Birth Photography: The Elephant in the Room

5 09 2016

elephantI’m about to liken birth photography to pornography.

Now if you haven’t already accepted certain basic principles of birth physiology, you’re probably not going to appreciate this post. More details on what those are can be found here, and here.

If you’re still with me, you may be one of those who this is best geared for:  a very specific kind of freebirther, the fringe of the fringe, the most primitive. Hello sister.

I know it seems like I’m once again here to rain on your parades, but as we acknowledge that birth is part of the sexual continuum, and that birth has been hijacked by people who pretend to be helpers who don’t belong there and endanger us, it would behoove us to acknowledge that we are not fully unindoctrinated while we are still allowing outsiders into that sacred, private space out of a fear that we would miss out on something desirable as influenced by current social norms. What we end up really missing out on is a whole lot more.

After all, many people still birth in hospitals partly out of a fear of missing out on some things, certain things they have come to expect. Certain indignations normalized.

A small example:  I remember one of the things I believed I would “miss” was feeling like I was on vacation. Staying in a bed in a room, having food brought to me, being expected to rest, taking a break from the normal routines… That gets easier to break up with when you face that this kind of “vacation” is really a recovery from trauma the likes of which you won’t experience if you stay home and do it yourself. Most of us don’t chop off our arms to get a vacation, either. Well, not if we’re healthy of mind, anyway. Not to mention the fact that you can rest and be waited on at home, too; even though it doesn’t feel like “going away”, your baby belongs at home and your nest is the most appropriate place to nestle.

We’re so used to expecting certain things and having certain norms that we hesitate to part with them or we want to incorporate them into experience, like a tradition. But how many traditions are actually fads? This era holds that birth pictures and video are not to be missed out on, like wedding video and pictures. Only the photographer usually doesn’t stay to capture the wedding night, which birth is honestly much more like. And that’s the (big) difference.

When I say birth is part of the sexual continuum, I’m pointing out something that most natural birthers already acknowledge. That is that the life cycle starts with sex, ideally preceded by two people with excellent chemistry falling in love and having lots of trust (maximum oxytocin overload, pleasurable life, healthy setup for the future). And that is an act that is carried on by two people and two people only. For the act of creation and furthering of the species, this example takes a man and a woman. For them to feel fully secure and give in to the moment and all the beautiful chemical reactions awaiting them, they need to feel privacy.

(Voyeurism is not a part of this chain; it is a socially developed kink. I’m trying to get back to our roots, not away from.)

The people– but I’m going to focus specifically on the woman– need to feel that their guard can be completely let down in order to fully give in to feeling the way they are feeling with each other. That is the only way they can really be free. Part of this primal act being so guarded could be partly due to our instinct to be aware of predators. We would be especially vulnerable to an outside attack in these sensitive moments. It also may have to do with bonding, as anything that would interfere with or leech off of man-to-woman bonding in intercourse threatens the future of the family. The oxytocin in that moment is the seed, spark, foundation of deep trust and sense of love, that promises a strong attachment and furthers the survival and protection of any offspring yet to come. The more solidified and respected that bond, the higher the chances of success for our species on the whole.

(On a spiritual and romantic level, I also feel the privacy is extremely validated, but I will return to focus on the physical to be basic, fundamental, and not digress. I don’t have time to explain my philosophy to you right now, nor do I think everyone might care.)

What naturally follows, if impregnated, is birth. The emergence of the new life from the same portal through which the possibility of life had to enter. And the state of mind of the woman laboring or birthing is similar in that the thinking mind is shut off, giving way to the primitive mind and instinct and body taking over, and that any outsiders to this event are viewed as intruders– which will either hinder her response, endanger it/her, or temporarily stop the process altogether. Birth involves an altered state of consciousness, when allowed to proceed naturally. Birth is perhaps the most vulnerable naturally occurring moment to a human life and we are wired to be aware of the presence of those who do not belong in order to protect ourselves and our young. The same people at the sexual union are the people who are good candidates to be present at the birth. No more, and maybe less. To violate that puts the woman in fight-or-flight mode. There are plenty of references in literature to just how this is harmful to labor and you can read more about it and the Fear Tension Pain Cycle in books like Childbirth Without Fear, and Unassisted Childbirth.

As an aside, Michel Odent has given some great notes on how a man should behave *if* he is invited into the birth space, even if a woman trusts and loves him. Read any of his works and especially Birth and Breastfeeding for more information.

When the primitive, physiological self is allowed to take over for the thinking mind, without fear, in the absence of any intrusion, in sex and in childbirth, the result is ease, satisfaction, proper release of oxytocin for bonding and love and pleasure with whomever the deserving and receiving partner or life mate is, if around. This works for woman to man in intercourse, and man and woman and baby in childbirth, as the culmination of their act of love and the solidifying of the family unit. This was nature’s plan for human longevity, and it’s the brilliance of its design. It is built into us. A strong unit is formed, and strong tribes may form.

A woman needs to be able to tap into that deep place within herself that without societally-based fears and expectations, the likes of which are imposed on all of us regarding birth from a very young age. And she can’t do that as long as you are selling her products. She can’t do that when you’re telling her there is still something modern she will need, something extra and more than what she is that she should want, something she will regret not adding in because other mothers have it and it’s so important, and keep her further and further away from her original design and function. You’re keeping her from her purest and truest self and essence, and if you succeed, she will never know it in this life. Her body is an astounding work of creation, moreso than any camera ever could be. And we hinder that. Because we are delighted by the modern marvel more than the organic miracle. We keep reaching for shiny distractions and no longer respect when it is time to put those away.

In some parallel universe somewhere, there is orgasm/conception photography, for the same reasons as we do birth photographs now.

I look at birth video and photography much in the same way I would look at the concept of artistic orgasm photography. I appreciate the interest in capturing a moment. I appreciate the reverence for the look on the woman’s face, the awe in her rawness. And if I were watching someone have actual sex on video, even if “tastefully done”, I would have to admit it is really pushing it in terms of being a form of pornography.

Because… I’m not supposed to be there. This is private. I may be interested, I may be intrigued, but this is not for me to watch. Those are not my moments, those are not my chemicals. I’m an intruder, and this belongs to someone else. This is sacred.

And you can photograph sex and birth all you like, but you will never truly capture the reality of what the moment would look like if you were not there at all.

Imagine if the things people say about birth photography were said about intercourse photography?

“They’re a real pro, you won’t even know they’re there.”

“They silently stay out of the way and blend in with the background.”

“We have a mutual acquaintance that can really vouch for them, so I trust them.”

“The photographer is my sister.”

“You will be so lost in the moment, you will have no awareness that they’re even in the room. And you’ll be so ‘busy’ you won’t even care at that point.”

What about this is not creepy?

I know birth and sex are not perfectly synonymous, but that’s not the point. The point is that the woman is tapped into the same states of being with her body producing some of the same hormones, functions and effects, having the same physiological needs to make the effort a success. You can spoil one just as easily as you can spoil the other, with these wrong attitudes towards the acts.

And if you honestly believe when looking at any birth photos or vids (or ones of sex….) that what you are viewing would be exactly the same without the extra people and the cameras, you’re lying to yourself. Men who watch porn also think they are watching reality. Granted, pornography is often consciously a performance, while being taped in birth becomes more of subconsciously performing. You are not seeing an unhindered woman. The camera will always add the element of observation or performance, however subtle or inconspicuous it seems to the observer/observed. You are not getting the fullest, unbridled, wild, natural person who is free from being studied, judged, or captured. (Even just think about the language… she is “captured” on film. She is subdued, watched, controlled.) The woman will always be aware somewhere in her consciousness of your presence, because her primitive mind is keen and sharp to detect this as a rule, as a defense mechanism innate to her, and it *will* have an impact on her. And that impact is restraint and tension.

Here is the part where someone chimes in, “You don’t know me. Not all women are the same. Everyone has different needs.” Wrong. All women *are* the same. Let’s look at the hierarchy of needs.

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

I imagine the resulting photograph keepsakes contribute to the tier entitled “Esteem”.



First we acknowledge that birth is a physiological, physical event. You don’t birth with your personality or your brain, you birth with your body. You are an animal. Then let’s address that the primal body is the one tasked with giving birth as it does instinctively, when not held back or restrained. Then let’s observe that stimulation of the thinking mind, or neocortex, keeps one from dropping deep into primal brain activity, and that the neocortex is stimulated by having company. In this we must admit that the presence of others serves functionally to restrain the primal woman, keeping her in the worst state of consciousness for an easy birth.

Now tell me you deny this and that you’re built differently from other women.

“But humans are social animals! I am a very social person!”

Your baby whom you are giving birth to is a person. This is an interaction between you and they. And sometimes, your partner, if invited to the birth space. These are all people.

What more in the way of social do you require?

You may be a social butterfly, but please note this is a psychological trait and not a primal one. Your primal self is the one giving birth, the one you need to honor, the one for whom all obstacles must get out of the way. If you glance again at the hierarchy of needs, you will note that physiology and safety are first, they are the foundation, and they are of utmost importance. Love and belonging to which I’ll assume the psychological wish to be surrounded by people owes itself, is secondary to those things. (Ironically, if you honor the physiological foundation first, you will find a deepening and intensifying of love due to all the oxytocin shared in earnest between you.)

Our physiology as women is the same. Our needs for safety as laboring mammals are the same: quiet, darkness, solitude, warmth. You can’t claim a psychological preference supersedes these. It is akin to saying, “But I really like the water!” to explain that you can be submerged and don’t need to breathe. You are not superhuman, your body is not made differently. We have basic needs. We need to breathe, we need to eat, we need to sleep, we need to not be obstructed or injured. Once those basic needs are covered, then we are able to move up to other less pressing wants, frequently formed by the thinking mind and not the primal one, such as being social.

If a woman’s psychological urges are so strong that she must obey those first, due to trauma, conditioning, or lack of awareness of the severity of these issues on our bodies, she will choose to be surrounded at birth. This is why I advise anyone trying to freebirth to conquer your psychological issues before birth, and ideally, before pregnancy.

I excuse these the same way I excuse elective Cesareans. Our trauma and where we are at in dealing with it will determine which choices we feel ready to make. For that I have sympathy, but with strong preference to trying to get women helped before their inclinations lead to more physical harm. In short, we all work with what we’ve got.

Your rational mind wants to be in control and will always find a way, always find fear and excuses. You cannot bargain with instinct, though. Instinct will be there whether you like it or not and you will not be able to rationalize with it. I recommend getting out of its way.

And not denying it.

To me birth vids and photography are like the big, voyeuristic, creepy, pervy, obstructing, restraining, intrusive elephant in the room. And elephants are apparently midwives, so that’s fitting.

When most natural birthers are looking at birth photos and vids and picking on things like,

“Oh, that baby is wearing a hat! Poor thing!”

“Look, they cut the cord right away.”

“OMG, how many hands are on that mama? And take off those gloves!”

Or even positive things like,

“Oh look, daddy caught!”

“What a fierce, strong mama in that birth pool.”

“I love your faces! You did it!”

“This is what birth is supposed to look like.”

No it’s not. You weren’t supposed to be there. You are getting a happy, joyous, or victorious fragment of her at best. You are viewing a fraction of her depth and what she would normally be capable of. And yes, even that fraction is beautiful to us, but our pleasure through her is ill-gained and of no importance. What she really deserved matters more. So I wince, like some of you wince and feel triggered when you see unnecessary Cesarean photos.

What repeats in my mind while even agreeing with their comments is, “have you noticed yet there was a camera/photographer there?” How much better might it have been for the mother and her baby if they weren’t some kind of show on display for us? As nice as it may be to have keepsake photos your baby’s delivery, might you be cheating yourselves when it comes to feeling something much more pure and unfiltered? Something potentially pain-free, non-injurious, untraumatized, and even ecstatic? Do you want to be one of those women who says immediately after, “I want to do it again”?

Another way birth is like sex.

The continuum of life, of sex, wants us to be rewarded. Our brains are supposed to feel good about these activities because this supports continuation of the species. Birth, like sex, is not “supposed” to be painful and we should stop promoting that it inherently is. Our pain is frequently connected to fear and control. We and our process and how we perceive it has been controlled and ideas fed to us and we are ruled and overcome by fear. I can only assume that, removing all this, our births would be mostly pleasurable. We will never know because even modern empowered women do not live in a vacuum. All of us are overcoming hostile influences. I want us to keep breaking away from these conventions so that one day our daughters might know this answer.

“And what about you, Elizabeth? Are you so perfect? You didn’t want photos and videos of your births?”

No, I fucked up, too. That’s why I’m here. My whole story is one of fucking it up, then getting it right, and then getting it a little bit more right, some more. If I can keep you from doing what I did and having to learn the hard way, that’s my dream.

My first birth in the hospital I videotaped and there were pictures. All kinds of people were in the room, strange men saw my ass, I vomited on people and cried. Bright lights and hooked up to machines, opiates and vaginal trauma… and I’m sure the recordings were negligible in influence after all that. But I’ve got it on record.

Birth 2 was too traumatic to have any recording devices out. I spent part of it in an ambulance, hoping to lose consciousness. Strange men saw my ass again.

My third birth when I was way more awakened, I went solo. I attempted to record video because I didn’t yet know any better, and the device failed to record, but it still acted as an “observing eye”. I was photographed in early labor which I suppose isn’t that bad while contractions are light. (In the sex analogy, this might be being photographed in a kiss.) I wanted to be alone through most of labor and only allowed pictures after the baby emerged in the pool. (Yes, I do think after-birth pictures in limitation are okay, and in the sex analogy, may be akin to an after-orgasm photo. Risque, a peek into something private, but still discrete. The body has done the hardest work after the moment of birth but you still want to be mindful not to disturb the mother in the third stage because she is still affected by needless interference and chatter.) This was an amazing birth and I do not doubt it could have been even more amazing without mechanical watching eyes. But the picture of me lifting my son out of the water of the birth pool and having achieved this triumph myself is one of the most beautiful images I’ve ever seen and may be my favorite picture of all time. You can see it on the back of my book, In Search of the Perfect Birth.

Birth 4 I knew better and we attempted no recording device and saved pictures for after baby was born. I cherish these because for the first time ever, the reveal of the sex was a complete shock and surprise (literally the opposite of what I thought I knew), and this moment and reaction was caught in a photo. Up until the pushing, this was also my absolute easiest and most manageable birth yet. Dark, solitude, warmth, relative quiet… it was downright blissful during most of it.

I wish you all the same successes and even beyond. We’re all waking up from the trappings of this machine.





No, Attachment Parenting Isn’t Some Evil Plot

7 04 2016

I saw this reddit-based propaganda piece written by a man (Jesse Singal) on the wicked, wicked ploy of evil people to guilt mothers into using attachment parenting methods in order to keep them locked away in their woman dungeons for all eternity. It is entitled “Is Attachment Parenting a Plot to Force Women Back Into the Home?”– lol. And who would know better than this man, and the infamous Dr. Amy?– otherwise known as “she who shall not be named” in internet mothering communities– because holy shit, if you say her name three times, like Beetlejuice (or Bloody Mary), she appears, along with her flying monkeys of Oz (her devotees), so badly so that modding internet mothering communities is a troll-infested nightmare. Not to digress too far, but let’s face it– Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and childbirth/motherhood has no shortage of women who are suffering (whether they know it or not) from PTSD and understandable accompanying rage which could be directed any which way by heady narcissists of the internet age. So, I started to respond to the piece and found my words quite lengthy, not at all appropriate for a tweet or even a series of tweets. Which brings us to this post.

(For those who don’t know, “attachment parenting” is just a fancy new way of labeling natural and instinctive mothering and parenting techniques, usually with the gentlest methods. It means picking up a baby when it cries, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, natural birthing, etc. There is nothing truly new or invented about it. And no two mothers do it exactly alike or even necessarily adhere to all of the components. Mothers often stay at home to fill this role. And make no mistake, language matters; naming these methods using only new buzzwords like “attachment parenting”  without further understanding is a clever psychological reversal that disguises the fact that woman is being separated from that which would have come naturally, to be replaced with reliance on “expert advice” to the contrary, stemming ultimately from patriarchal institutions. Creating doubt in a woman’s self and instincts is often packaged and sold to us as “equality”, and any feminist can attest to.)

Before I get into that, I just want to say that this is going to be just another case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, for women. No matter what women choose, it will be vilified, in case any of you needed reminding. Nothing is woman enough or feminist enough, unless it comes from a man or his institution, of course (and then it’s job well done). And so, pitting woman against woman is a divide and conquer strategy from those who want women to forget how amazing and strong and worthy they are of love and also basic human rights, and who truly do have ultimate mothering and parenting authority in the natural world. It’s a way of keeping us perpetually down. Now on with my response.

Dr. T is a horrible person who rallies angry, traumatized women together to attack and troll women who do things differently and those who have lost children. There have been numerous private groups of hers and her followers, some of which you were actually forced to show your ID in order to be accepted (I am not joking), so the worst of the worst is not visible to the general public. The scathing violent tendencies, the plotting to destroy lives, etc. However, what IS published is typically bad enough. (Yes It Is Your Fault That Your Baby Died At Your Homebirth. — and she has the nerve to pontificate on “social control of a woman”?) And I know about these deeds because I was one of the tormented (my crime: planning an unassisted birth and talking about the subject of freebirth publicly with other women). My friends were other targets of hers (some of these include mothers of stillborn children. I can think of at least 4 of these women off the top of my head– I know them in part because our shared antagonism by this woman brought us together over the years). She also believes single mothers, lesbians, and mothers who leave an abusive spouse are selfish.

amy

 

Will the Real Dr. Amy Please Stand Up?

And attachment parenting is just parenting. It’s just natural, instinctive parenting. There is no plot. It’s just what happens when mothers prioritize mothering over other forms of modern existence, as much as is in their comfort level. Many are religious and traditional but many are feminist and radical.

If Dr. T is so keen on staying in the work force, why did she spend all that effort to go to medical school and barely practice herself as a doctor only to become a stay at home mom to her own children? Then she took up internet doctoring and was charging people for answers, and is now writing books demonizing women who choose natural mothering choices, despite the fact that she did barely practice and is out of practice in her profession by at least two decades?

How feminist is Dr. Tuteur?
She is using a lot of feminist-seeming arguments about women in the work force and the societal guilting of women in motherhood, but she laughs at phrases like ‘birth rape’, insists all Cesareans are good if not all completely necessary, and flat out denies the abuses women endure under current obstetric rule in childbirth today. In her views of modern medicine and specifically obstetrics, patriarchy is suspiciously absent. That women seemed traumatized by their hospital births seems to be something Amy is really confused about the existence of, having no comprehension of the connection between serious bodily injury, detachment from baby and hormonal flow, and psychological harm to the mother or child. Her two-dimensional understanding of childbirth sounds very masculine: ‘you got a healthy baby, and that’s all that matters, so what are you whining about, selfish women?’ In her book, Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting, one of her many stabs at midwives indicates that they are “merely replacing the patriarchy with the matriarchy”, outing herself as not actually very feminist, at all.

She also doesn’t believe in intuition or any concept of “women’s wisdom”, and thinks those are essentially myths. To my mind, this is woman-hating. In her world, the only true thing is listening to your doctor. And you’re only smart and worthy of being left alone if you do exactly what he or she says. Amy doesn’t see her own hypocrisy and instead decides it’s the open breastfeeders (for example) who sing the virtue of the practice who are doing the bad deeds, because these actions somehow shame other mothers who don’t breastfeed and this makes them feel bad. For all the bashing of the romanticization of primitive/natural living/parenting, her allegiance seems to be to technology as this infallible lifesaving thing, despite the fact that it frequently stands in direct opposition to the natural world and is in fact responsible for numerous atrocities, and void of the recognition that the rape of the natural world and of women and mothers is more aggressive and harmful than *women who make other women feelz bad by doing*. Most radical feminist will understand me when I say that “biophobia” is deeply patriarchal.

I’ve been dealing with her for years after being targeted, and from knowing her story and watching her strategize, I am aware that she projects her bitterness and regrets onto others to make a name for herself and feel better about her own choices, both professionally and personally, as a former doctor and as a mother. She is relentless and vicious. She has Google alerts plus voluntary scouts seeking out baby loss stories and she goes at mothers immediately fresh in grief with her minions, armchair diagnosing whether or not they “killed” their babies when tragedy strikes. She’s like Westboro Baptist for natural parenting, birth, and baby loss. ( <— this mother is a radical feminist btw. Imagine losing a baby and having some internet psycho “doctor” sic her hundreds or thousands of rabid fans after you to harass you and potentially dox or harm you and your family? All because she disagreed with how you gave birth, how you parent, and because she crowned herself the long distance expert in your child’s cause of death?) She and others have believed women like me shouldn’t be published, don’t have a right to voice our opinions or stories… I think we’ve all seen how no-platforming affects our freedoms as women. And when they can’t get women like me censored, they come en masse to try to hurt us in the reviews.

If I try to separate myself from what I know are her motives and try to focus just on the argument, I could see how aspects of attachment parenting CAN be used as a method of guilting women into staying at home.

That said, these parenting methods are not a fad, they are (many of them) primal and predate our modern conventions and senses of what now constitutes “normal”.

I’m tired of her representing Dick-Read as a eugenicist, too. I’ve READ Childbirth Without Fear, has she? I doubt dickreadJesse Singal has read it either while he allows her to defame the author, not that Singal cares or has any reason to care, has any close personal connection to its contents or why it matters. It’s a great book and has helped generations of women have painless natural childbirth, liberating them from sadistic medical cycles that were stopping women from even wanting children (like after I had my 2nd born). Grantly Dick-Read’s critique is on civilization. White “civilized” women have been convinced they are not animals, which is a lie which has caused them undue torment in childbirth. Other “less civilized” women were having more ease. The man toured the globe. He was a doctor who reported what he witnessed. If anything, it is more damning of racism and classism and Western civilization. But Amy will twist that to whatever suits her warped agenda.

Grantly Dick-Read admired women and spoke highly of them and wanted to see them freed from pain. His reverence was so poetic it brought tears to my eyes on repeated occasions. Amy speaks ill of women constantly and seems to find glee is personally causing them pain. Their contributions to the world in terms of pain and suffering and disdain versus liberation and honoring is starkly felt. Hearing their words is the difference between love and hate.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave…
I hesitate to embrace the message of Singal’s piece. Because even without the people Amy is trying to shit talk (which is like, 90% of her notoriety– gaining fame by attempting to defame others including some blatant lying on her part), these methods of parenting are instinctive and time honored. If modern women choose otherwise, fine. But Amy cares nothing for you, what she does is preys upon women’s feelings of pain, “mommy wars”, having felt guilted, inadequacy, the sense of being pit against each other unjustly, and uses it to her own personal advantage. She’s a really disturbed individual with more issues than Time, so taking anything she says seriously is a folly you choose at your own risk, and it’s anything but woman-loving. She doesn’t have scruples, she has personally invested grudges to legitimize the back story of her life to herself, the likes of which in its fullness may be a nut we never truly crack.

If only men and those who cater to male rule would stop interfering and let women do their work, in peace.