm and quiet, is there in case he needs a hand.
A beautiful baby girl swims out into her fathers hands and through his tears he lifts her onto her mothers chest.
“A girl. We got a girl!”
Kisses. Tears. Cars get put down, briefly, so brother can meet his sister.
A beer is cracked, cuddles are had, phone calls made, more tears are shed.
This, is homebirth.
~You can have a squiz at this family’s pregnancy photos here~
~The beautiful midwife from this birth can be found here~
Homebirths are a special kind of beautiful to photograph… the beauty of people being in their own space, with all of their comforts around them. Lounges to relax on, mugs of tea on constant rotation, children wandering in an out, candles, music, fresh air… and in the midst of it all, a glorious birthing woman.
A lot of people have reservations about homebirth. What if something goes wrong?
What i think a lot of people can’t quite grasp is just how equipped homebirth midwives are. Not only do they carry medical equipment for emergencies, the nature of their ongoing relationship of one-to-one care with a woman means they are very in tune with what is going on in the birthing mother both physically and psychologically, and have an incredible ability to pick up on issues which may arise, long before they become a problem.
If you’ve followed my work or flicked through my galleries, you will recognise this birthing goddess below. This is the forth homebirth of Emma Isaacs, the last two of which i have photographed. Emma’s third birth was possibly the calmest birth i have ever witnessed- that woman knows her way around serenely pushing a baby out of her vagina. But, of course, no two births are ever the same and Emma’s fourth birth cemented that rule. This birth was mentally and physically tougher than any of her others, and her baby was slow to take a breath when he was born- a scenario which i know is a huge concern of those who fear homebirth. But you know what? Her beautiful midwife Sheryl was well equipped with resuscitation equipment to deal swiftly with what was going on. Whilst still attached to his mother with oxygenated blood pumping into him through his umbilical cord and his loving family gathered around cheering him on, little Ryder let out a squeak to tell us he was ok.
“…if a woman PERCEIVES that she or her baby is threatened with damage; or FEELS horror, fear and helplessness at a procedure…even if this procedure is ROUTINE to medical staff; she can experience that as a traumatic event.
This is REGARDLESS of her level of pain relief at the time.
It is REGARDLESS of the fact that she and her baby leave the hospital alive and physically healthy.”
It is real. It is happening. It is very, very powerful.
A recent Australian study shows that one in three women are reporting a traumatic birth.
One in three. Astonishing, no?
There is a much bigger picture here at play as to why these women are suffering so much as a result of their births- a picture that I’m not here to go into today. Instead I want to tell, and show you, a story of hope.
A dear friend and photography colleague, Anna Todd, and I recently had the honour of holding a birth release ceremony for a very special woman. Just to keep you on your toes, her name is Anna too.
Anna is a single mum to two beautiful boys- Alexander 3yrs, and Mikhail, 3 months. Without going into too many details- Alexander’s birth was a traumatic event for Anna. For Mikhail’s birth she was hoping for a healing experience- ideally, a waterbirth. But Anna ended up with a Caesarean birth under general anaesthetic with Mikhail at 35 weeks, resulting in Mikhail spending time in the special care nursery.
Three months on, Anna was struggling to move on from her birth experiences. She read online about a Birth Release Ceremony and knew this was something that would help her to move forward. She reached out to Anna Todd to ask if this was something she could help with, and Anna asked me, as a doula, to come on board. To hold the ceremony whilst she photographed it.
I love ritual and ceremony. One of my dearest friends, Elizabeth Trevan, is a wedding, baby naming and funeral celebrant and we have an ongoing, endless discussion about about the power of ritual and ceremony. I consulted her about the essential elements of creating this ceremony for Anna and she reminded me that the most important element, is setting a clear intention.
The day of Anna’s ceremony arrived… ahead of time I asked Anna to set her intention for the ceremony (as had i), and to create an altar- similar to a birth altar- with significant and powerful items from her childhood and her mother, from both of her boys births and newborn days, and anything else that she felt especially connected to.
When we arrived I cleansed the space (a sprinkling of witchcraft), and sat down with Anna as she told me her birth stories. What had happened, how she felt, the effect it had on her. Every last detail she wished to share. She told us about her mother, parts of her childhood, her family.
Then we prepared a warm, healing herbal bath and immersed Anna in it to begin the ceremony of release.
I want to let these incredible photographs below by Anna Todd Photography tell you the rest of this story- my words would not be enough.
How very blessed I am to have women like Anna Todd that I work alongside. Women feel very safe and comfortable having Anna in their birthing space, and likewise Anna (mama Anna) felt very comfortable and supported in having Anna Todd capture her Birth Release Ceremony. For her- having the photos to look back on were an important part of the journey.
In the days following the ceremony- the most special thing that Anna reported back to us was that she felt her bonds were stronger not only with baby Mikhail, but with Alexander as well. She was amazed at how powerful the effect of the ceremony was- and of the strong feelings of relief that followed. I put this down to the fact that she was READY to let go of those experiences as she knew they were no longer serving her. She had set the intention and was ready to heal.
If you have experienced a traumatic birth, there are networks out there to help you. You don’t have to carry the burden alone. Talk to a midwife, doula, counsellor, therapist. Check out www.birthtalk.org and their blog, Birth Trauma Truths. Reach out. You too can heal.
I would like to send a huge thanks to mama Anna for giving us her blessing to share her story with you. As with birth photography, these are very special, private and emotional moments. I know she wishes for other mothers to begin their journey of healing, just as she has.
If you feel a Birth Release Ceremony would help you, or someone you know, feel free to contact Anna Todd or myself.
Sometimes, birth doesn’t go as we planned it. As we imagined it. As we hoped with all our hearts it would.
Sometimes we need to dig very deep in our souls to accept that we cannot always control how things unfold, despite all of the preparation we undertook to get there.
This beautiful family has gone on such a journey. Lisa and Peter were doula clients of mine, planning on a natural birth for their first baby. But after 3 nights of labouring like a goddess, Lisa’s babe wasn’t budging. The decision was made to go to theatre. It was not made lightly.
However, this glorious woman refused to lose her sense of humour… that theatre was filled with joy and laughter, and thus, their daughter was born into a room of warmth and love.
It is possible this babe was waiting to share her birthday with her mama… which she now does. Together, they celebrated with a glass of very well earned French fizz.
Birth is an overwhelmingly spectacular event, however it happens.
I recently had the honour of photographing the 29th Homebirth Australia Conference at Brisbane City Hall. The weekend provided a space for like-minded birth workers and the greater homebirth community to share wisdom, evidence, knowledge and stories around their work in, and personal experiences of, the world of homebirth. Keynote speakers came from across the globe and from down the road to impart words of encouragement and inspiration to this small, yet fiercely passionate community.
For those who attended the weekend, those who couldn’t make it, and those tempted to attend next year- I share these photos with you as a reminder and insight into the wonderful weekend it was.
Friday night kicked off the weekend with an intimate audience with keynote speaker, Sara Wickham, and a student midwives circle led by Jane Hardwicke Collings. Sara was presented with a custom made “pinard trumpet”…
Saturday morning hit full swing with a marketplace in the beautiful Brisbane City Hall before the games began…
The Homebirth Australia Conference Goddesses
The fearless Catherine Deveny led the charge as Mistress of Ceremonies and had us howling before we’d finished our first coffee… “putting the ‘bacon’ back into homebirth”.
“Midwifery is the oldest profession on the planet.”
The Red Tent
Homebirth Australia’s Cherie Shuberrie
Handing Down of the Knowledge Ceremony, led by Sonja MacGregor. Inspired by the Blessingway tradition, midwives and student midwives feed beads onto a string to represent the collective knowledge. This is added to at each conference.
Consumer Informed Choice Panel- women telling their stories
Jane Hardwicke Collings and Judy Mort- Students Midwives Circle
Debby Gould & Melissa Brujin of BirthTalk on Birth Trauma – Is Homebirth the Answer
This week I was asked to be a guest on the morning television program Wake Up on Ten to discuss the growing trend of birth photography. Thrilled, I agreed. I was asked to bring one of my clients with me so that together, we could give them both sides of the story- in front, and behind the camera.
There has been a lot of media flying around about birth photography over the past couple of weeks in reaction to a story from the UK’s Daily Mail which stated that 1 in 5 pregnant women would consider getting a birth photographer. As often happens with such an article- particularly with something new like this that challenges people’s comfort levels, there has been very strong feedback from the public both in favour, and vehemently against the concept.
In preparing for the show, I wasn’t sure what angle they were going to take with the interview. Would they be in support of this growing genre? Or would they ask the questions that seem to arise time and time again regarding ‘invasion of privacy’, ‘intrusion on the sacred space’, and the predictable ‘that’s the last bloody thing I’d want anywhere near me while I was going through THAT!’
As it turned out the interview was very positive, the gorgeous hosts were on board and the whole segment gave a beautiful spin on birth photography and showed it in all its glory.
But the preparation for this interview made me think. I needed to clarify my line in my own head about why I strongly believe birth photography is a good thing. What is it that draws women to hire me? And what is it that makes people react so negatively to the concept of this?
Here is the thing. There are aspects of birth photography that I know are not always ideal in the birthing space. After 8 years of working as a doula, one of the biggest lessons I have learned is that the less disturbed labour is, the more straightforward birth will be. And by disturbed I refer to, amongst other things- medical interventions, light, language, shifts in location (e.g. travelling to hospital), and being watched. [You can read Sarah Buckley’s insights on “Undisturbed Birth” here.] Inhibition is bound to stall labour. That is because birth takes part in the primal part of our brain- our primal selves and our self-conscious selves are not friends.
Being watched. Isn’t that exactly what photographing someone is doing? Yes.
Yes it is.
Here’s another thing. The other, equally as important thing I have learned about a labouring woman is that the thing she needs most, is support. She needs to feel safe with her caregivers and her support people. She needs to feel loved and protected and free to be whoever she needs to be to bring her baby into the world.
So… in terms of birth photography- how does this all piece together? How and when does a birth photographer not disturb the balance of a woman’s birthing space? I believe this is where it is ALL about the connection between the woman, and the photographer. Is the photographer a person she connects with, feels safe with, and trusts to be in her sacred space? Does the photographer have knowledge of birth physiology and the delicate dance of hormones that allow a woman to birth her baby? Does the birthing woman feel secure in the knowledge that the photographer is there to support her journey and capture her magnificence? And does the photographer have a heightened sensitivity of the woman’s needs- is she responsible for the energy she brings to that space at all times?
When all of these factors are aligned, the relationship can become one of deep support and respect, which can enrich, rather than disrupt, one of life’s most magical journeys.
Beyond the Birth
Why do women choose to have their births photographed? The most common reasons are to have a record of their baby’s first breath, to capture the moments when her and her partner become parents to this little being, the first moments they meet their new love. But when I deliver birth photographs to families- I get the feeling that the meaning of those photographs goes a whole lot deeper than that. A woman who laboured beautifully at home in water and birthed her baby right where she visualised she would will often look at the photographs in awe of what she achieved and say “MY body did that!”; a woman who hoped for a natural birth but made decisions different to what she had planned will often look at her photos and be reminded that she put in an enormous effort before the journey took a different path and realise that it wasn’t all for nothing; and a woman who has her baby by elective caesarean in theatre will be reminded that going into an operating theatre at any time- even when it is by choice- takes a lot of courage and is an overwhelmingly huge experience.
I believe it helps women OWN their births. And heal their births.
And further again I see that it gives women an insight into the incredible amount of love and support that was surrounding them through their birthing process. To be able to witness the look of concern, and utter awe in her older child’s face, when her own face was buried in the side of a birth pool- riding one of her countless contractions, to see her doulas red thumbs, pressed into the small of her back as rocks side to side on the birth ball, to see her partner keeping guard by her bed, not leaving her for a second while she sleeps after the exhausted decision was made to have an epidural. All of these perspectives that she otherwise, would not have seen.
And on a broader scale- when birth photographs are shown to the greater community- I believe that in a small way, we are clawing back the vision of birth that movies and media have mis-portrayed to us over the years. The image of a woman in theatre, dressed in a blue hospital gown, legs in stirrups, screaming at her partner and being rescued of her baby by a masked doctor. You know the ones. That is the image of birth that society is fed, time and time again. And sure, maybe that picture is sometimes a reality, but it doesn’t have to be.
Birth doesn’t have to be scary and bloody and screamy and dangerous.
Birth is beautiful. Birthing women are magnificent. Every single one of them. And the more we start to see of that, the sooner we will start to heal the wounded image that we as a society carry of birth, and will open ourselves to the deep magnificence it has to offer.
And that is why I photograph births.
(Clearly, a five-minute slot on a morning chat show was not the space unleash these thoughts to the world. But if you would like to watch the Wake Up on TEN segment entitled Capturing The First Breath, you can do so here)
A couple of months back I was thrilled to hear that this birth photograph i took back in March had been selected as a finalist for the Renaissance Photography Prize in London. This competition raises money for the Lavender Trust, an amazing organisation committed to supporting young women with breast cancer.
I was particularly thrilled that they chose a birth photo to be part of the exhibition, as i firmly believe that the more that people see how beautiful and powerful and unscary birth can be, the more that we as a society can start viewing birth as a normal, physiological event not to be feared, but to be embraced and rejoiced.
The exhibition has been on this week in London, with framed prints of the photographs being sold for the Lavender Trust. You can check them out here.
And I thank Rebecca, my divine subject, for inviting me into her birth space and allowing me to share this image with the world. You can see more images from Rebecca’s birth here.
Meet Emma. Homebirthing goddess, producer of delectable daughters (all three of them), business entrepreneur. Basically, Queen Juggler.
This was one of the most peaceful births i have ever attended. Emma laboured gently and silently in the pool, surrounded by her husband, her mother and her midwife, Sheryl Sidery. She smiled as she birthed her baby’s head and slowly lifted her daughter to the surface. Her birth was so swift that her daughters went for a play in the park and came home to a new sister. Her birth was so swift that i only just made it in the door.
Emma is determined to open peoples minds to the possibility that they can ENJOY their births. And OWN their births.
You met Tess, Jeremy and their rambunctious boys in an earlier family post… well here, you’re lucky enough to witness the birth of their third beautiful boy.
Tess’s birth with the twins had been a pretty medicalised event, so all she wanted from this birth was a calm, fuss free entrance into the world for her little one. Well, seek and you shall find… that was exactly what she got. A beautiful, uninterrupted water birth in a birth centre with her lover, her doula and the midwife of her choice.
Tess and Jeremy worked as one body to bring their perfect, cheesy(!) baby into the world.
Simple and exquisite.
Please, do not share, edit or reproduce any images here without permission.
Your respect is requested. In fact, it is a requirement of attendance.
POP! Hear that? That’s my blog cherry. It’s all terribly exciting.
To mark the occasion I would like to share with you a birth that I documented not too long ago…
This birth was a so very special (ok you’ve got me, they all are, every single one of them). It was the first birth that I attended alongside my doula sister, Lucretia McCarthy. What a treat it was to watch her work… she was calm, compassionate, thoughtful and funny. Oh, and she does a mean double-hip squeeze. All the things a doula should be.
But the real treat was witnessing Rebecca, this strong, beautiful woman, and Philippe, her unflinchingly focussed, loving partner, welcome their second little boy into the world. They worked so beautifully together, and between them, Lucretia and their wonderful midwife, the room was filled with a complete trust in the wisdom and ability of Rebecca’s body to birth this baby.
Welcome to the world, Tosh.
I’d like to take a moment here to thank the families, and especially women who give their permission for me to share these extremely personal images with you all. I am in awe of every one of you and eternally grateful.
Please, do not share, edit or reproduce any images here without permission.
Your respect is requested. In fact, it is a requirement of attendance.