In this blog, we hear the heart and story behind birth photographer, Maayan Gutgold. Originally a freelance portrait photographer, she shares what it is that has put her behind the lens, and capturing births. Also in this blog – pictures from the first birth she attended and photographed. Enjoy!
I was born in Israel but primarily grew up in West Africa in a beautiful country called Ivory Coast. I returned to Israel when I was 17 to serve my country in the army and start my independent life. After my duty, I went to college and graduated Business Management and did a Masters in HRM too, and then worked in Hitech companies but always had time for my passion in life – photography. I took a few courses with one of the Israeli photographer masters, Doron Horovitz. At the time, I didn’t know photography would take me to one of the most spectacular places on earth – the birth room…
Since I was very young I remember I used to fight with my mum over who got the camera. We travelled a lot during my childhood. Every new place was something new to record and memorialise. But it wasn’t landscapes and scenery I wanted the camera to focus on. I wanted to capture people. I wanted to capture the human experience, in all its variety. So, when I started photography professionally, I knew I wanted to capture people and make their special moments memories to keep.
A new angle conceived
A friend of a friend in my office was pregnant and she mentioned that she was looking for a photographer. I offered myself to her immediately. Soon after, I arrived at her home for my first “maternity shoot.”
At the time, she had long hair and a full beautiful belly, ornamented with a dark line down the middle of it. She was in her seventh month. The session was just her and me. Her husband was working and this was to be her first child. It struck me how beautiful and radiant she was. I knew I wanted to do this again. I wanted more women to be able to look back at their pregnancies and revisit and appreciate their sumptuous beauty.
Even as a single woman, long before I got married and had children of my own, I was fascinated to capture the miracle of life and the beauty of nature. Women are the driving powers behind the miracle of creation, of life itself. What can be more amazing from that?!
My work naturally progressed through this cycle of life – from maternity to newborn, children and family. But as time went on, I felt that something was missing…
A baby is born, and a birth photographer
During one of my visits to Israel, I met with a friend who is a birth photographer…and I knew that was it! This was the essential element of life that was missing from my work! So finally I embarked upon a new realm – birth photography.
But birth photography was a pretty new concept in India, for parents and especially for doctors. It took much patience to convey to all what I wanted to do and what a treasure it is to have one of the life’s finest miracle captured…Every deliberation almost felt like giving “birth” again! It was definitely a long delivery!
I will never forget my first birth photo shoot. It was the first time I witnessed a live birth at all. We all shared the fortune of a smooth and gentle birth. I felt like I was at a magical ball. My client was so amazing. She’s a real hero to me.
My client was booked for an induction, so we all knew when to arrive at the hospital. But still, I rushed to reach the hospital before them. I wanted to capture them coming out from their car. I snapped them around ten o’clock at night as they happily entered the hospital. But coincidently, her labour started spontaneously as they arrived!
She laboured for hours, but after a time, her labour stopped! We slept and in the early morning, I went home to attend to my family but back to the hospital by 8:30 am. From that time everything was very fast. Her labour intensified. My client cursed and moaned, but very quietly. Eventually, she had an epidural and slept. Later, the doctor came and many preparations started to happen. I started to realise: this is it! Little Samar was born at 11:25 am to a room of happiness and joy!
From mama to mama
Now, being a mum myself and having giving birth both naturally and by a cesarean, I know exactly the scope and depth of what women can feel during this time. This has shaped me into being very sensitive and empathic to the needs and experiences of women. I also know how intimate and intense it is to bring a new baby into the world.
While I love photographing births, it is also quite challenging! Birth and labour can be unpredictable and often very long! Unlike typical portrait sessions or shoots outside, the lighting is usually dim, and, of course, it’s difficult to plan for what’s going to happen next. But the biggest challenge is the balance of doing my job, while not interfering. It was very important to me to respect the space. The woman’s space and her privacy, and the practitioner’s space and their jobs. While I want to capture as much as I can, I have to make sure that I am not inhibiting the quality of healthcare team by making them nervous or uncomfortable. So, I work quietly, doing my job, trying not to click too many or too few, “reading” the mother and medical team.
A moment to be revered
It is such a privilege to be present and capture the pure magic of birth. The emotions, as the anticipation of the day’s final arrival, the hard work of labour, the bond between partner and labouring mama, the utter joy of the first glimpse of her sweet baby’s face – all of these moments create a masterpiece of a story. These are the stories that can be revisited and enjoyed through photography.
I truly believe that these beautiful moments are worth documenting and perhaps sharing! It’s such a gift to freeze those irreplaceable moments, to capture the baby’s unique story and make memories to keep.
I wish more people will be open mind to birth photography as I believe it’s the best gift you can give to your baby and your family.
Birth India’s mission is to enhance women’s knowledge about pregnancy and birth so they can make personal, informed choices about their care. For information about true indications of medical inductions and the pros and cons please see this website. If you want to know about current evidence of medical inductions for going past your due date see this article. For information about the risks and benefits of epidurals see this. And last, you can see some evidence of how continuous labour support like that from a doula can improve your birth, including reducing the likelihood that you need an epidural or other interventions. For women who wish to avoid medical interventions during childbirth, seeking out midwifery care can improve your chances. Please see our Service Directory to locate birth centres run by midwives or contact us.