If you could give birth anywhere in the world, where would it be? Forget practicality for a second. Let’s assume you are guaranteed a safe, healthy delivery and baby.
Would you be alone in the bush, communing with nature?
At home in your bath tub, surrounded by candlelight?
Maybe the location wouldn’t matter, but you’d be surrounded by the support of the closest women in your life?
How would you hope to feel during your labour and birth?
Like a powerful goddess?
Completely still and at peace?
Supported and surrounded by love?
Birth is a rite of passage. A time of transformation – giving new life, not just in the form of a baby, but in creating a mother. But for many women, their birth experiences do not leave them feeling empowered – in fact, it can be quite the opposite. Many new mums feel vulnerable, anxious, unsupported, scared and confused. Some may feel out of control of their own bodies or powerless to help their child. Some will experience trauma.
According to Birth Trauma Australia, “Up to a third [of mums], describe their birth as traumatic. Fortunately most quickly overcome this with good social and supports. However, research suggests that between 1.7% and 6% of women go on to develop acute stress disorder or postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PPTSD) after child birth and these women may benefit from some additional professional mental health support.”
I was one of those women, diagnosed with PPTSD after my daughter’s birth in 2012. Through therapy, medication and a lot of soul-searching I went on to have a much better birth experience with my son in late 2015. Even that one, though, didn’t go quite according to plan. I’d desperately wanted water births with both my babies but ended up both times with epidurals and instrument-assisted deliveries.
Recently I was taking a bath with my son, now 4 months old. After nursing in the warm water, he snuggled into my belly and fell asleep. I had two thoughts. The first was how I just had this feeling that he’d been meant to be a water baby, and what I wouldn’t give to have birthed him in water. The second was that I wished I had my camera nearby to capture this beautiful, perfect and healing moment.
That’s when the idea came to me for Rebirth.
We’re told that “all that matters is a healthy baby”. While no one would argue the importance of that, it’s also time we start paying attention to how the way women are treated during labour and birth can have a long-lasting effect.
Rebirth is my new photography project in which I aim to raise awareness about birth trauma, and also give an opportunity to mothers to reimagine their birth experiences, by creating a series of portraits depicting the birth experience they had hoped for.
These will not necessarily be literal re-creations of birth, but will instead focus on the emotions or experiences longed for. I will work with mothers (and their children, partners, whomever else they’d like to participate) to design a photoshoot capturing those feelings. For example, a mother whose baby was taken to NICU before she could hold her might want a mother/daughter shoot filled with cuddles and highlighting their closeness.
So, how can you get involved?
If you’re a mother who has experienced birth trauma or had a negative experience of childbirth and would like to participate, or find out more, please feel free to contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or through my Facebook page.
Your birth does not need to be recent or meet any “requirements”. Births can be traumatic for any number of reasons including pregnancy complications, delivery emergencies and loss in addition to the feelings of loss of control, unnecessary interventions, or lack of respect for cultural boundaries. All I ask is that you are willing for me to share your photos publicly (with your consultation of course). Mums will be interviewed as well, for publication here on my blog, and potentially a book. A contract will lay out the full terms.
I may not be able to work with all mums. At the moment I am prioritising mums in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (and other parts of NSW potentially) but if there is high interest in another area I may be able to travel elsewhere.
I know what a sensitive topic this is, so I want to say thank you in advance to anyone considering participating and sharing your story!
One last note. Just quickly I want to talk about the “idealisation” of birth. I don’t believe that there is one ideal way to birth. I struggled a bit writing this post as I didn’t want the examples I used to dictate what kind of photos I was looking for. Births can be messy, primal, loud, not pretty. (Goodness knows, I moaned my way through labour!) This article goes a bit more in-depth on the subject.
The only thing I think all births should have in common is that the mother is respected and supported – and I promise to treat you with that same respect and support in collaborating on this project!