The Healing Power of Birth Photography

No one can prepare you for childbirth.”

“It’s a message that was reiterated to me over and over throughout my pregnancy, but it wasn’t until after giving birth myself that I truly realized what it meant.”

Birth brings us to the end of ourselves in ways that we cannot (and maybe aren’t supposed to) anticipate. There are all kinds of childbirth classes intended to prepare us for labor itself, but it seems there is far less conversation around making sense of the birth after the fact.

My husband and I originally planned to do a home birth. Every time I told someone this, I phrased it as ‘we are hoping to do a home birth,’ knowing that plans for labor often change. But if I was honest with myself I genuinely believed I would give birth at home.

I woke up on a Thursday at 4am with mild contractions a few minutes apart. Around 6 that evening my water broke, and my midwife came over shortly after that.

Very early Friday morning my doula had arrived and we expected the baby to be born sometime that day. Unfortunately, that did not happen. I continued laboring at home until Saturday morning when I learned that I had essentially stopped dilating despite all the work I was doing.”

“I made the decision to transfer to the hospital, get an epidural so that I could sleep, and get Pitocin to intensify my contractions/dilation.

Even with those interventions, it took another 12 hours to finally give birth to my daughter via vacuum assist. I was depleted in every way possible; I remember my husband and I looking at each other once we were finally tucked away in our recovery room and saying that we didn’t know why, but it felt like we had just come out of battle together.

As family and friends began to come meet the baby and check in on us I wasn’t sure how to talk about my labor. I didn’t know how to adequately describe what we had been through, but I did know that I desperately wanted them to know how difficult it was.

In the months since I gave birth I have reflected on my experience quite a bit, and here is what I have found. Childbirth is an experience beyond words.

There are many formative experiences in our lives that are processed in a part of the brain beyond language, and I believe labor is one of them. It is not meant to be understood rationally, it is meant to be lived.

The fact of the matter is that nobody can understand my unique childbirth story unless they were there: myself, my husband and my doula were the only ones who were there until the very end. My midwife was wonderful postpartum as well, but she didn’t get to sit with me at the hospital for 12 hours like Maegan did. Because of this, Maegan will always be someone with whom I don’t need words to know that she understands. She was there.

And then there were the birth photos she had taken throughout my labor.”

“I was so scared to look at them and relive a birth that had gone so differently than I expected. There was some sort of implicit trauma and grief that existed for me that I thought would be triggered by the pictures. But thankfully, my experience was just the opposite.

I had heard women recommend birth photography for reasons like getting to see how powerful you were, or seeing the ways in which your partner was there for you that you didn’t realize at the time. For me, my birth photos helped me piece together what happened in a way that had nothing to do with words.

I got to see my birth from a whole new perspective and begin to make sense of the timeline of it all in ways that I never would have had access to otherwise. 

Post-birth, I have been saddened by how little space birthing women and their partners are given to process their experiences.

It goes beyond things like meal trains and maternity leave.”

Birth is a transformative, wild and primal event that shapes us in ways beyond words.”

What would it look like for us to honor this event for ourselves as we step into motherhood? So far I have honored mine through birth photography, my support team, and taking time in therapy to process my experience.

I don’t presume that every mother’s way of honoring her birth will look the same, but I do encourage each mother to give herself the time/permission to figure it out.

No matter if you are newly pregnant or gave birth years ago, your story continues to live inside of you. We owe it to ourselves to bear witness to our stories, with and without words.”

Emma is a psychotherapist in the Atlanta area specializing in trauma, women’s issues, spirituality, and attachment. It is her privilege to walk alongside individuals as they journey towards becoming who they were always meant to be.



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