There are a lot of reactions, some quite humorous, that I get when people first learn what I do for a living. Comments range from "You take pictures of WHAT?" to "You mean, you specialize in like, er, downstairs photography?" - all to which I typically respond with a chuckle and an explanation that birth photography is not about the "vag shot," but documents the power, the emotions, the first "meet cutes" that will forever mark the day a little one arrives.
But I think the hardest reaction to hear is the one from mamas that sounds like some version of this: "I'm not sure I want to see what I look like during labor... I'm not even sure that's something I want to remember! I'll look like a hot mess!"
My heart breaks a little when I hear this, because while birth itself might sometimes be messy, the beauty involved in the process goes so far beyond the cuteness of the teensy tiny newborn features you get to ooh and aww over at the end.
I want to let you in on a secret that comes from the perspective of someone who has witnessed numerous women of every shape, size and color give birth since I began this business of mine two years ago... so believe me when I tell you that you are absolutely stunning while you are bringing that baby earth side.
I heard your eyes just roll. But truly, you need to see yourself through my eyes.
When I see you grip the sheets during a contraction, I see fierce strength going nose to nose with fear, and winning.
When your partner wipes the tears and mascara stains from underneath your eyes, I see the kind of vulnerability and openness that will create a safe haven in your family for your sweet baby as they grow.
When I watch you rock those mesh undies like they're Victoria's latest secret, I see a sense of humor that will fill your home with laughter for years to come, and that will make your little one look forward to coming home every time they leave the nest.
When you melt into your spouse's waiting arms for the thousandth time after the peak of pressure wanes, I see the tender love and affection that will provide stability even in your child's most unstable moments (#becausetoddler), and an example as they someday look for their own partner in crime.
When I hear you cry "I don't think I can do this anymore" in the throes of transition and pushing, and then go ahead and do it anyways, I see determination and grit that will move your children to do things they didn't know were possible.
When I see the beads of sweat roll down your forehead and mingle with tears on your cheeks, I see rain on freshly sowed seeds that will reap an incredible harvest in God's timing.
And when I see your hands and chin tremble as they place your precious baby on your chest for the first time, I see breathtaking grace as you learn for perhaps the first time, the simple truth in the verse, "My power is made perfect in your weakness."
You see, mama: Birth and the memories attached to it are not something to be simply endured, an experience to "get through"... they and YOU should be embraced and documented and celebrated. Not solely because of the new life in your arms... but because of the new YOU that has come out of the process. You breathed, you carried, you relaxed, you moved, you cried, you fought, you accepted, you pushed, you conquered. And in every single moment, you were captivating.
Years from now, that sweet child you carry will look back on the photos from their original birth day... and they won't see a puffy face or ankles, the fact that your makeup had worn off by hour 3 of labor, or the extra sheen on your hair from a marathon's worth of work and hormones. No, they will see the evidence of the life-altering love that existed in the room as they were welcomed into their family. They'll see the comfort that came to them only in your arms. And they'll be reminded that you are on their side to the finish, the arms they can run to when the world crashes in around them, their safe place.
Mama, you are magnificent... so own it.
And don't let these precious memories pass you by.