Image copyright Amanda Allender Photography 2016.
These days it seems like everyone is photographing everything. Sometimes this can go overboard (I really don’t need to see a styled photo of every meal you eat!) but I don’t think this is the case with the fast-growing popularity of birth photography. Maybe it’s just because I am a birth junkie, but I can’t get enough of the amazing images that professional photographers are taking at home, birth center, and hospital births around the country. Recently the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers held their Annual Image of the Year Competition. The winning images are stunning and you can see them here: http://birthphotographyimagecompetition.com. (Heads up that some of these are pretty intense and there will be some nudity.)
Here in Charlotte, we are lucky to have several fantastic photographers who have decided to use their skills to catch the moments of labor and birth for families in the Queen City. Today, I want to introduce you to one of them, Mandy Allender of Amanda Allender Photography. Mandy is such a genuine person and her passion for her work is evident. She agreed to answer some questions for me and share some of her work here in this space. I hope you enjoy what she had to say as much as I do!
Me: What is the most rewarding part of this career?
Mandy: Being invited into the sacred space of a woman giving birth, and capturing one of the single most beautiful moments in our human life. Also, seeing the wonder and joy those photos bring the mother when she gets to see them for the first time after her birth. It really means SO much - to them AND to me.
Me: How would you describe your photography style?
Mandy: I shoot natural light (no flash) and my style is photo-journalistic. No posing, no directions - I shoot what I see as I see it, and try to represent the emotion and the story as close to life as possible. My images are sharp, and raw, and true.
Me: What areas/birth locations do you cover?
Mandy: I currently cover from Statesville to Fort Mill!
Above images copyright Amanda Allender Photography 2016.
When I first met Tara Johnson of Mooresville, NC, I was immediately impressed. Here was someone who had done her research and was really committed to having an empowered birth. She was taking Bradley classes, had chosen a great midwife group as her care providers (Novant Health Midwifery Associates Langtree), and was now looking to hire a birth doula (me!). There was one big difference between Tara and all of the other clients I had worked with before; her husband would not be attending her birth in person because he was in the military and stationed overseas.
This didn't mean that Tara was going to be alone for her birth, however. She had assembled an amazing group of people to help her through her labor. Her mom was her main support person and Bradley partner. I attended as her doula, and her nurses and midwives also provided great advice and assistance. Her sister-in-law attended the birth and was in charge of making sure that Tara's husband was able to participate, not in person, but still present through technology (hooray for FaceTime!). The final member of Tara's "dream team" of birth support was her birth photographer, Alissa Bray of Alissa Bray Photography.
I have always loved birth photography but this was my first experience attending a birth where a professional birth photographer was present. I loved seeing the photos afterward and I was impressed with the way that Alissa was able to capture some of the special moments of this birth. I decided to talk to Tara after the birth about her experience with birth photography to see how it had impacted her personally.
I already knew that the reason Tara had chosen to hire a professional photographer was because she wanted those memories captured for her husband. She said that she found out about about birth photography the way most of us discover new ideas these days; via the internet. She chose Alissa because she was excited about working with Tara, and she was affordable; and she was able to do Tara's maternity, birth, and newborn photos all for a great price.
When I asked Tara how she felt when she saw the photos of her birth, her first response said it all: "I cried." Tara had a fast labor which she said often felt overwhelming, but the pictures helped her to see the experience from the outside, and to know what the rest of us who attended her birth had seen. She was very pleased with the photos that Alissa had taken. She said," She was able to capture the emotion, the bond between me and my mom, and the unique aspects of my birth." She said that the images also meant a lot to her husband and made him very emotional when he saw them for the first time. When I asked her for her overall experience with birth photography, she said, "I am so glad that I did it. It was worth every penny."
Tara shared with me some of her favorite photos from her birth to share with you. I hope you love them as much as I do. I was so honored to attend Tara's birth and witness her strength and resilience. In my next blog post, I will be sharing three local birth photographers and their work with you. After this experience, I am an even bigger fan of birth photography, and I highly recommend if you are giving birth soon that you look into it and see if it is something that you would like to do.
All images copyright Alissa Bray Photography 2016. Visit her website or Facebook page for more amazing images.
Taking care of a baby is hard work, but you must take care of yourself as well. These tips will help ensure that you and your family eat well during the postpartum period. In addition, for a limited time, I am offering the excellent planning guide, "Your Postpartum Plan: Going Beyond the Birth" to everyone who schedules a free consultation with me. For more information, click here.
Two weeks ago my baby, my youngest child, turned five. FIVE. It is such a bittersweet thing to watch your youngest grow up. I love the girl she is turning into, but a part of me will always mourn the baby she no longer is, even more so than with my other two children. But as I was reminiscing about her baby days, I thought of her birth, which was amazing in so many ways, but also so different than I expected it to be. This led me to thinking about birth and expectations.
I think most of us, whether it is our first birth or out fifteenth, go into our births with some kind of expectation of what it will be like. If you have had children before, you might expect this one to be somewhat similar to the last one. If it is your first birth, your expectations may be shaped by the media, or the stories of your family and friends. You might expect it to be awful, great, or somewhere in between, but you likely have some expectations about it.
My expectations for my third birth is that it would be amazing. To give some background, my first two children were born in hospitals. My second did not go at all as I had wanted it to, so I decided to give homebirth a try. I knew this would likely be my last child so I threw myself into making sure it was everything I hoped it would be. I listened to hypnobabies CDs and visualized myself having a fast and easy birth. I hired a wonderful midwife team. I ate as well as I could, and watched youtube videos of homebirths. These laboring women were so calm as they quietly pushed their babies out into their birth pools. I had actually been pretty calm during my first birth, which was unmedicated. I felt very confident that I was going get exactly the birth I was planning for, the birth I expected.
But birth rarely goes the way that we plan, or the way we expect. I see it over an over again as a doula. A woman goes into her labor expecting one thing and getting something very different. I know that is how it was for me. I was 41 weeks and 6 days pregnant. My fluid was low, I was grumpy, and I felt very strongly that it was time my little one vacated her comfy home of 9+ months. So after avoiding even thinking about taking such a step for weeks, I downed a dose of castor oil, thankfully disguised in an ice cream milkshake.
When contractions began, they surprised me. I was expecting labor to begin slowly, as my other two had, with mild contractions spaced apart pretty widely. Instead, these hit hard and fast, and despite my weeks of hypnobabies telling me that I could have a painless childbirth, they HURT. My husband set about filling the birth pool, we let the midwives know what was going on, and I descended into Laborland. (Note that here is where I could have really used a doula because my husband spent pretty much all of my labor filing the birth pool, which as you will see turned out to be a wasted effort.)
A few hours later my midwives arrived, checked baby's heartbeat, and found all was well so they settled into their watchful waiting. I, on the other hand, was crawling around on the floor with my birth ball and I was being LOUD. This was not the quiet peaceful homebirth I had envisioned. Finally, FINALLY, about an hour after the midwives got there, the birth pool was filled and it was the right temperature. My midwife asked if I would like to have my cervix checked before getting in and I agreed so I climbed on the bed. She told me I was complete (10cm) which was great news because it meant I was almost done. But the truth was I was a lot closer to done than I thought! Six minutes later, my eight and a half pound daughter came barreling out of me while I screamed at the top of my lungs the whole time. Yep, my expected calm, quiet, beautiful waterbirth, ended up with me screaming on my bed. And the first thing I said when she was out was, "I am so glad that is over!"
Everything that happened after that was great. I was allowed to deliver the placenta on my own and in my own time. I only had a tiny tear and I felt like I had conquered Everest! My older two kids were able to come and meet their baby sister only an hour or so after she was born. I was able to rest and recuperate in my own bed. It was wonderful.
But for months after her birth, I was left feeling unsettled about it all, as if somehow, by not getting what I had expected, I had failed. Maybe if I had waited another day and not taken the castor oil, things would have been easier. Maybe I should have listened to the hypnobabies more often; then it might have worked better for me. We should have planned better for how long the birth tub would take to fill up. And on and on.
It took becoming a doula for me to come to terms with my unrealized expectations for this birth. I learned over and over that the only thing predictable about birth is that it is unpredictable. I didn't fail at birth. In fact, it is impossible to fail at birth. Did it go the way I had expected? Nope. Instead, it was raw and real, and I was strong. I am now able to look back and be proud of myself and not the least bit ashamed that my favorite part was when it was over.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is, plan and dream a little bit when preparing for your birth. But remember that when it comes down to it, there is no way to know what it will be like for you or how it will go. That is part of the miracle. Release your expectations and trust that you will be able to do it, that you will birth your baby in the way he or she needs to be birthed. And it will be amazing.
Back in early December, I had the opportunity to be a vendor at the Winter Wonderland event at Wise Acres Organic Farm in Indian Trail, NC. (Side Note: I love Wise Acres. Can't wait until strawberry season!) It was so much fun to dialogue with different people about my work. Here is how those conversations usually went:
Me: I'm a doula!
Person: Oh, so like a midwife?
Me: Not exactly. Birth doulas provide support to the laboring mother and partner during birth, and postpartum doulas help during the postpartum period. I do both!
Person: So, you only go to homebirths then?
Me: No, actually most of my clients birth in the hospital.
Person: Blank look.
I think this graphic is really helpful for understanding the different roles that doulas and midwives play during a birth:
But the differences between doulas and midwives isn't really what this post is about.
What many do not know about me is that for a while after I started my journey to become a doula, I thought that I might use it as a stepping stone to someday becoming a midwife. I looked around the internet at midwifery schools, debated the pros and cons of CNM (certified nurse midwife) versus CPM (certified professional midwife), and dreamed about how someday I would change future of birth with my radical midwife ways.
But then I actually started attending births as a doula. I realized how much I really enjoyed my role as encourager, supporter, and cheerleader. I also got to see midwives in action and I found I did not have a desire to do the things they did. Midwives monitored progress, talked over birth choices, did cervical checks. I rubbed backs, suggested different positions, talked my clients through contractions. I began to have less and less desire to pursue midwifery and instead set out to become the best doula I could be. I finally decided that my passion was truly ignited in my work as a doula. Here are the three main reasons that I will NOT be pursuing midwifery:
I am so thankful for the midwives that have chosen their path to supporting women during childbirth. I am proud to work alongside them in our complementary roles, but I no longer have the desire to become one. For me, the work of the birth and postpartum doula is the perfect fit! I love serving families in Charlotte and the surrounding areas as a doula and I hope to continue to do this work for as long as I am able. If you are interested in having a free consultation with me to find out if my services would be a good fit for you, contact me here.
A birth and postpartum doula service proudly serving Charlotte, NC and surrounding areas including Concord, Statesville, Harrisburg, Mint Hill, Matthews, Monroe, Indian Trail, Belmont, Mt. Holly, Midland, Huntersville, and Pineville, NC, and Fort Mill and Rock Hill, SC