So would you hire a photographer to capture the moment you give birth It's a growing trend, but are there some things best kept private
00:41 GMT, 17 July 2012
Jessica Roberts was sitting in a cafe with her toddler daughter and friend when her phone buzzed with a text. Seconds later, she’d dumped her daughter on her companion and was rushing to hospital to attend the birth of Shelley Brinkley’s third child, praying she’d get there on time.
Jessica isn’t a midwife or doctor. Nor is she Shelley’s sister or even a close friend. She is actually a birth photographer, part of a small but growing number of professionals dedicated to capturing the very first moments of life, recording the birth story with the same attention to detail as they would do a wedding (albeit with less hair and make-up).
The advent of birth photography has prompted some to argue that there is now little in life — however intimate — too private to share with the world.
Intimate: Juliet Hollingsworth hired photographer Kate Griffin to capture the birth of her daughter Ezra
Picture perfect: Juliet is photographed cradling her newborn baby
Others argue that taking pictures of such a momentous event gives parents the opportunity to relive one of the most special moments of their lives.
It’s certainly not a decision Shelley regrets. Jessica arrived at Ipswich Hospital just as Shelley, 30, was starting to push at 11.30am on February 9, 2011.
Camera loaded, she caught every crucial moment; from the baby emerging to the cord being cut and the baby being wrapped in a towel and placed on Shelley’s chest.
As well as the birth itself, Jessica captured husband Guy stroking Shelley’s hair during labour and his look of sheer wonderment at the first sight of his daughter Elena, now 17 months old. The images are poignant, dramatic and intimate.
Naturally, there were tears, some even shed by Jessica, who was then 37 weeks’ pregnant with her second child.
‘I was in awe as she made it look so easy,’ says Jessica, who started out as a pregnancy photographer.
Growing trend: Juliet, pictured with Ezra, one, says she hardly noticed the photographer was there
She was in and out of the hospital room within 50 minutes. And although she had to climb on a chair at one point to get flattering overhead shots of mother and baby, Jessica, who refrained from using a flash to minimise intrusion, insists she was a mere fly on the wall documenting the drama of the birth.
‘I was as quiet and unobtrusive as possible, making sure I was out of the way of the midwives and not part of the birth itself,’ says Jessica. It comes as no surprise to hear that this trend for push, camera, action hails from the U.S., where birth photographers are quickly becoming as popular as wedding photographers.
In Britain, the demand for birth photography is slowly growing, with around a dozen people offering the service nationwide — usually as an optional addition to their pregnancy and newborn package.
So why are parents choosing to photograph a traditionally private — not to mention painful — moment
Shelley, an antenatal teacher from Ipswich, Suffolk, who had all three of her pregnancies photographed by Jessica, was curious to see the birth of Elena played out in full.
Shelley, also mother to daughter Piper, four, and son Charlie, 22 months, recalls: ‘During my pregnancy shoot, Jessica was talking about birth photography and how big it was in the U.S.
'I loved the idea and asked if she’d do mine. As the person giving birth, you don’t get to see anything as you’re so caught up in the moment.’
Jessica was keen but apprehensive. ‘She’d never done it before but said yes, providing she could make it,’ says Shelley. ‘I’d had very quick births with my previous two children so there was always that question of whether she’d get there in time.’
Her husband Guy, 31, agreed, especially as Shelley’s previous two births had gone so smoothly.
Along with Guy, Jessica was noted as a birth partner on the birth plan. But it was only when Shelley arrived at the hospital already in labour that she asked the leading midwife if it would be OK to have the photographer there.
‘She had no problem with it as long as no photos were taken of her and the team,’ says Shelley.
‘She was amazed when she saw some of the pictures afterwards on the camera though. She said they were lovely and not what she expected.’
As Shelley anticipated, the birth, at four-and-a-half hours, was quick. But she was thrilled Jessica was there for the key moments.
She now has two slideshows: a PG-rated version that gets shown to friends and family and excludes the more graphic shots; and another version for her and Guy which includes the birth itself.
'They really are amazing': Shelley Brinkley had the birth of her daughter Elena photographed and says the pictures make her feel more connected to her baby
'We keep a full set of prints in a drawer by our bed. Whenever I look at them, I feel so emotional,' says Shelley
‘We keep a full set of prints in a drawer by our bed and whenever I look at them, I feel so emotional and connected to Elena,’ says Shelley. ‘There’s so much in them I would never have known about, like the look on Guy’s face, or how he helped me through it. They really are amazing.’
Being her first birth shoot and an important addition to her portfolio, Jessica didn’t charge Shelley.
But other birth photographers, such as Kate Griffin, based in Guildford, Surrey, charge from 950 for a DVD slideshow plus high-resolution images a couple can print, to 2,250 for the full package which includes a bespoke, handmade album, no matter how long the labour.
Kate, 33, who has photographed three births so far and is not a mother herself, was blown away by her first birth in October 2011.
‘I just couldn’t believe what the female body could do,’ she says.
Mother and daughter: Shelly with her baby girl Elena
‘I was so gobsmacked that the camera slid from my eyes and I was just standing there, open-mouthed. It was only a midwife whispering: ‘Kate, Kate, your camera’ that made me switch back into professional mode and start taking pictures.’
Inspired by the Channel 4 TV programme One Born Every Minute, Kate realised there was a huge gap in the market for birth photography.
‘I fell in love with the TV show because it captured real, authentic emotion at such a momentous, life-changing event,’ says Kate.
‘While there were lots of photographers, including me, offering pregnancy and newborn photography, nobody discussed capturing the birth. Then I met my first client, Juliet, at a networking event and when I broached the idea with her, she loved it.’
The photos from that first birth shoot on October 11 last year now adorn the home of parents Juliet Hollingsworth, 29, and Matthew Nutter, 34.
Five hang proudly on a wall in their lounge and 28 form a collage in the bedroom. None of them features graphic pictures out of respect for visiting family and friends. Juliet, a hypnotherapist, from Farnham, Surrey, met Kate when she was four months’ pregnant and they discussed her documenting the birth.
‘I’d previously been a birth partner at a friend’s birth and had taken pictures for her and thought it was such a lovely thing to have afterwards to remember and share,’ says Juliet.
Matthew, her partner of seven years and a golf club manager, was used to her ‘different ideas’ and happily went along with it.
Kate accompanied Juliet on a couple of midwife appointments with the Surrey home birth team to get familiar with the protocol of a water birth and arrived, thanks to a call from Matthew, in plenty of time to see their daughter Ezra born.
‘I hardly noticed Kate was there during the birth as it was all so quiet and calm,’ says Juliet. ‘It was only afterwards when Ezra was lying on me on the sofa, skin to skin, that I was aware she was there, taking photos.
'I didn’t look in the mirror or check how I looked. She just took them as we were — although I am glad now they’re in flattering black and white.’
'It was so beautiful': Klaire Clymo and her boyfriend Matt pictured during the birth their son Jacob
Proud parents: 'I love watching the look on Matt's face. Because I was in my zone, I never took in the loving looks and gentle touches he gave me throughout,' says Klaire
Not all births go so smoothly. Kate’s last birth involved nine days of warning calls and texts from the expectant mother and Kate even had to accompany the couple in their car on a false alarm visit to hospital.
‘It was very intense, especially when she went into proper labour and had to forego a water birth so she could have an epidural,’ recalls Kate.
‘But there was a priceless moment when her waters broke and shot across the room and her husband and everyone just laughed. I caught it all on camera.’
On the day itself, Kate ended up shooting from 6pm until an hour after the baby was born at 2am — eight hours in total. ‘It was exhausting, but the pictures were great,’ she says.
Certainly, this gritty documentation of labour by a skilled photographer taken in flattering black and white has an advantage over the clumsy newborn shots usually snapped by a proud new dad. But doesn’t it interfere with the pivotal moment that a couple meet their new baby
Mummy's boy: Klaire with baby Jacob, now nine-months-old
Birth photographer Rebecca Caroline, owner of Bambino Art photography in Cornwall, thinks not.
‘We’re part of a generation that celebrates pregnancy, proudly showing off our bumps instead of hiding under big smocks. Birth, too, is becoming less taboo,’ she says.
‘Giving birth is the most amazing day of your life, on a par, or even more important than your wedding day. Why wouldn’t you want that photographed’
The 29-year-old mother-of-four from Truro, Cornwall, is one of the few women to have a Caesarean birth documented in photographs.
Diagnosed with pre-eclampsia — a serious complication that includes high blood pressure — during her first pregnancy, Rebecca ended up having her eldest son, Bodie, by emergency Caesarean section at 34 weeks, describing the birth as ‘horrific, like an out-of-body experience’.
Determined to make her next birth a more positive event, she asked her husband James, 33, also a photographer, to take pictures of the Caesarean from beginning to end. ‘I wanted to see it and feel like I was a part of it unlike the first birth,’ she says.
The operation took place at the Royal Cornwall Hospital on December 3, 2004 and witnessing her son, Finn, being lifted out of her body made a huge difference to Rebecca.
‘For the first time, I could see my child being born and immediately felt connected to the experience,’ she says. While others might find this horrifying, the experience inspired Rebecca to become a photographer and in the past two years she’s photographed five births.
‘I treat it like a story and take photos of every detail to capture the atmosphere of the day — the front door, rain against the window, hospital monitors, the partner filling up the birth pool, everything,’ she says. ‘You get a high from it and I cry every time.’
All her clients want shots of everything — from all angles — then choose which pictures they want to delete, keep private and share.
And parents who want to use a birth photographer will usually be supported by their midwife. Jacque Gerrard, director for England at the Royal College of Midwives, said: ‘Our focus will always be on the mum and the baby and making sure they are safe and healthy.
'If the mother is comfortable with the photographer being present at the birth then most midwives should be supportive of this, as we like to support a woman’s choice surrounding her birth plan.
‘However, it is possible that the photographer may be a distraction during the birth, so it is crucial that the presence of a photographer is discussed prior to the birth at antenatal appointments.
‘It is certainly not something that can just happen on the day — everything must be expected and planned so the midwife can focus solely on the mother and baby.’
Klaire Clymo, 27, from Redruth, in Cornwall, booked Rebecca as her birth photographer when she was six months’ pregnant. ‘I was at my local birth group and Rebecca had photographed the birth of another member who’d just had a baby and wanted to show us the slideshow,’ says Klaire.
‘It was the shortened version with nothing graphic — just the moments leading up to and after the delivery. It was so beautiful.’
When she spoke to her boyfriend Matt, 33, a mechanical technician in the RAF, about doing the same at their birth, he wasn’t so sure.
‘He didn’t really understand the point,’ says Klaire, who had her first son Jacob in a birthing pool at home on October 27, 2011, after a relatively smooth seven-hour labour.
‘It was only seeing the slideshow himself that convinced him how special it was and how we’d always have the amazing moment when we met our child captured for all time.’
She paid 250 for the slideshow and watches it about once a month. ‘I pop it on and cry happy tears, remembering that amazing day,’ she says.
‘I love watching the look on Matt’s face. Because I was in my zone, I never took in the loving looks and gentle touches he gave me throughout.
‘My favourite photo is when my son is nearly born and I’m smiling — that feeling of pure exhilaration comes back to me every time I watch it.’