Why Cesarean Births Aren’t Often Photographed & Why We Should Work to Change That
The conversation usually starts like this...
“Oh that’s so cool that you’re a birth photographer, I would love to hire a birth photographer but I’m having a c-section.”
I wish this was a misconception, but unfortunately, at least where I live, it’s common to be denied entry into the operating room. It can be hit or miss, depending on the mood of the day, the providers, and how much the family is willing to advocate for themselves. There are a few trends in why this is happening.
The One Person Rule
In most hospitals, women who need to birth their baby by cesarean section are allowed one support person in the operating room with them. There are obvious reasons for this, like the inability to accommodate an extra body in a small operating room, or if there is more than one anesthesiologist at the head of the bed. This rule can easily be redacted at the approval of the OB and anesthesiologist. Just ask, sometimes they may surprise you. There are a few other reasons that are cited which rely solely on the ability of the provider to trust that the photographer will follow some rules.
Like everything that happens in the hospital, the doctors and hospitals endure a certain amount of risk when they step into the operating room. The idea of having a person who isn’t necessarily trained in the operating room procedures can be intimidating and not seem worth the unnecessary risk. The big thing though, at least from what I’ve gathered over time, is the liability of capturing something on camera that may be used against doctors or the hospital in something as serious as a malpractice suit Ultimately, this comes down to weighing the benefits and risks for the hospital and doctors. With birth photography most of the benefits lie with the family and not the doctors so, it’s not THAT hard to understand why doctors are wary of photographers in the operating room.
Privacy of Staff
A good birth photographer won’t ever publish a photo of anyone without a signed model release. This means whoever in the room doesn’t want to have photos of them made public will have that request respected. I can understand why someone wouldn’t want a picture taken of them at work made public, and I totally respect it. It needs to be made clear that this is the standard and that it will be honored.
This year, I was photographing a cesarean birth and the attending nurse said, “Ok they will let you in but DON’T take ANY pictures of the anesthesiologist, along with a whole other list of contingencies. Fast forward 10 minutes and I’m waiting in the hallway to be let into the OR and a doctor strolls up and exclaims, “Take my picture!” (I’m not exaggerating, he EXCLAIMED). He then proceeded to do a fancy spin move and held a pose until I got myself together enough to realize that he wasn’t joking! This anesthesiologist and I talked for 5 minutes about how cool birth photography is and that families deserve to remember these moments. SO needless to say, the anesthesiologist had very different expectations than the nurse who talked about him. Like with most relationships, its worth initiating some conversation.
Unlike all medical staff, birth photographers are not required to be HIPAA trained. This might make providers nervous, but respecting HIPAA is pretty straightforward for a birth photographer. We simply should not share any medical information about a client’s birth or taking photographs of any monitors. I can’t make any promises for other birth photographers, but this is a no brainer on my end.
How to Work for Change
It seems to me that getting more birth photographers admitted into operating rooms is a matter of opening up communication and building trust. There are some parts of the United States where cesarean birth photography is common and photographers aren’t routinely turned away. I would love for families everywhere to have this option if it is something they want, and I do believe that it is something they want. It starts with talking to your OB or midwife about wanting a birth photographer, interviewing photographers who you think will do everything they can to give you what you want and help you advocate for yourself. The doula in me finds this part to be important, especially if birth photography is not well established in your area.
Start a Dialogue
This burden lies on both photographers and families who wish to have their cesarean birth photographed. The best thing you can do for yourself if you want birth photography is to talk to your provider. Explain to them how important it is, bring it up often and if it’s not permitted, then ask why, or what reservations your provider has. See if you can work together with a birth photographer to help the doctor get over those reservations. Going to prenatal visits with clients has taught clients that I’m willing to help them do what it takes if they are willing to put in as much effort as I am. This also shows a high level of commitment and professionalism to doctors who may not know that professional birth photographers take their jobs seriously. Once everyone is in the same room, it’s much easier to have genuine dialogue and we can help move the conversation forward in a constructive way, and learn to trust each other.
Hire a Birth Photographer and Hope for the Best
Birth stories are about so much more than just the moment of birth. Even if your hospital isn’t known for allowing birth photography in the operating room, it might be worth hiring a photographer anyway. Most of the time before your birth, even if its a scheduled cesarean, is spent waiting, prepping and your partner getting scrubbed up. These are valuable moments in the process and can help you remember things you would otherwise forget because of nerves or excitement Sweet photos of skin to skin with Dad, first latch and sibling meetings are often my clients favorite images, even if I was present for the whole birth. You can still get those with a cesarean birth photography package. So have your photographer show up, capture the details and try your damnedest to get them into the OR. If it doesn’t happen you’ll still end up with a bunch of amazing photos. If it DOES happen, you’ll get super cool photos to show your friends and will be paving the way for more families to have access to such an amazing services.
To see some highlights of a cesarean birth story visit my Birth Stories page.