I wish I had hired a birth or fresh 48 photographer to document the first days of the lives of my two daughters. As a birth and family photographer, writing the previous sentence seems as odd to me now as it may to you. I encourage families all the time to make documenting the birth or first few days of a new baby’s life a priority as we all know how hazy those fleeting days truly are. A newborn baby’s liquid-wrinkled fingertips, the exhilarated, exhausted look of wonder on a new parent’s face, the perfection of these teeny-tiny facial features—all are details that we parents hold close to our hearts. Having pictures that help us remember exactly what it all looked like and what those moments really felt like is, I believe, so very, very important.
So, why, you might ask, did I not hire someone to take photos of my birth stories? In all honesty it was a combination of all the reasons that I often hear from friends and clients about why they choose not to hire someone to take those pictures. When I was preparing for the birth of my first daughter, I was hesitant to have anyone other than my husband and midwife in the delivery room with me. Would I really want the process of me giving birth photographed? The before-I-gave-birth-me said no, but now, after having brought two little girls into the world, I would tell that previous version of myself “Do it!!” To have had that remarkable, miraculous event thoughtfully and sensitively documented would have filled my heart to the brim.
As I got ready to welcome my second daughter into the world, I chose to have newborn pictures taken rather than do a Fresh 48 session. I was worried about how I would look in those exhausted post-birth days, about the mess that my house would be, about my inevitable anxiety of welcoming a non-family member into that most tender of family moments. Looking back on those worries, I see how immaterial they were and how little weight they should have carried. Having beautiful, touching photos of those precious first days as a family of four to look back on now would have made those hesitations meaningless.
If you’ve ever witnessed a woman giving birth, I’m sure you’ll agree that there is deep beauty and even deeper feeling in the strength, determination and sheer grit that each and every birth story describes. If you’ve ever visited a family member or friend in the first day or two after giving birth, I’m sure you’ll also agree that the love and wonder you see on a mother or father’s face as they gaze at their newborn baby and gently caress those tiny features, deserves to be remembered forever. As a mother and a photographer, I would say that the very realness of these momentous times in our lives is what makes them so beautiful.
These wondrous events in our lives as parents are not arranged or staged, they are not “picture perfect,” but they are perfect just as they are. In a time when so much of our lives are curated for an audience and when we often only feel comfortable sharing the parts of our lives that look just right, I think that many of us shy away from documenting and commemorating the messier, but no less beautiful, parts of our stories. I shied away from allowing someone to document my own imperfectly-perfect birth and postpartum stories and I wish I hadn’t. And so when I say that I think that there are no stories in your life more important to tell than the birth of a child, I mean it with all of my mama-heart and my photographer-passion.
My girls are now 6 and 2 and I try to photograph them every day. And while I know that my work of documenting their lives will help them to tell their own personal stories and will preserve the visual story of our life together as a family, I do so wish that I had welcomed someone into our family circle to capture and commemorate the moments my husband and I grew our family one-by-one.
Catherine is a mom to two amazing daughters and a birth and family photographer. When she’s not taking photos, she loves spending time with friends and family, being in the great outdoors and reading good books.