Article and photography by Tricia Krefetz, Click. Capture. Create. Photography
When people first learn that I am a birth photographer, most times they reveal a puzzled expression and immediately envision me simply taking pictures of a baby being born. But, what I find so profound and interesting is that the physical birth of a baby is a very small chapter of the entire, complex birth story. While it is truly amazing to capture that first breath, that first look, and that very first touch, it’s all those moments leading up to and following a birth that convey the rawest of human emotions.
I invite you to join me on one very special journey -- the birth of Baby Orion -- and my personal journey from behind the lens.
As my husband and I were heading out to an early dinner one Friday afternoon, my phone rang. Glancing at my caller ID, my heart began to race. Plans were definitely about to change — it was my birth photography client, Mindy.
With her labor progressing over the past few hours, it was time to start documenting her birth story — the highs, the lows, the beauty, the pain, and all the intimate details in between.
Although I didn’t know Mindy personally prior to this, we clicked immediately when we spoke on the phone. As a maternity, newborn and birth photographer, I was inspired by our shared passion for the beauty and miracle of birth. Being an experienced doula, Mindy’s desire for me to capture her journey, and share it with others, was like no other birth client I had photographed. Birth was her passion, and now she would realize her own lifelong dream of becoming a mother herself. She had nothing to hide and everything to share. This wasn’t just about documenting her experience for herself – it was about educating others about what birth can be.
So, with camera in hand, I was off to capture a life-changing milestone in Mindy’s life, and, unexpectedly, mine as well.
Laboring in the pool
From the beginning, Mindy had been planning a peaceful home water birth. During our initial conversations, I asked her how she felt about capturing some underwater portraits in her pool as she was laboring. As expected, she was beyond thrilled with the idea. She even asked me to capture underwater shots in the birth tub during the birth, if I could. Although I was an avid underwater scuba photographer, underwater portraits and live birth shots would be a first for me. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, or what I would capture, but I was excited about the idea, and figured it was worth exploring if Mindy was game.
When I arrived, Mindy was laboring in her bathtub. Certainly not your typical first introduction. Tired but hopeful, she thought moving to the pool would be a good idea, and might even help things progress. As Mindy labored with her husband, John, in the pool, I carted my Jacques-Cousteau-like housing and camera outside and hopped in the water. In between her now-more-intense contractions, Mindy swam, floated and even tousled the flowing fabric I had brought along, giving me the opportunity to capture some magical moments. We’d be laughing and shooting, and then she’d swim to the side to labor some more. It was surreal.
Even now, I can vividly remember sitting at the bottom of the pool, holding my breath, looking through my lens, capturing this beauty, as I welled up with emotion and tears in my eyes (and my goggles). As a photographer, this was one of the most moving and creative experiences I had ever had. Something I had never seen, nor captured. I knew this was going to be a day of many firsts.
For Mindy, even though she felt somewhat discouraged by what she thought was “slower” progress, she explained to me weeks later that our underwater photos helped her tremendously. Physically, it felt good for her to swim, float and be weightless in the water. Mentally, it helped her relax, enjoy her labor, and, as she would put it, “be distracted with fun and get out of my own head for a bit.” In hindsight, Mindy believes our underwater distraction was a key part of setting the stage for her beautiful birth.
As the sun went down, things continued to progress. Her contractions were becoming far more intense. It was time to call Mindy’s birth team.
The birth team arrives
With the support of her doula, midwife and husband, Mindy labored for hours in her bathtub, massage room, living room, and eventually, her birth tub. From a photographic and photojournalistic perspective, this is where so much of the story is revealed. So many emotions surface – love, support, fear, anxiety, happiness, frustration and ultimately, relief.
Just after midnight, Mindy’s midwife examined her to assess where things were. She was 9cm dilated. Baby Orion was on his way.
Awaiting Baby Orion
For three more hours, Mindy labored intensely with her birth team’s love and support. It was during these emotional hours that something became very clear to me. No matter how much one can learn about or prepare for birth, every birth story has a life of its own. Whether it happens in a home, birth center or hospital, every birth is unique and sacred – and should be cherished.
As Mindy’s incredible team surrounded her in her birth tub, we knew it was almost time. Being the birth advocate and educator she is, Mindy was adamant about me capturing underwater images as Orion emerged, so I knew I had to be focused and ready. Again, another first. I stood as discreetly as possible at the foot of her birth tub, leaning over the edge with my underwater housing submerged, my settings already tested, poised to capture this miracle. I knew I would need my second camera above water to quickly capture Orion as he surfaced. I would have to work fast and be prepared for anything. As stressful as this sounds, especially after hours of shooting and no sleep, I knew in my heart I would capture what I needed. I, too, had to trust this birth journey and my part in it.
Welcome, Baby Orion
Those last twenty minutes of labor were intense on so many levels for me as a person and a photographer. To be that close to something so miraculous, and to be responsible for capturing it, nearly overwhelmed me. Nearly.
At 3:35 am on August 6, Baby Orion was born underwater, surrounded by love.
It was so moving to photograph Mindy as she held baby Orion for the first time, watching her literally transform before my eyes. Maybe it was her pain subsiding, maybe it was the relief of seeing her healthy baby boy, maybe it was her endorphins kicking in. She was a mother now, and I could see something different in her eyes – immediately.
The birth of a new family
During the next two hours, I continued to document the birth of this new family. There was so much joy and love in this home. As the sun rose, I began to gather up my gear. Before leaving, I peeked in at Mindy peacefully nursing her new love, and couldn’t help but snap one last picture – and smile.
Meet Baby Orion
Five days later, Mindy, Baby Orion, and I reunited to capture some newborn portraits – my specialty. Unlike some of my understandably more nervous first-time-mom clients, Mindy was very relaxed and supportive of all my creative ideas. First, we captured some sleepy posed shots inside, and then we ventured into the yard for some more organic shots. We ended our beautiful afternoon with a trip to the beach at sunset. It was the perfect end to our very special journey.
Mindy and I wrote and designed Orion’s very special birth announcement, featuring his birth story. It also shared a link to a complete slideshow at www.vimeo.com/clickcapturecreate/orion
Lessons learned - the healing power of birth photography
Immediately after a birth, I often need to decompress, process the events – and sleep. Adrenaline fills my body, but exhaustion does, too. Usually days later, as I’m editing and preparing a birth story, I reflect back on the birth experience and what I took from it.
As an artist and photographer, I always see the strength and beauty of my clients, regardless of the type of birth they have. But, I realize, for many moms, birth can be a confusing experience to process. Aside from the pain and fatigue of birth which impacts perception and memory, most moms also have a vision of what their birth should and will be. As human beings, we tend to be overly hard on ourselves when our visions and reality don’t match up. Through Mindy, I learned that birth photography can be an extremely powerful healing tool for a new mother as she processes her birth experience. I was thrilled to discover this unexpected, new meaning in my work.
There is no doubt that watching a birth unfold is one of the most miraculous displays of the human condition. As a photojournalist, I try to remain somewhat detached and objective to capture the truth as I see it. My goal is not to be a part of the birth experience, but rather to observe and document it. I stand back, watch, wait, anticipate – and shoot. Quietly, discreetly, respectfully, artistically. I approach each shot with sincerity and discretion, capturing the purity and emotion of each moment, careful not to disrupt it. That is the true challenge and art of birth photography. It is also the gift I pray to give every birth client.
Tricia Krefetz, professional photographer and owner of Click. Capture. Create. Photography, is based in Boca Raton, Florida. Tricia specializes in maternity, birth, newborn and underwater photography. For her birth photography, she works hand-in-hand with Amazing Births and Beyond, and The Palms Birth House, South Florida’s leading birthing center. To see more of Tricia’s portraits and photography, visit www.clickcapturecreate.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/clickcapturecreate