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Don't Have a Home Birth Just For the Pretty Pictures

Birth photography has reached a tipping point in the modern psyche. Once dismissed as a strange, if not grotesque, practice (hello, poorly-lit crotch shots of the past), many 21st century parents embrace—and even pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for—professional birth photography.

The resulting images are often gorgeous portrayals of birth. Some of these images have become nearly iconic.

The laboring person's hands clenched against the glossy rim of a birthing tub. The mother with eyes closed, her faced angled upward in beatific ecstasy, her slippery new baby clutched against her chest. The surgical drape framing the moment when the new mother can finally kiss her new baby's forehead. The carefully composed juxtaposition of shadow and light, agony and elation, old life and new.

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They are indeed profound and powerful images. And for various reasons (including hospital regulations, photographer marketing, etc.), the most widely shared images on social media tend to depict home births rather than hospital births.

The prevalence of these photographs has led some people to conclude that families are choosing home birth because of the pictures they see on the Internet. And I have a big problem with that claim.

For one, choosing home birth simply because of the pretty picture one sees on the Internet is a sign of clumsy decision-making. This is a baby's birth, not a DIY kitchen backsplash project.

Moreover, it seems risky to let these pictures count "too much" toward choosing home birth. Even if a photographer takes 1,000 pictures during a birth, the images that they eventually share with their clients (and Facebook) are edited. They only capture discrete moments during the birth. They might never capture everything that a person feels or experiences during their labor.

Sometimes home birth is as beautiful as it is in the pictures. (I should know. I've had my own beautiful home birth.) But sometimes home birth is also serious, tense and, depending on the circumstances, dangerous.

Choosing home birth with the primary expectation that one's birth will look exactly as it does in a pretty picture can set a person up for some major disappointment—or worse.

This claim doesn't just dismiss all pregnant people's decision-making—it subtly dismisses women's decision-making and insinuates a whole host of feminine stereotypes: Women are frivolous. Women are whimsical. Women care more about pretty things than research and reason.

With all that said, there is an even bigger problem with the claim that people are choosing home birth because of the gorgeous birth photography they see on the Internet: this claim reeks of misogyny.

This claim doesn't just dismiss all pregnant people's decision-making—it subtly dismisses women's decision-making and insinuates a whole host of feminine stereotypes: Women are frivolous. Women are whimsical. Women care more about pretty things than research and reason.

But women (and all pregnant people) are smarter than those stereotypes suggest. We're more complex than that. And we're far more rational than that.

A woman can be enamored of a gorgeous birth photograph and understand that the rate of perinatal mortality is higher in planned out-of-hospital births than it is in planned hospital births and still rationally choose home birth.

A woman can hire a birth photographer and choose a competent and skilled home birth midwife and still rationally choose home birth.

As I see it, keep sharing your home birth—and hospital birth—images. The world needs their power and beauty.

A woman can be inspired to consider home birth because of a beautiful birth picture and still rationally choose home birth.

In other words, the presence or inspiration of birth photography does not imply that people are choosing home birth simply because of the pretty pictures they see on the Internet. It might be one reason why people choose home birth. But this does not imply that it is the only reason—or even the primary reason.

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So back to the pictures themselves—the ones that are so moving, so pervasive and, yes, so inspiring to many people. What should we do about those pictures?

As I see it, keep sharing your home birth—and hospital birth—images. The world needs their power and beauty. But don't make your birth decisions based primarily on what you see in the pictures. These decisions deserve a little more care and investigation.

More importantly, though: Don't assume many people do actually make their birth decisions based solely on what they see in the pictures. That way lies misogyny. And the birth world—and the world in general—doesn't need any more of that.

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Photography by: Kristen Oganowski

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