Birth Photography: Is It Right For You?

My husband and I hired a doula to have additional support throughout my first pregnancy and childbirth. I felt having a doula empowered me to advocate for myself and my baby in the labor and delivery room. When we found out we were pregnant with Baby 2, we made the decision to not hire a doula. We felt like we knew what to expect, for the most part, and having already been through labor and birth, I felt empowered on my own. One of the amazing services that our doula provided was taking photos (I must mention, however, it is not one of the main ones that doulas offer – some don’t offer it at all). That was something I didn’t want to give up, and we definitely couldn’t do it ourselves. Could you imagine shouting “Take a picture!” at your partner while you pushed out a human? As much as I love bossing my husband around, I could not.  

The photos our doula took were unpolished, raw and graphic, yet beautiful. Though I probably won’t be framing many of them to display in our home, they serve as footage of my most life-altering experience. I needed to have that again, but in a more polished way, so I set forth to find a birth photographer. I asked our family photographer if she knew anyone who specialized in birth photography. To my surprise, she said that if I felt comfortable enough with her, that she could do it. She had wanted to try out that genre anyway. I had confidence in her but my hesitation came when I thought about whether I wanted someone I considered a friend to see my hoohaw in all its birthing gory glory. I got over that pretty quickly when I realized she was someone who had also birthed a child and going through that basically shreds any modesty you can expect of yourself or anyone else.

Having a professional photographer this time around allowed us to capture the emotions that both my husband and I felt during labor and right after birth in those moments that are hard to remember because so much is going on all at once. Is having a birth photographer right for everyone? Probably not, but here are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should hire one:

What moments do you want captured?

I didn’t feel the need to have photos of laboring, as some people might. I was happy to have a couple toward the end right before Baby 2 popped out (literally, his shoulder made a popping sound when he broke his left clavicle upon arrival during his vacuum-assisted birth, and then he proceeded to pee all over the doctor and nurses), and felt having one contraction documented was enough. This meant that I didn’t notify our photographer until I was about 5 centimeters dilated. She was a 20-minute drive away, so this worked out perfectly.

Our photographer took some amazing shots. They are all black and white prints, since color can be a little much for birth photos, so almost all of them are frameable. Some moments I’m grateful that she photographed are:

  • Me gripping the bedrails during a contraction (we are basically warriors during childbirth, and this photo will remind me of that)
  • My husband’s face, full of anticipation, while I was pushing
  • Baby 2’s face after he came out with my doctor and the team of nurses behind him. Thankfully he came out facing toward me (which I think most babies do) so she was able to snap him without much of me (ahem) in the picture. I ended up framing this particular photo and giving it to my doctor. She was really touched and said she would treasure it, as she didn’t have many action shots of her at work.
  • My husband cutting the umbilical cord
  • Me holding Baby 2 for the first time (and a quick chronological series of shots of him being handed to me)
  • Dad getting his first look at his second son
Birth Photo
Image courtesy of Allison Mosely Photography

If you want the entire process photographed – arriving at triage, pictures of family waiting down the hall, etc, your birth photographer will be with you for the long haul. Or, you can choose something in between what I did (basically the bare minimum) and what someone who wants more of a photo documentary might choose. I didn’t have our photographer come back for the 1-day-old photos, since the hospital provided someone for that, and she was going to be doing the newborn shots a week later. I think the newborn photo shoot ended up being even more meaningful for her (and me) since she had been there for the birth. 

This all brings me to the next question . . . 

Who do you want in the delivery room with you?

I didn’t think about this in great depth and had a momentary freak out when I was laying in the L&D room, getting ready to text our photographer to come to the hospital. I felt strongly with both births that my husband would be the only one in the room when I delivered. For my first, I was prepared for the doula to be there also, of course, but for Baby 2 I wasn’t mentally prepared for the photographer to be hanging out with us for a couple hours, waiting for things to really get going. It was a little awkward when she first arrived; I felt the need to make small talk in between contractions which was just weird.  As the contractions got stronger and birth became more imminent, that awkwardness faded. When it was “go time” I hardly noticed that she was there. 

What if it all doesn’t work out? 

I talked with our photographer after the experience. She shared that was an emotional rollercoaster for her, which she hadn’t anticipated. She also admitted we were lucky that everything timed out the way it did. She was “on call” the last few weeks of my pregnancy, expecting a text from me or my husband at any minute. My water broke at midnight on December 23, over a week before my New Year’s Day due date. It was a Saturday, so she had off work from her full-time office job. She was also, thankfully, in town during the holidays. Around 10AM, I texted her that it was time for her to head to the hospital, and at 12:27PM, Baby 2 was born. She was at the hospital for just over 3 hours. Had I hired her for my first born’s birth, she would have been waiting for a text or call for almost 30 hours while I was in labor, and stayed bedside for 3 hours of pushing. That wouldn’t have been so optimal. Baby 2 had perfect timing for a photographed birth. Things don’t always work out that well, so she had another photographer friend lined up as a back-up. Another thing to consider is the possibility of having a c-section. Oftentimes only one person is allowed with you in the OR, and the photographer would count as that person.

If you are currently expecting, or know you may be having another baby in the future, I would highly recommend looking into hiring a photographer for your birth. While the unexpected almost always seems to happen with labor and delivery, no matter how you bring your baby into the world, it’s amazing to have those powerful moments captured forever. 

Birth Photo
Image courtesy of Allison Mosley Photography
Kim is a mom of two toddlers, Hank and Ike. She's called both Chicago and San Francisco home, but moved to Madison after reconnecting with her college sweetheart (now her husband) after a 9-year hiatus. After a year of staying at home full-time, she's back "at the office" as the Curriculum & Programming Director at The Well Preschool. She periodically guest lectures on the importance of play for adults in UW-Madison's Consuming Happiness course. When she's not chasing after her sons, she tries to relax with pilates, random craft classes, wine and exercises her newfound love of bingo whenever possible.


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