I am a firm believer that birth is beautiful, which makes my job of documenting birth something I truly enjoy. But I often contemplate what the effect the increase in popularity has had in terms of expectations women carry for their births. For while birth is always beautiful, the beauty is always different.
Some women meet their baby and are overcome by emotion and cry tears of love while smiling and embracing their healthy baby. And it is so, so beautiful; but that is not every birth. Some women birth their babies and wince in lingering pain while they take in this huge event that just happened. Some women meet their babies that come out with abnormalities that they were not expecting and fear and worry register on the faces of those in the room. Some women lose blood and are not able to register what just happened at all. Some babies are born and have a hard time transitioning and require a little help, and other babies need a lot. Some women don't get to embrace their baby for hours, days. Some women breathe their babies down so effortlessly that the novice may not even recognize they are pushing, while others bear down with all their might and emphasize their double chins while veins pop out of their forehead and capillaries burst in their eyes. And I can assure you that each and every single one of these births were so, so impossibly beautiful - not just the ones that went according to plan.
Birth is beautiful, but it is also unpredictable. And as I see more and more births I worry that birth photographers, myself absolutely included, walk a dangerous line. It is our job to document the journey of birth. The labor, the delivery, and postpartum - however it unfolds. But sometimes it's hard. When things start to get hairy there is such a fine balance between wanting to give everyone the comfort to freely express the intense emotions or administer interventions without holding back because they are worrying how those moments will look on camera, and wanting to tell the full, true story of the birth. I have gone home after births multiple times and edited through tears. Did I capture enough? Should I not have captured so much? Will this help the family heal or be a painful reminder of a day that didn't go as planned?
The births that are often shared, the births that often go viral, are the easy labor followed by emotional finale of meeting baby. And it effects our expectations. 'This is how birth looks' or worse, 'this is how birth should look' we think. But really, this is how birth can look, but it can look many other ways too. Birth should be respected, always. And respect is the only universal should that need be placed upon the event. There is always beauty to be found, even when it's framed with pain. And just because those images aren't always shared does not mean that they do not exist or that they are any less beautiful than the ones we most commonly see.
Birth work in any capacity is not for the faint of heart. And it comes with great responsibility to both the families you are documenting and the community you are sharing with. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly and one that I do not for an instant pretend to have mastered, but one I am constantly aware of.