Even before people started vivisecting their daily routines on Facebook, there existed the camcorder and the failed filmmaker-turned-parent that would produce it at every family gathering just at that moment when everyone else was getting ready to candidly enjoy themselves. Tell the future family Merry Christmas, Uncle Joe. "Merry Christmas. Now get that fucking camera out of my face." Intimate moments of birthday cake vulnerability or present-unwrapping disappointment were preserved on film just in case anyone in the family got too big for their britches and had to be reminded about their most humiliating childhood moments. Now, with the rise of professional birth-photography, those humiliations aren't limited to a tottering first step or an failed potty attempt — they can include the moment of birth, that horrifying pre-memory moment when we were all torn from our mother's bodies and introduced to the cold, inhuman lens of voyeurism.
The New York Times reports that the market for professional birth photographers is growing to match a surge in interest about the experience of childbirth. For those expecting mothers who'd rather not rely on a partner's shaky camera-hand, photographers such as Texan Lynsey Stone have battered down delivery room doors to snap a few memorable shots of a mother's strained, gasping face, her bulging neck veins, and maybe a torn perineum, if a client is aiming for unvarnished realism. The job isn't easy — Stone aims to be in the delivery room when her client is about six centimeters dilated, which, the Times quips, "has resulted in numerous speeding tickets." Har har.
Her effort at perfect timing has also resulted in some disappointed clients. Since births don't always go according to plan, Stone has had her share of unreasonably disappointed clients who have either given birth too quickly or been forced to undergo C-sections, which are particularly hard to capture because most hospitals refuse to allow photographers to enter a sterile environment (or unwittingly record evidence of malpractice). Though most hospitals let doctors and nurses set their own rules about photography, Dr. Jacques Moritz at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan says that, because a trumpeted professional photographer would be immediately booted from the delivery room, many women bring "their quote-unquote friend that happens to have two Nikons with high-quality lenses on them."
For women who want their child's birth chronicled in a family album (or, more likely, on Facebook), having a professional photography take the best possible pictures of an unflattering moment seems like the best bet. At least, that's the logic of women like Rhisie Hentges, who paid $1,895 to have a professional photographer capture irrefutable historical evidence of her labor (Stone charges first-time clients $700). Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein, author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank says that the increased fascination with childbirth photography owes some itself in part to the glut of celebrity before-and-after magazine spreads.
Though it's certainly reasonable for a mother to want some kind of record of the arduous physical trial that is childbirth, it seems a little counterintuitive to invite yet another person into the delivery room. Birth is a vulnerable moment for both mother and child. I know this because back when National Geographic was awesome, the moment when a zebra, wildebeest or whatever suitably delicious quadruped was giving birth was always the moment when the English narrator would say gravely, "This is the most critical moment" before the camera would cut to a gaunt lioness hiding in the tall grass. In the modern human world, we might say that the lioness in the tall grass is that future fiancée or, if we're dealing with really sadistic parents, junior prom date whose presence offers parents the opportunity to say, "Want to see what little Jacob or Sophia looked like crowning? Sure you do."
Image via Phase4Photography/Shutterstock.