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How my photograph inspired thousands of mothers to share their stories of C-section childbirth

Some said they had been judged for not having a 'natural' birth. Others reported the 'sexual' and 'distasteful' image. Many said they could finally feel proud and thankful for the scar that saved their baby's life

Helen Aller
Tuesday 18 August 2015 11:51 BST
(Helen Aller)

Most expectant mothers know the story... you have an idea in your head of how the birth of your child will be, as natural as possible, calm, and at the end of it you will lay there with your new bundle wrapped on you, snuggled to your skin whilst you marvel at the experience that is childbirth.

As a family photographer and mother of two beautiful children and expecting the imminent arrival of my third in a matter of weeks, it was inevitable that whilst photographing a maternity client we would discuss our feelings towards our impending labours. It was during this conversation that the mum to be and I admitted to being terrified of the prospect of a Caesarean. The mum was adamant she did not want one.

A few weeks later in labour, things took a turn and she had no choice but to have an emergency C-section to save the lives of both her and her child. On arrival home from the hospital three days later, she contacted me to ask me to come over and take a few photos for her. She wanted something that showed she had faced the fear of her C-section and that she had come through it with her healthy newborn.

The mum, who wishes to remain anonymous, had an idea for an image but wasn't sure whether to place fabric over her to keep her modest, or to go bare. She decided she wanted the image to be raw and out there. The actual image was shot in just a few minutes; baby was curled up sleeping from the previous image setup, so after mum laid down, baby was placed directly onto her and dad was there to lift baby off again before any pain could be caused to the mum.

I was never going to share this image, it was for mum. But, after showing her the final version she said she was happy for it to be shared to my Facebook page. After some encouragement from a photography group I posted the image. My posts are usually seen by no more than 100 people, but the next morning it had been seen by 20,000. It has now been seen by 12.5 million people worldwide. Thousands have shared their stories.

The response has been incredible. I never could of imagined one single image could reach so far and wide and have such an impact. The majority of people who have responded have been supportive with messages such as 'for the first time I can look at my scar and feel proud'. Others have called the image powerful and inspiring.

However the image has caused a fair amount of controversy. Some people claim it to be sexually explicit, pornographic and distasteful (both commenting and emailing me privately to tell me so), and others reported the image on Facebook. The negative have very much been in the minority though. Personally, I like to see the opinions both good and bad, art is subjective and if it didn't stir feelings in the viewer it would be just another photo.

But the truth is it is more than just an image. It has become a focal point for people to share their own experiences - good and bad - of childbirth and, in particular, Caesarean sections. I was shocked and saddened to read the stories and messages from women around the world who felt they had failed somehow because they had gave birth by C-section. These women are strong and brave, and they did what they could to give their child the best start in life - that is what makes them a mother, not how it was done.

I think because the image is anonymous and there are no distinguishing features, any woman who has been through the same can picture herself and relate to it. I feel privileged that they have shared their stories, and supported each other though an experience that is too often overlooked.

The comments which show why the photo had such an impact:

"I had a C-section and felt so guilty, like I had failed and hadn't technically "given birth" to my son. It took a long while to get through the depression that followed. This photo is absolutely stunning and a beautiful symbol of the magic of new life."

"Every time I see my wife's scar I smile because it reminds me of how lucky we are to have 3 beautiful kids and how grateful I am to have my wife with me to enjoy watching them grow up."

"I had to have an emergency c-section with my first. It took a long time to come to terms with it, I read too many comments on stupid blogs...saying that women like me hadn't given birth, we'd had our babies surgically removed, and other bull**** like we don't bond with our babies as well as women who'd had natural births."

"I have had 2 cesareans. My oldest son's birth being an emergency due to preeclampsia. I was also terrified, but if it wasn't for my doctor and her staff acting as they did one or both of our lives could have ended. I'm not a huge fan of having a scar across my lower abdomen, but I've learned to embrace it because that is where MY babies came from!"

"Laughing at the woman who said she wouldn't have any of her children that close to her genitalia...really? Did the stork bring yours?"

"Wish I had seen something like this when my
babe was a babe.. It would have made me feel so much better about my emergency C/section."

"I'm pregnant with my first baby and I'm absolutely terrified of having to have a C-section. After seeing this beautiful photo, it brought me so much comfort."

"Both mum and bubs are alive, safe, healthy...
What could possibly be "wrong" or distasteful about this image?"

"I find this stunning. I had 3 babies by c-section, lost one of my twins at the birth. I am EVERY BIT their mother, and I HAVE THE SCAR TO PROVE IT!!! Thank you for sharing such a vulnerable, BEAUTIFUL image!!!"

"There is absolutely nothing about this image worth reporting. Birth, scars, a new baby and a woman's body are all NORMAL parts of life. Beautiful photo and a cherished memory for this mother and child."

"At first I had to admit, I was a bit surprised by the picture. But, then as I continued to look at the precious baby, I focused more on the beauty and sheer amazement of how incredible our bodies are to give life to these little gifts."

"I can't even begin to explain how beautiful I find this image or the whirl of emotion that has been stirred within me, but it has reduced me tears. Not for sad reasons but because it, like my scar, reminds me how incredibly lucky I am to be here and have three beautiful, healthy children."

Helen is a photographer specialising in Newborn & Maternity photography

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