16 Aug In delivery rooms, birth photographers meet millennial pare…
Terra Hall never saw herself becoming a mother. But when the ambulance delivered her to Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, writhing in pain at 9 centimeters dilated, her first thought — after getting an epidural — was how she would record it.
“I don’t care what faces I’m making, I don’t care if it’s disgusting — I wanted photos of everything,” said Hall, 35, a media advocacy manager for the American Heart Assn. “I was kind of disappointed when I thought none of this is going to be documented.”
The market for raw, uncensored images of childbirth has surged in recent years, spilling from niche to mainstream thanks to platforms like Instagram. Now, more and more millennial parents like Hall are paying professionals to capture them.
“When we were discussing doing maternity photos, I was initially really against it,” Hall said. “I think it’s really cheesy, a woman standing in a field with a flowing dress and a crown of flowers. I wanted something grittier than that.”
In Los Angeles alone, dozens of professional photographers now make their living in the delivery room — and, increasingly, in the OR — documenting the first moments of motherhood for clients who pay thousands of dollars for wedding-style albums of their labor.
“It’s not just the moment of the baby coming out,” said photographer Stephanie Entin, who shot the birth of Hall’s son Lenox in March. “It’s telling the whole entire story of the day the baby was born.”
Services like Entin’s are expensive: Birth photographers charge anywhere from $1,500 to more than $4,000, well out of reach for many
new parents. But the practice is so popular at Westside hospitals like Cedars-Sinai, UCLA and St. John’s that some providers carry photographers’ business cards in their exam rooms. To Angelenos who can afford one, a birth photographer is as de rigueur as a doula.
“There used to be just two of us in L.A., and now there’s 30 to 40 of us,” said birth photographer Briana Kalajain. “When you’re choosing your doctor, in the same breath is who is going to be your support person and who’s going to photograph.”
Nor is the service exclusive to so-called natural birth. Some hire professionals to shoot their scheduled C-sections. Others, like Hall, write their photographer into a birth plan that includes “all of the drugs.”
“However my client wants to birth is how I go,” said Natalia Walth, a photographer and videographer whose work has helped define the industry. “To me, being in the OR is more important than being [at] a vaginal birth, because the mothers are drugged, they may not be fully conscious of what’s happening to them. Having those photographs allows them to process their birth.”
Walth said her clients wanted their birth shot for the same reason most people hire a professional to capture their wedding.
“We’re just as important as a wedding photographer — the only difference between a wedding and a birth is we have a medical team,” she said.
But not everyone is
so sanguine about the business of birthing
on camera. Obstetricians are sued more often than any other physicians, and the indemnities against them can be astronomical. To some, a lens can feel like a threat.
“Birth isn’t very beautiful,” said Mike Matray, who edits the Medical Liability Monitor. “It’s bloody, it’s chaotic — what’s captured on the videotape may not even be that out of the ordinary, but simply because it’s bloody, it looks extreme.”
Indeed, the images themselves can be arresting: #birthfilm is not a hashtag to stumble on by accident, and no person in possession of a birth canal can watch a baby crown without wincing.
But as Americans have fewer babies, childbirth is increasingly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is particularly true for those who can best afford a photographer, said Caroline Hartnett, a sociologist with the University of South Carolina. While the average age of first birth has increased for all women, wealthy ones wait longer to become mothers and have more disposable income when they do.
Widening inequality plays another role too. Birth photography is a boast for families of means — but increasingly, so are the births in the photos.
“Now, having a planned birth in a stable marriage is much more common among high socioeconomic status” than in poor families, Hartnett said. “What’s being projected in wedding photography and birth photography is an achievement that is not accessible to everyone.”