Friday, February 24, 2012

Guest Blogger: Life of a Birth Photographer with Melissa from MJ Birth Photography

I am so pleased to have Melissa doing a guest post today, we actually went to high school together 
(she was a Freshman when I was a Senior) 
and attended the same church for awhile.!

We got connected again
 through Facebook and having children around the same ages.

Melissa is a fantastic photographer whose passion is to capture life as it enters the world.  

Welcome Melissa!

I love my job. I am the birth photographer for 
Trillium Waterbirth Center in Southern Oregon. I am also a beginning study group student at the birth center, so as I photograph births I am getting incredible amounts of valuable hands on experience to go along with my class. Sometimes I feel like I am constantly living on a "birth high" (That oxytocin is contagious!) When I come home from a birth I usually try to talk to my husband so excitedly he can't understand a word I'm trying to get out! I am so blessed to enter a woman's birth space and document her journey into motherhood and her baby's journey into the world. I get different reactions when I tell people what I do. Most moms who have had babies think it is amazing, and comment on how they wished they had a birth photographer for their births. Some people react with a "you do WHAT?" look on their face while they smile and nod. No matter what the initial reaction is, almost everyone wonders how I came to be a birth photographer.

I have been a longtime fanatic of the birth world. It must have been something I was born with. It's a passion that drives me to read huge volumes of birth textbooks and watch a large amount of youtube birth videos. (My dear husband can cook an entire Saturday morning breakfast to the screams of laboring women without batting an eye. He is perfect for me). We got pregnant with our first baby four months after we were married. The entire pregnancy was new and exciting, I was high on life. I read books, magazines, blogs, websites and learned as much as I could. I planned a hospital birth with midwives, because I believed homebirthers were crazy hippies.

After a very easy 9 hour labor with an epidural, my world was forever changed when my beautiful baby girl slipped into my arms. After Alexis was born I gushed to anyone who would listen about her birth. I lived for the moment when someone asked me how it went or I could somehow slip the topic of birth into a conversation. ("Man, the line was so long at the DMV" "Oh that reminds me of my birth..."). The birth of Alexis was so incredible and life changing I dove deeper into the world of pregnancy and birth. Everything fascinated me! I started planning a homebirth for my next pregnancy. (I decided I could be a crazy hippie homebirther after all) The hospital birth had been so easy, why not do it at home? I did my research and picked the best homebirth midwife in our area. 

Shortly after I had Alexis, I realized I had been bit by the birth bug. The birth world called to me, I had to find a way to be involved. I looked into getting my Doula certification, I even looked into midwifery, but I didn't think I was cut out to make it through nursing school. My husband and I were getting more involved in photography, and with our new DSLR Canon, I decided to try to get into birth photography. I was lucky enough to have a sister in law who was 8 months pregnant. I shot the birth of her third child and I knew I was hooked. Slowly I began picking up clients, friends heard I took birth pictures and asked me to come to their birth. Meanwhile my husband and I stumbled into the world of wedding photography, and we began to shoot weddings together. When I originally decided to get into birth photography, it was virtually unheard of in our area. Now it is growing quickly in popularity, and it excites me. I'm so thankful the importance of a mothers labor and birth journey is being recognized as something worthy of documenting. One of my biggest regrets about my first birth is not filming it. I only have still shots, no video. I was sure to get lots of footage for my second birth, but it doesn't make up for the fact that I have no footage of my first birth.

While my husband and I were busy building a side photography business, we were ecstatic to get pregnant again, and we pushed forward with our homebirth plans.  Once again I had a wonderful pregnancy (with all the normal pregnancy aches and pains and morning sickness). I had our 2nd daughter in the water at home 2 days before my due date. It was another easy 8 hour labor (with 14 not so easy minutes of pushing!), and everything went off without a hitch. My midwives were professional, compassionate, and everything I could ever want in a midwife. I loved the whole midwife experience so much I joined the year long beginning midwifery study group class through the birth center. I wanted to stay involved with the birth center in any way I could, I was in love with the environment and the midwives who ran it.

 When Sophia was three months old, my midwife called to ask if I would be interested in being hired on as their full time birth photographer. It took everything I had NOT to start jumping around for joy while I was still on the phone. Not only would I be working with the midwives who delivered Sophia, it would be steady births, and I would be able to quit my job working at the drive through coffee stand. So I did it - I quit my barista job and put my life into working at the birth center. I shot my first birth there in November, and the births kept coming. I photographed 3 births on Christmas Eve - I must say, though wonderfully satisfying, it was quite hectic running from birth to birth! The more births I attended, the more birth felt completely comfortable and natural for me. I love listening to the "labor song" of mamas. 

My midwife has taught me so much through working at the center. She is a wealth of information, and I soak it up like a sponge. She has taught me how to identify what is happening by sounds in the voice. I know the sound of the last bit of cervix melting away (a low, deep moan breaks into a high pitched shrieking moan at the end), the sound of baby beginning to pass through a fully dilated cervix, and the sound of a mama close to transitioning into pushing. Just this morning I photographed the birth of a baby born in the caul (amniotic sac still intact), which is said to be as rare as every 80,000 births! In cultures across the world being born in the caul is a sign of a prophet. What a joy to be at one of those special deliveries! I see mamas triumph over all odds and deliver beautiful babies after being told their pelvis was too small to birth naturally. I see mamas who make their way silently through labor, and mamas who scream bloody murder at the top of their lungs while pushing their baby out. (And, have to admit I was a screamer the last 14 minutes of my birth too!).

Being a birth photographer can be a little crazy. The hours are extremely unpredictable (I once left during my family's Christmas celebration to shoot a birth) and can be inconvenient. (At 4:35 this morning I was pouring two day old iced tea over my windshield to help it defrost quicker in the bitter cold). I have to have constant on-call childcare. I have now started answering my phone and talking before I'm fully awake in the middle of the night, forgetting half the conversation by the time I hang up - my midwife assured me it comes with the territory.  Despite all this, time and time again I realize how much I am blessed and renewed each time I attend a birth. One excited new dad asked me, "How do you sleep at night with so much magic in your life?! How can you handle all this wonderfulness?! This is real life! This is LIFE!" I couldn't say it better myself.

Right after her second daughter was born at home


  1. I'm not going to lie, childbirth scares the crap out of me. How neat that Melissa has such a passion for this!