Picture This

by Bonita Katz, BA RN ICCE ICBD IAT CLC

When I teach I often say, “Birth is about more than moving the baby from the inside to the outside.” For so long it seems like that is how our society viewed birth – in a very objective, almost mechanical, way. Now we are gaining a more holistic perspective. We listen to women’s stories and hear how their birth experience affected them. Even more than stories, we now see pictures.

Pictures capture the full spectrum of emotions – desperation, pain, relief, joy, comfort. When you see those pictures (whether photographs, videos, or paintings) it is almost impossible to remain unmoved. Birth cannot be viewed in a distant, callous manner when you see partners clinging to one another in labor or when that precious newborn gazes into the eyes of her parents. Pictures convey depth of emotion that is difficult to capture in words.

When I first began to study for my childbirth educator certification, most pictures of birth were very clinical. Often you could not see the woman’s face. A few gifted pioneers began taking photos of birth and were featured in those books that sought to educate women and change unhealthy birth practices. (Hats off to my friend Harriette Hartigan and others like her!) They had to pay for film and then pay to develop it. It was pricey, but they opened our eyes to the world of birth and paved the way for the many birth photographers we have today.

How are you illustrating pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and postpartum to those you teach? Do you show your clients a range of emotion? Don’t forget that affective domain of learning. Capture their feelings. Grab hold of their hearts. Emotion is a powerful motivator to learn. And even more, it motivates each of us to advocate for change when it is needed.

Several years ago I interviewed Celeste Phillips – who literally wrote the book on family-centered maternity care. Why was she so passionate about it? She and her husband had prepared to be together for the birth of their child, but he was not allowed to stay with her in labor. It was against hospital policy. Their grief over that missed experience motivated her to change things… and she did!

Emotion can be used to drive change, but we need to couple that with good research. We are people, not machines, and that means that birth needs to be viewed not only through a clinical lens (although those statistics are important!), but also through a subjective lens – our hearts.

I will leave you with this quote from Dr. Neel Shah: “We need a vision that treats childbirth not as a transient episode in the lives of some people, but as the foundational episode in the lives of all people.”