is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Meg and her career taking photos of women giving birth.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hi! I’m Meg. I’m a wedding and lifestyle photographer based in Northern California and New York. I currently live in California, and in a few short months I’ll be getting married and moving to Alabama where my fiance lives. My loves include travel, coffee shops, books and of course, reading in a coffee shop while I’m traveling!
You’ve been working as a photographer for a while. How did you get into birth photography?
I was first introduced to birth photography when my sister-in-law asked me to photograph the birth of her first daughter. Up until then I had no idea that that was a thing.At the time I was terrified of childbirth and hospitals, but I wanted to do this for my sister-in-law. It was strange at first; until then I don’t think she had even changed in front of me and now I’d be seeing her practically naked. To my surprise, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was amazing. Childbirth is truly a miracle. After that I was hooked.
Obviously, births can be stressful, messy, and they involve a lot of blood/hair/etc. How do you work around the less-aesthetically appealing aspects of birth? DO you work around them?
I actually don’t avoid it. I feel that everything, both the “ugly” and beautiful, are part of the story of childbirth. You can’t really share a birth story without the tears or the blood or the pain. It just wouldn’t be real. I once read that a woman’s body emits a chemical that makes women forget the pain of childbirth. Knowing that I try to document the details and moments of the experience as accurately as possible.
When you’re talking to a client pre-birth, do you talk about what they DON’T want on film?
I do. Usually it’s the “Do you want pictures of your vagina or not?” Some mothers do actually want the crowning shots. And actually those are some of the most amazing pictures.
From a health/hygienic perspective, how do you prepare to enter the birthing room?
I don’t. Nowadays anybody the parents want can be in the room. The labor room is not the sterile kind of room that babies were born back when our parents were having babies. The only people wearing scrubs are the nurses and doctors.
Labor can last for hoooouuurs. How long do you shoot? At what point in the labor do you usually join your clients?
I make sure mothers keep me up to date about the length of the interval of their contractions, how much they’re dilated and whether or not their water’s been broken. When she goes into labor that’s when I get my gear together and cancel any plans I may have had. When a mother leaves for the hospital that’s when I (wake up sometimes and) get ready to leave for the hospital.I’ve been at the hospital for a range of 3-24 hours. I’ve noticed that the length of laboring at the hospital depends on the staff at the hospital; most of the “long” labors have been mothers who have an epidural and are on pitocin and have nurses who aren’t properly monitoring the baby/mom.
Do your clients share these images on social media? If so, how have others reacted to that? Have any of them gotten a “TMI!” reaction?
My clients do share these images. I share the births as well. I don’t post any graphic images. People’s reactions are usually tears, actually. It’s really quite amazing.
How do other photographers react when you tell them what you shoot?
Shock. Admiration. More shock. Then there are usually a flurry of questions.
How does photographing a birth compare to a wedding or an engagement?
Births are a lot more emotional. You’re in a situation that involves physical pain, health risks and legitimate fears, and ultimately a lot of joy. When it comes to births, it’s more than just a happy moment… it’s life changing.
And, births are incredibly unpredictable. Each labor is going to be different from woman to woman. It doesn’t matter what kind of labor your mom had or even what labor you had for your first child, it could all be harder or easier or it could be c-section. You never really know, and there’s not a lot of ways to predict what it’ll be like.
What has surprised you about this?
How much I love it. I genuinely love it. If I could only photograph one thing for the rest of my life it would be births.
What have you learned from your job that any of us could apply to our daily lives?
Don’t take anything for granted. After witnessing so many births, I quickly realized how precious it is to have a healthy baby, not all families are that lucky.