As she scrunches her face in concentration, doing her best to breathe through a contraction, the patient's husband watches warily as the other woman in the room crouches down, quietly focusing her camera and presses a button, capturing with a click, the indescribable pain and beauty of labor.
No, she's not a stranger intent on intruding on the deeply personal and private journey of labor, but a professional photographer hired to capture their new arrival.
"I really wanted images of my daughter's first moments," said Leila Fischer, a blogger at Spinach & Skittles. "But what really convinced me to hire a birth photographer was an image my friend shared with me after the birth of her son. The look on her husband's face was priceless, as her midwife was pulling her son up and handing him to her. I wanted to be able to capture my husband's expression as he met our daughter. Friends and family would be able to take snapshots, but I knew a professional photographer would be able to capture raw emotion."
While most doctors and hospitals are comfortable with the idea of photography during labor and delivery, recording a birth becomes a different story. Dr. De la Pana, an OB/GYN at Los Robles Hospital in California said "Photography that is a still photography, even at moment of birth, is perfectly fine." Take that one step further, however, and try recording the birth via video and he states you could be facing "an uncomfortable working environment."
"It's been a good policy to not have videotaping at our hospital," Dr. de la Pana stated. "Recording during labor and even after is fine, but not during the actual birth."
Typically, couples looking to hire a birth photographer will contact the photographer quite early on during the pregnancy. Birth photographers tend to limit the amount of clients they have, as they have to stay "on-call" close to a woman's due date. Usually, the photographer will collect a deposit before the delivery, to ensure that her time is not wasted. And then, on the big day, a designated point person, or even the mother herself, will keep in touch with the birth photographer to let her know when it's time.
Leila found that keeping her birth photographer coordinated throughout her labor was a breeze. "We'd been in contact a few times the week leading up to labor," explained Lelia. "I called her when my water broke, at 7:15 in the morning and we texted throughout the day about my progress. She normally comes to the hospital when her client is 6 cm dilated."
For mothers looking to hire a birth photographer, Leila recommends getting an agreement in writing with the healthcare staff early on. "The nurse that came in right before my daughter was born was very rude to my photographer and wouldn't let her take any pictures right as my daughter was being born," Leila said. "But the nurse who had been with me all day was great, and never mentioned this as an issue. When we go down this road again I will definitely get it in writing, so I don't have to fight with anyone while in labor," Leila stated.
Birth photography packages vary widely, based on the geographical location and photographer's experience. I found packages starting around $500 and going upwards over a thousand dollars.
But for couples like Lelia, the price was well worth it. In her words, nothing compares to the fact that as a mother, she was able "to see those first euphoric moments of my daughter's life" and to capture them forever.
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