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Flashing Babies

I know I am probably not going to be very popular after this post. But it’s ok. I’m turning 47 this year and I have had 1 stroke, 2 ex-husbands, 3 near-death experiences and 4 major neck operations to name a few – I can handle it. No birth worker or birth photographer should take offense with this piece of writing though – I am one myself, so I am not judging anyone. But facts are facts. Here goes:

A woman falls pregnant. Immediately decides on an ‘all natural’ pregnancy, a natural, vaginal delivery and a midwife – no doctors and nothing artificial, everything should be as natural and close to a woman’s true nature as possible. Cool. She has a wonderful pregnancy. Only uses natural remedies, has a reflexologist, does pregnancy yoga and meditation and connects regularly with a higher power. She only eats organic food and gets as close to nature as humanly possible. It’s awesome. Her pro-natural midwife (obviously) encourages her connection with her instinct as mother and they regularly talk about her labour and birth. Again, the pregnant mother emphasizes that she wants everything to be as natural as possible. Home birth. Little or no intervention, soft candle light, a warm birth pool for a wonderful waterbirth, birth affirmations etc. – a cosy nest to birth in.

Her friends help her to make beautiful hand-made birth affirmations for her birthing nest that say: ‘Birth is an easy and natural occurrence for which my body has been perfectly designed”, “I follow my instincts and give birth in the way I desire”, “I am doing this exactly right and exactly as nature intended.” “I give birth in safety, solitude and peace.” “I am peaceful, relaxed and calm and my baby will be born into a peaceful, relaxed and calm environment.” “It is going to be magical when my eyes meet my baby’s eyes for the first time.” Etc. etc. Everybody is very excited for this wonderful birth that is going to take place.

In no time the big day arrives. At 41 weeks and 2 days the mom’s water breaks in a shopping centre whilst doing last minute shopping. She stays calm and collected, drives home, phones her husband and calmly informs him that ‘it is time.’ When he gets home he starts to run water into the birth pool and helps his wife light lots of tealight candles all around the birthing pool and the room. The music list that she compiled for labour starts – the beautiful sounds of dolphins and whales and the ocean. A bit later the soothing sounds of Zen music fills the air. When things start to get a bit more difficult she phones her doula and midwife who arrive together and immediately tend to the mother. The birth photographer will join them a bit later. As the mother requested there isn’t a lot of talking or laughing, but just a lot of concentrated, peaceful labouring. It is a wonderful, serene scene to behold: Two women supporting another in labour, an attentive husband catering to his wife’s every need, lovely labour appropriate aromatherapy oils, soft candles, inspiring birth affirmations and relaxing music that fills the tranquil space. Picture perfect. Excuse the terrible pun…

The birth photographer arrives. After greeting everyone softly and having had a quick, whispered chat with the dad, she discreetly moves around and takes photos of the labouring mom, the couple, the midwife’s interaction with them and the beautiful, candlelit surroundings. She is unobtrusively clicking away – one almost forgets that she is there. She is capturing beautiful memories. From the mom’s breathing and actions, it can be established that baby is about to be born. The midwife makes sure yet again that everything is going according to plan, the doula massages the tired mom’s back and the dad tells her in a reassuring voice that she is doing great. All these actions again are beautifully captured by the inconspicuous photographer using only natural light. And then it’s time! The baby girl is about to be born in lovely warm water, candlelit surroundings and people waiting to welcome her peacefully earth-side. The head is crowning. Baby’s head is one push away from exiting her mom’s body. It’s magical!

And then it happens. With the next push and as baby turns to be born, a tremendous flashlight from the photographer’s camera slices through the dimmed surroundings. And then it flashes again. And again. And again, and again, and again. Non-stop. The photographer is clicking away – it’s going to be the most beautiful birth photos ever! As the mom pulls her baby from her body, lifts her onto her chest and tries to look at her baby’s face for the first time, the camera doesn’t stop clicking and the flash light is working overtime – so much so that her ‘first look’ at her baby isn’t even a look at all, as they are both blinded by the birth photographer’s flash. The dad touches his little girl for the first time, the bright flashlight again intruding on what was supposed to be a holy moment.

Everything is photographed. The placenta being delivered, the breast crawl and the first breastfeed, dad wiping the tears from his elated wife’s face, the midwife weighing the baby and even later when mom and dad move into the bed with their little girl – everything is meticulously photographed, the powerful flashlight on the state-of-the-art camera illuminating every scene. Gone are all the reminiscence of a peaceful, ‘natural’, tranquil birth with soft candlelight, Zen music and hushed voices. It’s all gone.

Let’s rewind back to the mom’s initial birth affirmations: “I am doing this exactly right and exactly as nature intended.” Really? As nature intended? I really don’t think nature intended for a poor new-born to be blinded by a flashlight the first time she opens her eyes?” “I am peaceful, relaxed and calm and my baby will be born into a peaceful, relaxed and calm environment.” Peaceful, relaxed and calm are not exactly the right words to describe this baby’s first introduction to earth is it? Hollywood celebrity jumps to mind… “It is going to be magical when my eyes meet my baby’s eyes for the first time.” As we all know, this didn’t happen did it? It couldn’t possibly be magical – they couldn’t really look into each other’s eyes because of the glaring light.

And then one starts to wonder about this mom’s yearning for an ‘all natural’ birth. Of everything being as natural and peaceful as possible. Because it just wasn’t. It was not natural. There is absolutely nothing ‘natural’ when it comes to a blinding light in your face. There’s nothing ‘magical’ about not being able to see your child because you are momentarily blinded by a ridiculously bright flash.

I am a birth photographer myself. And not a half bad one if I may say so myself. But I never, ever use flash with a natural birth. I just don’t. Yes, the ‘quality’ of the photos isn’t as good, but the quality of the mom and baby’s first moments are! How on earth can a photographer invade this holy space with a dazzling bright light, enough to blind a grown up, let alone a freshly born little human being? Why is it tolerated, even asked for by some parents? Why do midwives and doctors allow it, why do doulas keep quiet (or take the photos themselves!) and why oh why do parents not ask photographers to not use a flash? It’s blatant obtrusion of what is supposed to be one of the most amazing moments in any parent’s life! Why do we keep quiet? Is it a matter of midwives not wanting to offend the parents and the parents keeping quiet because they don’t want to offend the photographer or is everybody really ok with this totally unnatural, obtrusive and most ‘unpeaceful’ invasion of privacy? This is just absolutely and utterly ridiculous! Amazingly, it doesn’t seem to bother a whole lot of people. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for creating memories. I am all for beautiful birth photos and precious moments frozen in time. But sometimes I think this is a case of trying to take photos of a beautiful scene in front of you instead of taking it all in with your eyes and marveling at the wonder of it all. The amazing gift of just being in the moment. That moment that can never ever be repeated or recreated. Because that very special, amazing first look between a mom and the child that was just born from her body, that magical once in a lifetime moment, should not be marred by a flash that could light up New York city after dark…

Here are a few cases in point:

(Fast forward to 4:25) (Fast forward to 22:00) (fast forward to 16:45) (fast forward to 9.45) (fast forward to 40:30)

…and there are many, many more…