A moment in time

We go to great lengths to photograph life’s big moments — those first smiles and steps, all the birthdays, the start of each school year, graduation day, wedding vows. 

So why wouldn’t we capture the very first one, the beginning of it all? 

Yes, birth photography may seem like an act of exhibitionism to some — a cruel-and-unusual addition to an already painful process. (Surely the last thing needed by a woman mid-contraction is a wide-angle camera lens in her face or, ahem, elsewhere.) 

But it’s nothing like that, I can assure you.

Earlier this year, my husband and I enlisted a birth photographer to document the arrival of our third child. It was a late-night, third-trimester decision. 

Why now?

Why our third and not our first or second?

A friend had posted a few birth photos of her third-born — captured by Meredith Westin, a Minneapolis-based birth photographer. 

When I saw one of the black-and-white images on Instagram, I was moved. Struck by the look of joyful discovery in her husband’s eyes, leaning in to get the first glimpse of his newborn son. Awed by the heroism of my friend, fierce in labor and tender in receiving her baby. Envious that they had his arrival preserved forever — perfectly and permanently. 

A gift no one could ever take from them. 

A week later, Meredith and I met at a Caribou Coffee to go over the plan. She felt like both an old friend and a consummate professional, keen and sensitive. She pledged not to share any images publicly without my permission. 

She had good questions: What was I expecting for the birth? Would I want to know if I had mascara streaked down my cheeks? Were there certain regions I wanted her to keep out of the frame? 

Without hesitation, I gave her a carte blanche. Might as well do this full-fledged and edit or omit later. 

Meredith’s background prepares her well for this unique gig — a decade of photography experience (with a well-honed journalistic lean) and expertise in low-lit concert photography. She is even a trained doula! 

Capturing anticipation and wonder

Meeting with Meredith had an unexpected effect: It filled me with excitement for labor. Of course, I was already eagerly anticipating our baby’s birth, yearning to see his face, learn his gender and snuggle him close. 

But meeting Meredith heightened the happiness factor. It’s nice to look forward to labor, to know you’ve added something sweet and special to it. I waddled out of the coffee shop with a spring in my step. 

Meredith became a welcome support system as the countdown ensued. I texted her updates and inklings. Mucus plug shed. Membranes stripped. Pressure mounting. Induction scheduled. 

Finally, 13 days after the original due date, which my OB bumped back, Archie arrived — 9 pounds, 11 ounces. 

Every labor has its own dramatic arc, and Meredith captured it all.

Her pictures brought the blur of events into sharp focus, frozen in time. When I look at them, I remember anew. 

At the same time, I’m presented a much wider lens than I had from the hospital bed, revealing things I missed in real time. Ted’s ready support, his look of worry and wonder. I see the whole scene, intricately arranged to welcome and warm, snip and stitch.

Sisters, meet your brother

A couple hours after Archie’s birth, his sisters came to meet him. Meredith captured the scene deftly — breathless peeks, flickers of uncertainty, big laughs. These images are among my favorites. 

How remarkable it will be to one day show the kids: “This is when you met your brother!” 

I am so grateful for the pictures taken by Meredith, with help from Nicole Hollenkamp Photography, a knowledgeable mama and fellow birth photographer, who swooped in to cover until Meredith returned from a trip up north. 

It’s a distinct privilege to be able to get pregnant and deliver a baby — and, in the long view of motherhood, such a fleeting stage. 

I want to hold it in my heart forever. 

One day, when I’m well into menopause, when my babies are having babies, it will be so meaningful to have these images to harken back to the moment it all began. 

Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three young children in Inver Grove Heights. To see more pictures of Archie, now 6 months old, visit her blog at mnparent.com/charmed. Meredith Westin is Minneapolis-based birth photographer and doula. Learn more at meredithwestin.com.

10 things I didn’t know about birth photography

After having such an ideal birth-photography experience, I’m now quick to recommend birth photography to my pregnant friends. Surprisingly few of the moms-to-be I’ve mentioned it to were even considering it. Here’s what I discovered:

1. It’s prudent to confirm that your hospital is OK with birth photography and/or to note the presence of a photographer in your birth plan. Most medical professionals are fine with it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. The team at United Hospital in St. Paul had no problem with it.

2. Knowing we were having the birth documented made me a bit more mindful of my appearance when labor felt imminent. There was no Kim Kardashian glam squad to enlist, but I found myself pulling out my flat iron and mascara wand during several false alarms. I appreciated the impetus to refresh during those difficult final days, even though I felt like a beached whale with lipstick! 

3. Having a birth photographer present adds a layer of support to the labor experience, akin to having a doula in your room, advocating for you. (I’ve hired a doula before.) Somehow Meredith managed to be transparent — I wasn’t aware she was there — while also lending a comforting presence. She seemed to have perfect instincts on when to get up close and when to step back. 

4. A hired photographer’s presence relieves the husband (or partner) to do what he’s there for — supporting the woman in labor. Done right, this is an all-consuming job. Asking him to grab a camera and document Baby’s arrival takes him out of the moment, adding a regrettable distance and unfair burden. 

5. The black-and-white that birth photographers use conceals a lot. It’s not gross or bloody. It’s artistic and photojournalistic. 

6. A skilled birth photographer can work small miracles with angles, revealing the right parts and covering others. I look at Meredith’s photos and wonder: How did she do that? The fluorescent lighting in a hospital room is almost impossible for an amateur to bend to his or her will. Meredith’s photos made the room look positively celestial.

7. Birth photography preserves all the details that can be so readily wiped away from memory — the clock, the whiteboard, the heart-rate monitor, the scale, the crib card. 

8. Documenting the intimate moments your child’s birth doesn’t automatically make you an over-sharer. If you publish one modest, artistic black-and-white to Instagram, I guarantee it’ll be a huge hit — probably your most popular post of the year. But you also can keep all the other images — private, just for you. 

9. You’ll cherish the “first glimpse” photos, as Meredith calls them, of the baby’s first visitors — a new grandparent, a newly promoted big sibling, a dear friend — a big part of your child’s birth story.

10. These images can function as a birth announcement. Meredith, who is known for her speedy turnaround, provided a sneak peek of our session within 24 hours of the birth. She said her clients often remark on what an awesome experience it is to gaze at the images so shortly after delivery — still in the hospital, exhausted and elated. I texted our preview link to various friends and relatives, which felt like the coolest possible way to break the news and also spared me the effort of tapping out the FAQs in between nursings, naps and nurse visits.