The Power of Birth Storytelling
It was somewhere around hour 22 after my waters had released, maybe 9 or 10 hours after active labor had kicked in. This was my 3rd baby – and after an easy breezy second birth I was not expecting it to be this difficult. She just wasnâ€™t moving down, and I was feeling all the pain from the surges in my hips which was a completely new (and unwelcome) sensation. After several hours of blowing through contractions, willing myself not to push (because despite having a strong urge to push I was only 7cm), I was finally complete. Pushing is my least favorite part of labor, and this time it justâ€¦kept going. She wasnâ€™t coming. And somewhere in the haze and the pain, I remembered two things. The first was the voice of Claudia Booker, an absolutely amazing midwife and birthkeeper who passed away from cancer a few years ago. Before she left us, she said these words to me when I interviewed her for my short documentary about midwives:Â
â€œYouâ€™re not alone. Everybody went here, and there are a million women going through it the same moment you are. And youâ€™ll get to that circle of women, youâ€™ll go into that zone where you go when the baby is about to be born, where it feels like thereâ€™s nobody else there but you, but there are – there are millions of women. Millions of people whoâ€™ve had babies who are circling in the universe, waiting to take your hand and invite you up. Just put on the big girl panties and do the work and get the invitation, take it. RSVP. Welcome to the circle.â€
The second thing that entered my consciousness was Katy. Katy was a client of mine in 2017. She was induced for medical reasons on a Monday. Her body wasnâ€™t really into the idea of going into labor and after 4 days of trying literally everything to get labor going, she went home Friday to get some sleep and reset. She came back to the hospital on Saturday and finally went into labor Saturday night. I joined her Sunday morning when she was 7cm – it still took until 4:30 that afternoon until she was complete and ready to push. And then she pushed. And pushed, and pushed, and pushed. In as many different positions as you can possibly do with an epidural. FIVE hours of pushing later – after SIX days of induction – her sweet boy was finally born.
Her strength – her beauty – her power – were BREATHTAKING.
And in 2019, as I pushed, and pushed, and pushed, in every possible position, trying everything to move my baby down – I felt Katy with me. Holding out her hand, with a big giant invitation to join this circle of women yet again. â€œPut on your big girl panties and do the work. RSVP. Welcome to the circle.â€
I had this amazing sense that if Katy could do it, so can I. I can keep going. The strength that propels me isnâ€™t just my own strength. It is the strength of every woman Iâ€™ve ever photographed, and even more – every person who has given birth. Circling, inviting me in.
Inviting YOU in.
Thereâ€™s no doubt about it: birth stories are POWERFUL.Â
Too often, these powerful stories arenâ€™t told – a relic from a different time, when such â€œprivateâ€ things werenâ€™t talked about or shared. Or perhaps they are told in hushed tones and kept mostly to gatherings of women. When a baby is born you can almost guarantee the announcement will go something like this:
â€œBaby was born at 7:30 am. Mom and baby are doing great!â€
And thatâ€™s it. The Everest of giving birth reduced to a quick summary.
As a result it is too easy to go into your first experience of giving birth without really having a picture of what it looks like, what it feels like, what it will BE like.
Enter: the power of birth stories and especially birth imagery.
When I started photographing births more than 10 years ago, it was a relatively new photography niche. When I would introduce myself to the doctor or midwife they would look at me funny and say something like, â€œWait. You were HIRED to take photos??â€ Then they would proceed to tell me all the things I was *not* allowed to photograph. Now, most care providers welcome me into the birth space as a trusted member of the birth team.
At the beginning, I had my own birth experience guiding me, but the births and experiences of others were uncharted territory. Since then Iâ€™ve walked through the birth process with my beautiful clients over 70 times. Every birth has changed me. Every birth is an invitation.
There is perhaps only one other experience on this earth that is as raw, and as human, as birth: and that is death. Bookends to a human life, a dot on the tapestry of human existence. Where we meet ourselves, and where we say goodbye.
Both experiences are too often gone through silently and alone.
Telling our stories – sharing our words, our images, our films – can change that. Itâ€™s about celebrating not just the end result (the â€œmom and baby are doing greatâ€), but the process. Itâ€™s not just the destination, itâ€™s the journey. Itâ€™s the fellowship we experience when we take our place in the circle. Itâ€™s really seeing the power of the birth-giver, holding their experience, remembering their strength. Itâ€™s showing people who havenâ€™t given birth yet what to expect – yes, itâ€™s hard – but itâ€™s beautiful. Itâ€™s worth it.
Birth is a sacred, spiritual, emotional process. It canâ€™t be nailed down with statistics or data. In fact, being too much â€œin your headâ€ during labor can slow down or stall the process. Birth isnâ€™t meant to be analyzed, timed, picked apart. It is meant to be entered into. It is about surrender, and soul, and things that can be felt but not put into words.
Story driven imagery can take those moments where you are not in your head but in your body and your soulâ€¦and give them back to you after your birth. It can give you something to share, to shout from the rooftops.
â€œSee that? *I* did that. My body did that. After that, I know I can do anything.â€
And like Katyâ€¦.it is breathtaking to witness.