Imperative Nudity: Why Showing Uncensored Birth is Necessary

Occasionally someone will bring to my attention that the images I choose to share show a lot of exposed nipple and/or vulva. “It’s not necessary,” someone might say, “is that for shock value? There are lots of birth photographers that keep it modest.” Yes, I’m well aware of the fact that it’s possible to document (most) births using creative angles that conceal breasts and genitals. There are clients that want that, too. Together, they are a match made in heaven, two peas in a PG-rated pod.

But that simply isn't me.

smelling peppermint oil during labor and delivery austin photographer.jpg

Do I do it on purpose? Yeah, I confess, I actually do. I personally think it's necessary.

First of all, I hate double standards. I can go to the pool and all around me there will be topless men with their nipples exposed, and not a single person gives a second thought to that. But a woman?! Oh no, no. Put a nipple on a woman and suddenly it’s highly inappropriate. Hell, it isn’t even acceptable to cover that nipple with a suckling baby, lest you be accused of trying to seduce men away from their wives with your hungry child.

6 labor support during unmedicated birth at austin area birthing center.jpg

Even setting aside my own personal opinion regarding the ridiculous idea that male and female nipples should be categorized differently, there's a great need for education surrounding birth. Much like the need for quality, fact-based sex education, information about birth, what it can look like, and what your options are is in high demand. So many women enter their own birth room having never seen the birth of a baby, the mechanics of which they can't quite comprehend even as they're laboring to bring their own child earthside. It is said that you fear that which you do not understand, so it's no wonder there is so much fear surrounding birth. How can you understand something you've never seen, that's hardly even spoken of? How did the topic of one of the most beautiful, transformative, and everyday human experiences become so taboo?

baby half born austin area birthing center.jpg

Additionally, birth is primal. While the experience is different for all birthing people, in many cases there is no room for modesty. It’s part of the process. It’s not uncommon for women to shed their clothing as labor intensifies. It is my goal to depict birth authentically, not to only show happy, clean, stereotypically “picture-perfect” moments lifted from the whole of the experience. In birth, there is pain, there is elation, there is blood, sweat, tears, amniotic fluid and yes — nudity. In my eyes, ALL of this is picture-perfect. Which leads into my third reason,

Expectations. 

newborn baby placed skin to skin just after birth.jpg

Mamas, please. I worry that if the clean, pretty, & modest depictions of birth are not balanced with the unapologetically raw, gritty, messy, primal and NAKED side of birth, some of you may become preoccupied with the way you look during labor, birth, or postpartum, concerned that you're not living up to the birth world version of "Instagram Life," and I'm not about to contribute to that. I know just how much of an impact these images can make. Get naked. Be free. Focus only on connecting with your baby. It's all normal, healthy, and beautiful just the way it is.

first latch after home waterbirth with christy tashjian midwife.jpg

After sharing a condensed version of this to my Instagram feed, I was flooded with feedback affirming what I already knew to be true. Here are some of the responses I received:

I was stark naked during my first labor - any clothing was an irritation to my skin and mindset. I felt at the time that maybe I was weird for birthing totally naked, but honest and raw shots like yours show me that it’s just another variation of normal.
— @breann_blehm
Your images were actually my main inspiration/reassurance leading up to my birth last week to just be in the moment, go with the flow and experience birth however felt natural for me. I too ended up fully naked in the birth pool and have never felt more ‘me’ and more comfortable in my own body. Thank you for keeping it real.
— @mel.ofee
With my first baby, I was 21, I was completely mortified by the whole experience. No one told me ANYTHING! By baby 8, 19 years later, I knew what to expect, but also the world had changed and thanks to social media, we as women could have a better idea of the reality of birth. Your images are everything I wish I had seen and known with my first baby.
— @jamie_lott
As a first-time mom-to-be I so appreciate these types of photos and evidence so I have a realistic idea of what to expect. I’ve been so fascinated by birth since childhood and have been exposed to these types of depictions, giving me the confidence to go with a natural homebirth without even considering otherwise. There’s still a long ways to go for expecting moms who aren’t aware of what birth entails and we need more accounts/people like you!!
— @clumsy_me
Your photographs are what helped prepare me for the rawness of labor, birth, and postpartum hardships.
— @angelkrystall
Raw birth pictures like yours empowered me so much during pregnancy that I decided to have a homebirth. It ended up being the right decision for us. There was blood, sweat, amniotic fluid, pee and [shit] and it was perfect because it was the most natural thing I had ever done.
— @happy_odette

Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment, knowing that I'm making an impact for even just one person is motivation enough to keep pushing forward. Your support means more to me than you'll ever know!

As always, all featured images are shared with express permission from the families. 

crimson water homebirth.jpg