While having someone photograph you during both one of the most intimate and painful experiences of your life is something most people would not wish for, some women are paying thousands for professional photographers to capture the birth of their children.
Kate Griffin is a photographer from Guildford who ventured into the world of birth photography five years ago, and has since captured 10 births on camera.
The 37-year-old says the preparation for birth photography usually starts when the mother is around three months pregnant.
“Before booking, I believe that it is vital that people get to meet me and decide whether I’m the right person to have with them during such an intensely intimate experience,” she tells The Independent.
If the plan goes ahead, Griffin then conducts two more meetings before the birth. “By the time I walk into the labour room, I want them to feel I’m a friend rather than a stranger,” she says adding that she has never felt like she was intruding.
Despite the close bond Griffin wants to form with the expectant parents, she says it is important they know they are in control of the entire process and can change their mind at any time if they feel overwhelmed.
“I let them know they are fully in control and can tell me at any point to take a break or stop photographing them, although this has never happened. It’s important they feel in control and not obliged by any agreement because people never know exactly how they are going to respond to being in labour.”
She says the feedback from couples is they generally tend to forget she is there, which perhaps is unsurprising given the gravitas of the life moment they are about to experience. For Griffin, she wants it to be that way and would rather be “a fly on the wall capturing the story, not become part of it”.
When the big day arrives, Griffin is on standby 24 hours a day from two weeks before to two weeks after the due date. This is included in the price for a ‘birth story service’ which is £1,250, however she has had people pay more than £2,500 after the costs of digital images and albums are factored in.
So why do people pay this service? Griffin believes it just comes down to parents wanting to capture the memories and says she has noticed a steady increase in people wanting to have their births pictured.
“I’m always intrigued by what makes people make the first step in booking a birth photographer and universally it’s been because they recognise they are going through something incredible, that will change their lives forever. They want that story captured with skill and a steady hand – they don’t want to rely on a partner to contain their emotions and create images in very challenging situations.
“And most importantly I’m told they want to hold on to those 'firsts' - the first cuddle with your newborn is a magical moment. I can also hand back to the mum images that show just how much she is championed and loved by her partner – they get to see how they were looked at and held and cooled during labour. And even if it all goes by in a blur, if they’ve been labouring for hours, or sometimes days, they get to a point of exhaustion which means the memories can slip away. I get to give all of that back to them, all of the effort, the work, the pain and ultimately the joy.”
For a woman, childbirth can be intensely private and intimate, however Griffin says most couples have been fine about capturing the entire experience.
“I always chat about whether a woman wants me to photograph the business end of things – almost all do, a couple didn’t and it’s always their choice. I can tell you I was floored when I saw my first placenta – that’s something you never forget. It is never fun to see people in prolonged pain, but I am lucky to get to watch the amazing people of the NHS whose care and expertise means they are in very safe hands.”
Labour can be unpredictable as well as emotionally and physically traumatic. And when these moments happen, the atmosphere in the hospital ward can change very quickly.
Jo Leftwich, also from Guildford was photographed by Griffin during the birth of her third child where she ended up having to have a crash caesarean after experiencing complications.
“The atmosphere changed immediately and it became very real, very fast,” Griffin said. “The midwife had to jump up on to the bed and held her hand where it was to keep the baby’s head up and off the cord. Within a minute, they were being rushed down the hall for a crash caesarean and I was left alone in the room with Dad. I’d put my camera down and we just sat silent for a short while. I asked him whether he would like to leave, to stay and keep him company but not shoot, or to keep working. He asked that I stay and capture everything that happened because he knew his partner would be devastated to miss all those immediate moments after the baby arrived given that she would be under general anaesthetic.”
Fortunately, a healthy baby Leo were delivered and Ms Leftwich credits Griffin’s photography with being a form of therapy after her experience.
“[The photographs] really are a major part of the reason I am not traumatised by the birth […] I think that is one of the unconsidered angles of birth photography, that in the event you have a birth like mine the photographs act as an unbelievable form of therapy. They are not traumatic photos, they are beautiful and tell a story and managed to make it something okay again for me,” she said.
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