I have been documenting my life on video since fifth grade, but I didn't start posting regularly on YouTube until about two years ago, when I was six months pregnant. I live in Midland, Texas, and my family is on the East Coast. I wanted to keep them updated, so I'd put up clips about getting my sonograms and decorating the nursery. At first, my grandparents were confused when they saw my vlogs; they didn't understand the Internet and thought YouTube was like TV, with millions of people tuning in live to watch. I'm not that popular! Once my cousins explained it to them and showed them how to log on, they were happy to stay connected via the web. More people started watching my videos too; by the time I gave birth, I had a few hundred subscribers, primarily other mothers, to my channel, youtube.com/loraandlayton.
I always knew I would videotape my birth, even before I got pregnant. I wanted to have a record of it for my children one day. My family loved my pregnancy videos, and I thought they'd like to see how my baby was born -- shot tastefully, of course. Further prompts came from subscribers who watched my videos and commented on them (many of them were due to give birth right after me); some asked me to show footage of my actual delivery. Sharing what I went through, I figured, might help them prepare. Hospital policy allowed patients to record labor only, not the birth, but our doctors gave us permission as long as we kept all shots behind my shoulder or to the side and didn't show the baby emerging.
My husband, Layton, started recording as soon as I was admitted to the hospital on December 18, 2008. He passed the video camera to my mother-in-law when I started pushing so he could hold my hand and experience the birth. I wasn't worried about how I looked in the video, beyond wearing a little makeup. (I knew I would be editing it!) In fact, knowing that Layton and my mother-in-law were filming helped me relax. After all, even if I was out of it due to the pain or the epidural, I could always replay the whole process later. When I got home with Tripp, I watched the video, and it was amazing all over again.
A week after I had Tripp, I posted a PG version of the birth. It's personal, but there's nothing graphic. Before I get the epidural, you can see my face tense up with the contractions, and I'm gripping the bed rail in pain; afterward, I'm smiling and calm, laughing and joking with Layton and the nurses. Then you see me pushing quietly (I wasn't really a grunter), with Layton supporting my head. My legs and belly are mostly covered, although you can see a bit of my thighs. The nurse catches Tripp as he slides out after one last push, then I cut to that astounding moment when I first looked into his eyes and held him. The video has been viewed more than 800,000 times!
I felt great about the comments I got from women saying my video eased their fears about birth. They told me it was reassuring to see how supportive my nurses were, and all the joy on my face and Layton's. One woman wrote: "That was awesome to watch. I'm even more excited now to know what to look forward to when my husband and I finally get pregnant!" Another viewer was so inspired by my video that she named her own son Tripp.
But there were negative comments, too, which floored me. Home-birth advocates branded me a coward for having an epidural and not giving birth naturally. People even called me fat and said Tripp was ugly. I was tempted to take down all the videos and quit vlogging forever. I was used to getting negative comments about my weight, but the first time a viewer said something catty about Tripp, I got really upset. How could a person be so awful as to attack an innocent baby? I cried to Layton and told him I wasn't sure the videos were such a good idea anymore. I wanted to delete everything to protect my child.
Layton advised me to cool down before hitting delete. The next day, I could think more clearly. I remembered all the women I'd met through vlogging, the people who'd thanked me for my help, and the mothers I'd connected with, and I decided to stick with it. Ultimately, I felt that the benefit of helping people makes any negativity worth it. The truth is, if you put your life on the Internet, people are free to judge you and say hurtful things while hiding behind their computer. And you're definitely going to get haters when you post something as intimate as a birth video.
I'm expecting again and due this month -- it's another boy! -- and I've been sharing pregnancy milestones on YouTube. I'm planning to videotape this birth, too, and post it when I'm home from the hospital. My first video had to be less than 10 minutes because I was new to YouTube, so I obviously couldn't show enough footage to capture the entire experience. This time around, I'll be able to post something that's closer to 20 minutes long, and I plan to share more of the initial labor. I want to reveal more about the process. I'd love to get footage of my water breaking and narrate how it felt, as well as film some of my big contractions; I hope other women will get an even better sense of what labor is really like. I'm already receiving messages from subscribers saying how much they're looking forward to the video.
"I live-steamed my birth, but I won't do it again."
Last October, thousands of viewers watched me give birth, live, on ustream.com. The three-person video crew that had followed me since the start of my pregnancy taped it, and I was very comfortable with them. Afterward, there were tons of responses to what I did, and many commenters criticized me for going too far. Come on, I thought, I showed a lot less than the women on TLC's A Baby Story!
Giving birth over the Internet was a great experience...once. I'm glad to have shared the joy of birth with so many other people. But the next time I have a baby, I'd like it to be more low-key and intimate, without the lights and the camera -- just my husband, my mom, and me.
Originally published in the September 2010 issue of American Baby magazine.