Thinking about sharing your birth photographs with friends, family, on social media, hanging them up in your foyer, perhaps printing them in a coffee table book for home visitors to peruse?
Here are a few worthwhile things to consider first.
The Greater Good
We see death all the time in realistic portrayals, animation, in the news. Life isn’t the opposite of death — birth is.
How usual is it to see birth? For those entrenched in the birthing community, it’s an everyday sight. But for the birth layman, it might as well be an alien experience — often unfairly framed by the expectation of terror and the promise of physical and sexual destruction.
So outside of parenting groups and motherhood circles where these photos run in high circulation, we get the general sense that the birth portrait is an undignified one. Apparently there is “a time and a place” for things like birth (though history proves birth happens often without heeding our preferences for when or where).
This is why it’s important to normalize the image of birth.
While I awaited my babies’ earthside arrivals, I found vast inspiration in hundreds of birth photos published online and in books. These were my models and muses. I saw there was not one way to birth, not one place to birth, not one kind of woman who gives birth.
(To the brave women who gave others like me a peek into your labor and birth journeys, thank you immensely; you showed me not only that I could do this, but that I wanted to do this).
Before you share those photos, breathe for a minute. Contemplate whether this is the best time.
Are you hormonal? Will you react quite sensitively if someone makes a rude or disapproving comment? Are you pulling the trigger too fast?
Do you think it’s possible that you’d make a different choice in a few weeks, when you’re out of the immediate birth glow and feeling less open and all-embracing?
Contrarily, is it possible you’d have preferred to share your glorious birthing day photos when the occasion was still fresh and raw with excitement? Delaying until the interest and congratulations have died down means you may receive little in the way of fanfare (hello, sting of disappointment!).
Social media regularly censors photos of the birth process. YouTube requires a viewer to be over 18 years old to watch most birth videos due to their “graphic nature,” yet soft pornography is so frequently shown in general audience ads that we hardly notice it.
Regardless of how you feel about media’s opinion of birth images, how will you feel if your beautiful, innocent, empowering photos are censored or flagged as inappropriate or worse?
Maybe a notification of someone’s hyper-offended ‘report’ would be enough to sour your grapes. It could ruin your week to feel violated, attacked, or confused. Or maybe you’d just roll your eyes and move on. Only you know which way your reaction compass tends to point.
Are you private or modest? I’ve found these qualities mean a little something different to everyone.
Thankfully many birth photographers capture a variety of different kinds of photos including those that avoid full nudity, graphic views, or anything some mothers feel uncomfortable saving on camera storage, much less sharing outside the family.
My own birth events were explicitly invite-only. My midwife wasn’t permitted to bring a student and neither was my doula. For us it was necessary hands on deck only.
You see, I’m a private person… yet I don’t mind sharing my feelings about birth, despite its intimacy. Emotions are shared in the collective human subconsciousness after all. So I made my recent birth story available for whoever wished to read it.
I’m also a modest person… yet I don’t mind my body being seen as it is, because I believe we all have bodies that are inherently free from shamefulness. So I included my birth photos in that story, in my various states of dress and undress.
That is birth in all its honesty, and that is birth in all its modesty — the actual unfolding of labor and birth is not an exhibitionist phenomenon.
Who Else Is Affected
Birth doesn’t exist in a vacuum; no birth is an island. Your photographs may trigger, embarrass, and shock. They also have the potential to inspire, comfort, and delight.
I had to consider whether my children would mind. Indeed they were my births, but they were their births too. How can you predict what your children will think about others seeing some of their birth photos? Without a crystal ball, I think you have to go with your heart on this one.
You can also investigate. Discover what others think about seeing their own birth photos. Find out how grown-ups feel as well as children, teenagers, and young adults. The type of household in which they grew up will certainly influence their opinion. Do you notice that most have positive feelings or negative ones? Is it a big deal or no big deal? A source of enchanting sentimentality or one of distressing awkwardness?
Then I had to consider whether my husband would mind. Indeed they were my births, but he was there working, holding space, actively supporting. Partners and others present at the birth can be simply asked about their comfort level with appearing in photos.
I have a few regrets about my birth photos. I regret not taking enough the first time (we were a little busy!). I don’t personally have regrets about sharing them, though.
Do you think you might? Why?
It’s important to understand your own reasoning for sharing photos, or if you feel undecided. Ask yourself:
- Do you want others to partake in your pride, your joy?
- Do you hope for validation?
- Will sharing help you heal from a traumatic delivery?
- Do you plan to use the photos for educational or advocacy purposes?
- Do you feel unduly obligated or pressured to share them?
In any case, don’t forget: you are the only one who experienced every dimension of birthing your baby. When gazing upon the photos, you are only one who will have first-person flashbacks to your baby being pushed, pulled, or breathed out.
An outsider can imagine taking on labor like you did, splitting from two people to one like you did — but they can only imagine, and this is their limitation.
Here’s where I stand: These photographs are not my births. They’re a representation of the births. Filtered through a lens, caught by the eye of a professional photographer and edited for light balance and more, I assume. No photograph can possibly grant them full justice. These photographs are certainly art, but not living art.
They are not me, they are photographs of me. It’s the closest a viewer can ever get to these births, and no matter how focused the photo, how detailed the story captioned with it, the significance of these moments forever remain only within me.
No one else will look upon your birth photos and see exactly what you do.
If you have any concerns about possible regret or disappointment, consider first sending a few favorites only to trusted individuals. If you still feel like your heart might explode if you don’t give your whole tribe a snapshot of one of the most beautiful, powerful moments of your life, then go ahead — flaunt that photo reel (us birth junkies will be first in line with popcorn!).