Capturing life's beginnings
It's often hard to put into words the experience of a baby being born.
But photos of those beautiful and extremely emotional moments when a mother gives birth and a baby takes its first breath tell the story all on their own.
That seems to the consensus why birth photography is gaining such a huge following among folks and the media across Canada.
So much, a new directory birthphotographers.ca is connecting Canadians with professional photographers across the country.
And that includes Cowichanians.
The birth of Cobble Hill's Amber and Corey Pywell's third child, son Carter Wade Pywell, is remembered with high quality images captured by Ladysmith birth and lifestyle photographer Ashley Marston.
She as well as Kim Lavender-Kitchen of Twiggy Photography in Crofton can be found on the nation-wide directory.
“It’s just so beautiful and I’m so proud of it,” Amber, 32, said of the collection of images Marston turned into a slideshow from Carter's birth Feb. 15, 2013.
"I tell everybody about it and tell them to go look at the birth story slideshow on Ashley's Facebook page."
She and Corey agree if the could go back in time and have their other two daughter's births captured, they wouldn't think twice.
"I suggest to everyone I know having a baby to at least look into it," said Corey, 40. "I would have done it with all three, no doubt."
The Pywells, still settling from their move from Sahtlam to Cobble Hill in December, discovered birth photography through their search for someone to shoot pregnancy photos of Amber.
"Everything was so crazy with the move then, but we realized we needed to book a photographer to take pregnancy and then also newborn photos," she said.
A friend helped her connect with local professionals specializing in those fields through Facebook.
"I looked at a number of pages on Facebook, but one in particular stuck out," Amber explained. "I saw the birth story video of the lady Ashley photographed before my birth and I just sat there and balled my eyes out.
"I thought I’ve got to ask Corey if he’d be OK with that."
Corey was a teensy bit leery at first, not 100 per cent comfortable with having a stranger in the delivery room with them.
But when delivery day arrived, Marston wasn't a stranger anymore.
"I didn’t know Ashley from a hole in the wall either," said Amber. "But she was just wonderful and we were super comfortable with her when we met her before Carter was born."
"I think the whole time she was there during the delivery, I maybe only noticed she was there a couple times. I hardly noticed her at all," he said.
"When she arrived at the hospital, I felt like it was just one of my great friends arriving and I was so excited," said Amber.
Some of the skills developed being a birth photographer include working in low-light situations and finding interesting angles while staying inconspicuous.
"The time between active labour and getting ready to push can take some time, so this is when I quietly find just the right spots and angles," explained Marston, who's now captured six births.
A mother of three, Marston got into photography about four years ago and was introduced to the idea of birth photography through a link she followed to an article in the New York Times.
"I call that moment my 'Oprah ah ha' moment," Marston said. "I loved the idea of telling a story. And what better story to tell than the day a family welcomes a beautiful baby into the world."
But birth photography isn't always sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.
Marston recently shared on Facebook a day in the life of a birth photographer scenario from fellow photographer Lexia Frank.
"Shooting a birth is like getting an inquiry from a bride saying that she wants you to come photograph her wedding, but isn't going to set a date. She'll just call you whenever and when you ask her how many hours of coverage she would like, she says she's not sure, probably around 24, but maybe only two," said Frank.
"...She doesnt want any use of flash. So when you ask her if there will be bountiful natural light she says she will be getting married in a dark closet with no light whatsoever. And, she's going to want the images right away to send out announcements."
There are also difficult conversations with clients on how to proceed if something was to go wrong during delivery.
This could be many things, including a baby having trouble taking its first breath, a baby born with birth defects, a stillborn, or troubles with a mom who's say lost too much blood post-delivery.
Marston always asks clients, "How would you want me to proceed?"
A decision is also made on what kinds of shots a client wants captured.
"I said no crotch shots, no double chins and please try to avoid my linebacker arms," said Amber.
"A lot of people just assume birth photography is just the 'downtown' photos, but no it's not that if you don't want it to be."
Although Marston said she is quite comfortable shooting any angle.
"Do they make it into the baby book? Not usually," she said of the more personal images including babies crowning. "But it's fascinating to see what you as a woman have accomplished."
"Birth photography does so much more than create individual images; it tells a beautiful story of families being created and falling in love," said directory co-founder and Vancouver birth photographer Morag Hastings. "Professional birth photographers tell these stories in a way that parents can look back on with amazement and wonder as they remember the day of their baby's birth."
Marston couldn't agree more.
"Your child will not only see its tiny self, but the way their parents worked together, the love that was in the room, the uninhibited joy on moms face the first time meeting them, and the first time they opened their eyes and looked right into yours."