FAQ - What happens if I miss a birth?
I get asked this question a lot! Firstly, let’s clarify what I define as a "missed birth"...
There are a couple of situations that could transpire and be described as a birth photographer ‘missing a birth” so let’s list the most common ones:
- Photographer is unable to make it to the place of birth prior to the “moment of birth” due to a precipitous labour;
- Photographer is unable to make it to the birth due to circumstances outside of the photographer’s control (natural disaster, family emergency etc.)
- Photographer is unable to make it to the birth due to miscommunication or lack of communication.
The 'moment of birth' is missed birth due to a precipitous labour
Precipitous labour...never heard of it?
Precipitous labour is defined as being rapid labour and birth where the baby is birthed within 3 hours of commencement of regular contractions.
Obviously, a labour and birth of this nature can pose some challenges to birth photographers and attending midwives (in the case of a privately practicing midwife being employed) but the way you view whether the birth has been “missed” is key here…
To be able to say that the birth has been missed, you must be able to define when the birth commenced….and in my mind, the birth of our babies commences at the time of conception. It is such a long and beautiful journey and our babies are working and growing towards being birthed from the moment they have been created.
So even if the actual “moment of birth” has been missed, I don’t class this as a ‘missed birth’ in itself because I would still attend the birth and start documenting from the time I arrive. As my good friend and mentor Lacey Barratt always says, your birth story simply starts at a different point to the next, as all births do. Your story is unique and it shows the fast pace and truth of the moment, “Your birth was so quick the photographer didn’t even make it!”
Circumstances outside of the photographer's control
The circumstances would need to be pretty dire to lead me to miss a birth. In the case of family emergency (obviously depending on the severity) I can always rely on my husband and support network to take care of things on the home front if I am called to a birth.
Failing that, I have an amazing network of backup photographers who I can rely on to cover for me, be it for a few hours or for the entirety of the birth.
I communicate with my backup photographers throughout the entire on-call period for each birth and I ensure they have all information necessary to enable them to attend a birth on my behalf, if required.
I speak to my birth clients, in detail, about what they envisage their birth space to be like and what they hope to achieve out of their birth photography and I ensure that my backups have all of this information as well.
If I believe there is a high chance I will need to send a backup to one of my births, I will facilitate meetings or phone calls between my clients and my backups so that my birth clients are comfortable whether it be me, or my backups who attend their births.
Just this past weekend I was on call for a birth and was travelling interstate for 4 days, I had 3 backup photographers on call for my client and thankfully we made it through the weekend without needing to call any of them.
The moment of birth is missed due to miscommunication or lack of communication
As most birth workers do, birth photographers rely heavily on efficient communication from our clients in the lead up to their birth.
If there is a gap in information or a lack of communication it can cause obvious issues in whether your birth support team, including your photographer, is able to make it to your birth or not.
I ask that my birth clients let me know as soon as they have an inkling that their labour is approaching…this first notice gives me time to organise my home life and get prepared. Then I ask that they again touch base to let me know that they are sure labour is on the way – this way, I am already set and I can make a call as to when to leave for their chosen place of birth.
Sometimes, especially when the mother is being induced, more detailed information and more frequent communication is required – knowing how far dilated the Mum is or which station the baby’s head is at is crucial; this enables me to make an educated guess as to when it would be best to leave.
If the Mum chooses to have an epidural during an induction (which is quite common as the pain is more intense when being induced) this also makes it harder for photographers to make a call on when we should be aiming to arrive and I’ll explain a little here.
I often use how vocal a Mum is throughout her contractions as a guide on how far into labour she is, if the Mum has chosen to have an epidural this piece of information is removed and I have to rely solely on numbers such as dilation and station/baby’s positioning etc. Nothing in labour is guaranteed…except for the fact that you will birth your baby, one way or another – so the more information you are able to pass onto your birth photographer, the better.
Sometimes birth can be totally overwhelming and communication can be missed. This is why it's important that your entire birth team is aware of the process for contacting all birth support workers (doulas, photographers etc.). When the Mum is deep in the throes of labour of course the last thing on her mind will be to call or text her birth photographer, and if the birth partner isn’t aware of the process this can get lost in the commotion of the moment and lead their birth workers to potentially miss the moment of birth.
Having a detailed birth plan with a list of important contacts and the order in which to call them is a great way to mitigate this situation.
As with everything, there is an element of risk with birth – there’s a risk that you yourself may not even make it to your chosen place of birth let alone your birth photographer! Accepting risks and making peace with the many risks that come with birth, is key to achieving a positive birth outcome.
And really, that is the beauty of birth right? All births are different and plan as we might, there will be some situations in which we can’t maintain control over all aspects. Babies come when they are good and ready, photographer or not! The most you can do is be prepared, make sure your birth photographer is prepared and leave the rest to the universe!