Birth Culture on Slate.com

Slate published an interview with me and a selection of my Birth Culture photographs. I’m so glad to have had the chance to explain why I care about this project, and to share the work widely. I’m amazed and happy about the response it’s gotten – 24,000 shares on Facebook!

Much like death, the subject of birth is often taboo, a fact of life that is rarely explored beyond established procedure. Proujansky has been fascinated by the various ways in which each culture she has explored approaches birth but said that in the United States, gender and generation often dominate the conversation.

“We have ideas about what women’s bodies are for and it’s not this,” she said about American views on birth. “You see a woman naked but her body is performing functions that are intense. Our culture has a weird thing about images of women’s bodies doing this kind of physical work that isn’t young and sexy; birth has elements of struggle, power, transformation and mortality that don’t fit with our ideas about women’s bodies: they’re ok to look at when they’re sexy but when they’re working it’s something else. Birth is uncontrolled and that freaks us out.”

She also feels it ties into the idea of how we view motherhood.

“We sometimes celebrate mothers and put them on a pedestal and they’re supposed to be self sacrificing with an endless well of love but we also have stereotypes about them being intellect free with snide jokes about mom jeans and soccer moms.”

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Annalia’s Birth

Megan called me in the evening to tell me she was in labor. I drove from New York to Massachusetts, flying on adrenaline, and got to the hospital at 1:00 in the morning. I saw a baby in a bassinet and my heart dropped – I was sure I’d missed the delivery. But a nurse told me I hadn’t, and walked me to a dark, peaceful room where Megan was in labor, assisted by her mother, her husband T.J., a midwife, nurse, doula and two friends.

Megan is a nurse in the emergency room of the hospital where she had her baby, as are the two friends who attended the birth. She labored through the night and delivered Annalia, her first child, at 9:00 in the morning. I was honored to welcome her.

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Young Parents

When I was photographing in the Birthplace, I met some teenage parents. They had a range of reactions to their situations: nervous, eager, engaged with their children, excited and overwhelmed. All of these families delivered their babies with the help of midwives because of the Birthplace’s collaborative care model. Here are a few pictures.

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Water Birth

Here are some photographs of Christina, Jeff and their baby Tanner. The family chose a natural birth, without any pain relievers, and they used a birthing tub. They worked with Liza, a midwife, and gave birth at night in a warm tub in a dark room. It was very beautiful.

Another Short Story

Here are some photos of Jen and Jesse at their baby Olivia’s birth. The family lives in Greenfield, my home town and the location of The Birthplace, where I took all of these pictures. Both Jen and Jesse work at the hospital – Jen’s a nurse.

Jen’s best friend, sister, mother, nieces, sister- and brother-in-law were at the birth, and they were generous in letting me take photographs.

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A Mini-Story

The home office is magnificently hot these days, so I’m pushing through editing with popsicles, smoothies, and escapes to the park for dog walks.

Here’s a recent mini-story about Ruth, Paul and their baby Noah. They live in Greenfield, which is my home town, and one thing I like about these pictures is the subjects’ wonderfully expressive faces.