By baby teeth chart
February 06, 2015

Warning: This post contains bloody and graphic photos of newborn babies.

Seeing your brand-new baby for the first time is the very first curveball parenthood throws you. Newborns look nothing like the fluffy, pink infants on TV. Depending on how you delivered and how soon you were able to hold your kiddo, she may look splotchy, wrinkly, or maybe even a little misshapen. There's a reason Anne Geddes waits until babies are a little older before she plops them on top of a fake seahorse or in a patch of cabbages—they're much more photogenic.

But as Christian Berthelot has discovered, there's a certain beauty in seeing newborns in their first few seconds of life, before the umbilical cord is cut, before nurses have a chance to wipe the blood and varnix from the folds of the skin. At the suggestion of an OB friend, the French photographer and father of one started photographing babies delivered by C-section about six months after his own son was born.

christian berthelot caesar baby Kevin photo

Steven - born December 21, 2013 at 4:31 p.m. | 2kg 425 - 15 seconds of life

Despite the months of training and preparation, he was floored by what he saw during the first delivery he documented. "Everything went very quickly," he explained in an artist statement. "It was a big slap in my face. I made photographs throughout the duration of the surgery. When everything was over and everything was fine, I went home. I drank coffee and waited several days.I knew I was not going to look at the world the same way."

In fact, capturing those first precious milliseconds of life became a calling of sorts for Berthelot. With the hospital's permission, he now offers parents the opportunity to have their baby photographed immediately after delivery. So far, he's documented 40 successful births by C-section, all part of a series named CESAR that's currently on exhibition in Paris. (h/t Huffington Post)

Berthelot realizes his photographs aren't everyone's cup of tea—some have found them "disgusting" or even wondered if they're fake—but he's offering interested parents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the very first moments of their baby's life out of the womb, to witness the "violence" and "beauty" of childbirth. I'll admit the images took me by surprise at first. Like some moms I know, I wasn't able to see my own baby until a few minutes after delivery, when he was clean and swaddled. But once you get past the blood and vernix in the photos below, you see a life that's (literally) just beginning—and I can't imagine anything more beautiful and hopeful than that.

christian berthelot caesar baby Louann photo

Louann - born April 12, 2013 at 8:40 am  | 3kg 574 - 14 seconds life

christian berthelot caesar baby steven photo

Kevin - born December 27, 2013 at 10:36 am | 4kg 366 - 13 seconds of life

christian berthelot caesar baby Leanne photo

Leanne - born April 8, 2014 at 8:31 am | 1kg 745 - 13 seconds of life

christian berthelot caesar baby Romane photo

Romane - born May 20, 2014 at 10:51 | 2kg 935 - 8 seconds of life

christian berthelot caesar baby Lize photo

Lize - born December 24, 2013 at 8:49 am | 3kg 574 - 9 seconds of life

christian berthelot caesar baby Mael photo

Mael - born December 13, 2013 at 4:52 p.m. | 2kg 800 - 18 seconds of life

christian berthelot caesar baby Liza photo

Liza - born February 26, 2013 at 8:45 am | 3kg 200 - 3 seconds of life

I want to hear from you: What do you think about the images? Would you have wanted a photograph of your newborn taken during the first few seconds after delivery?

Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up.Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+

Images: All newborn baby photos featured with permission of Christian Berthelot