Lynsey Stone does not set foot in the shower without placing her cellphone on a nearby ledge, lest she miss an urgent text from a woman in labor. She schedules vacations 10 months in advance to ensure they do not conflict with due dates, and on family outings she and her husband leave their Granbury, Tex., home in separate cars, in case she needs to race to the hospital.
Ms. Kalajian, the birth photographer, takes pictures of Rhisie and Laurent Hentges at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center before Rhisie’s C-section.
Ms. Stone, 33, is not a doctor, nurse, doula or midwife: she is a birth photographer, part of a small but growing profession devoted to chronicling a rite of passage that is no less significant than a wedding — though a bit trickier to capture on film.
“In the beginning, I almost thought that people were joking with me, like, ‘Really? You want me to come to your birth?’ ” said Ms. Stone, whose business took off after a pregnant acquaintance, impressed by pictures Ms. Stone had taken of her own family, asked if she would photograph her delivery.
Birth was once considered a behind-closed-doors affair — a messy, painful and fearsome event where neither mothers nor babies looked their best. Then, expectant fathers entered the picture, snapping photos or taking videos with shaky hands. Now, there is both a surge of interest in the experience of childbirth — not just as a means to a baby but also as a moment to be relished in its own right — and a greater desire to capture all of life’s moments (and often share them on Facebook).
Birth photographers have set up shop in recent years across the country, from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City to Cincinnati. The International Association of Professional Birth Photographers — a group started by a Texas photographer who was bombarded with inquires from women in other states seeking a birth photographer near them — now has roughly 400 members.
The photographers and their clients have grown accustomed to puzzled looks and probing questions (Pictures of what, exactly?). But their rationale is simple: If you are going to document a child’s every bite of mushed banana as if it were a historical event, does it not make sense that his or her entrance into the world be photographed by a professional?
“I want to see that moment when I’m in labor,” said Rhisie Hentges of Long Beach, Calif., who paid $1,895 to have Briana Kalajian, a co-owner of Shoots and Giggles Photography, document the birth of her first child. “That moment when both my husband and I look to see what the sex is? That’s something that I want to see happen.” (As it happened, she had a Caesarean section last week, and the photographer was not allowed in the operating room, although she got many artful shots of the before and after.)
Some photographers offer birth packages among a panoply of options, including pregnancy and family photography; others, like Ms. Stone, focus on births. She got started six years ago after she photographed her first birth and the mother shared the photos with friends in a local mothers’ group.
Ms. Stone now averages five births a month, charging first-time clients $700. She tries to arrive when a woman is six centimeters dilated, to capture the later stages of labor. This has resulted in numerous speeding tickets.
Other hazards of the job: women who are crestfallen when their births do not go according to plan and C-sections are ordered — not the image they wanted to capture. The “divas,” as one birth photographer put it, who request that their faces be depicted from certain flattering angles. Babies that arrive too quickly.
“One was born in the parking lot,” lamented Keren Fenton, a birth photographer in Orting, Wash., near Seattle and Tacoma.
In Cincinnati, one woman called Melanie Pace and Kelly Smith of Beautiful Beginnings Birth Photography the day she got her pregnancy test results, Ms. Pace recalled. Several have called when they are five or six weeks pregnant.
“I’m like, ‘Seriously?’ ” Ms. Pace said. “Can you go to the doctor first and confirm this pregnancy?”
Still, some hospitals ban photography while women are giving birth. In many, the doctors and nurses on duty unofficially set their own rules, with some even allowing birth photographers to be present during C-sections. Videotaping tends to set off more alarms than still photography, one reason most professionals stick to still pictures. In home births, photographers say, the mother calls the shots.
“The hospital rules are pretty straightforward — there’s no video and camera photography up close and personal in either an operating room or a delivery room,” said Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan. “Official policy and what’s enforced are two different things.”
Dr. Moritz said that if someone trumpets the arrival of her professional birth photographer, “it’s going to be, ‘Really? Get out of here.’ ” He said he had seen more women come in “with their quote-unquote friend that happens to have two Nikons with high-quality lenses on them.”
Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein, the author of “Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank,” said many cultural cues could make some women feel the need to make their births “photo-shoot-able.”
“There is a lot of pressure to not just cherish the birth experience but to promote it as this beautiful thing,” she said. “Then you’re going to get into your skinny jeans the next day and have a beautiful photograph of you looking absolutely beautiful and well rested with your perfect-looking baby, like all the celebrities.”
Still, Dr. Epstein said, “Now that I have an 18-year-old, it would be wonderful to look at these beautiful photos of him being born.”
Her son, she added, would probably disagree. “He doesn’t even want his picture taken now,” she said. “He’s not going to want one on the way out of my vagina.”
There is one question the photographers are asked most often: Um, precisely where do you stand when the baby comes out? The answer: Generally near the mother’s head, unless she requests a crowning shot.
“People will ask if I’m going to take the National Geographic birth photo,” Ms. Kalajian, of Shoots and Giggles Photography, said, referring to the most graphic of childbirth shots. “They ask it in 10 different ways.”
Another frequently asked question: Why can’t the father, or partner, simply take the pictures?
One potential answer lies in a picture that Ms. Fenton, the photographer in Orting, Wash., took last year of a father whose baby was born by C-section. He did not react so well. But because Ms. Fenton was on the scene, that moment, too, will be remembered.
“He passed out on the floor,” she said. “I have him in a chair, holding a juice cup and looking really sweaty.”
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