In 2007, while Katie Wiseman was in labour, her husband Mike was in Spin Buldak, Afghanistan, doing supporting operations for the Canadian Forces. Katie left three messages and eight hours later Mike received the news. It’s a girl. Two years later he was training in Alberta, preparing to go back to Afghanistan for another tour of duty knowing full well he would miss the birth of his fourth child. That’s when the idea of birth photography came up.
“I told him, look, you’re not going to miss it this time,” Katie said. “We laughed about it. You have to make light of it because otherwise you just get depressed.”
Three days after Mike and Katie’s son, Tristan, was born they sat down alone in their Shilo, Man., home to watch a slideshow of Tristan’s birth. The photos played to the tune of Lullaby by the Dixie Chicks.
“He was like wow, that’s pretty awesome,” she says. “He’s not much of a crier, but I’m sure he did.”
For decades, parents have been documenting the birth of their children with video cameras, capturing every beautiful detail of childbirth, not to mention the ones that aren’t for the faint of heart. Now, professional birth photography offers an alternative: a shorter, more artistic way to relive those precious moments.
“A photograph still allows that moment in time to be captured and the emotion without the rawness of some of the sounds that can accompany that moment,” says birth photographer Lianna True of Abbotsford, B.C.
And the trend is catching on. The International Association of Professional Birth Photographers has 19 Canadian members and roughly 400 members worldwide. A quick glance through the photographers’ websites and you’ll notice that many of those working in Canada are female, and many are parents. And for good reason: True says having birthed a child gives you a greater understanding into what’s happening and what may unfold. She herself hired a working mom to capture images during the birth of her second daughter.
“I took comfort in knowing that she had been there,” says True. “She had done this herself and she knows what it is I am experiencing in that moment.”
The small-but-growing popularity of birth photography isn’t surprising, considering what some researchers are calling a shift towards an increasingly baby-centric world.
“The amount of money that is currently being spent on the baby industry is exponentially higher than it has ever been,” says Andrea Tone, Canada Research Chair in the social history of medicine at McGill University. “And I would think that taking photos of the arrival of the baby is part and parcel of that movement as well.”
So is immortalizing your pride and joy on glossy sheets of eight-by-ten worth the steep price tag, which can range from $450 to roughly $1,000?
Meghan Baxter thinks it is. During the birth of her first child, she was panicked and as a result the memories she has “are not very fun,” she says. So when it was time for Oren to be born in March 2011, Baxter wanted a way to preserve and celebrate the occasion.
“I felt like [birth photos] was pretty much the only way to do it, to actually see my son being born because I’m not one of those people that’s going to hold up a mirror and watch,” she says. “I’ll lose it.”
Hiring a professional also cuts down on fatherly duties so dads can be more involved and participate in the birth of their children. Marcello Calvinisti was relieved when his wife, Dawn, suggested bringing in a birth photographer for their third child, Avelina, in August 2011. When he saw the pictures, he shed a tear. And he wasn’t the only one getting emotional. Marcello brought the photos with him when he left his home in the small town of Bolton, Ont., to visit family in Guatemala. “All the women cried,” he says. “I would’ve loved to have a photographer there when my other two were born.”
And with more and more families living apart, others are taking advantage of the ease and reach of the Internet to share the photos. After Tristan’s birth, the Wisemans shared the slideshow with their loved ones on Facebook. Some of the comments were:
“Fantastic!” wrote Laura Bilger from Seattle, W.A. “It was beautifully done, lovely to see my newest great nephew’s entrance to the world!”
“Made me remember the birth of my own children,” wrote Katie’s friend Lisa Miller from Petawawa, O.N.
“Truly beautiful,” wrote Katie’s friend Mandy Furney from Winnipeg, Manitoba. “You have made me reconsider pictures at my next birthing.”
Exactly, it would seem, the sort of reactions that birth photographers are counting on to deliver them new customers.