2013 - Ongoing
Women in the United States lack the stories that would help us contextualize birth, tending to discuss it in extremes of disgust, fear or countercultural transcendence, and abortion pictures are usually gory and inaccurate propaganda. Viewers still cringe at images of a woman’s naked body engaged in work unrelated to performative sexuality.
And while the United States glorifies motherhood – vice president Mike Pence calls his wife “mother” – we don’t provide the healthcare, childcare or maternity leave that make motherhood viable. This is the only developed country that doesn’t provide paid family leave, and the only one with a rising rate of maternal mortality.
So I began photographing women’s reproductive experiences throughout my own pregnancy and early motherhood. What is the reality of abortion, a controversial but routine procedure, and what are the stakes? Is birth medical, dangerous, animal, spiritual? How do new mothers integrate work and motherhood? I photographed un-medicated deliveries, epidurals, home birth, water birth, hospital birth, cesarean sections, still births and terminations.
In 2011, twenty-one percent of all U.S. pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) ended in abortion, but the procedure is cloaked in judgment and hyperbole. So I chose to look directly at this often-hidden aspect of reproduction.
I learned from healthcare providers like Dr. Katharine Morrison and nurse Kayla Jones, a single mother who has had four abortions and one water birth. This isn’t unusual: 60% of women who have abortions already have children. The pair provide “full-spectrum reproductive healthcare” in a combined abortion clinic and birth center in Buffalo, NY whose founder was murdered by an anti-abortion extremist in 1998. Morrison and Jones understand the decision to terminate a pregnancy and the choice of a birth approach as inextricably linked by the necessity of female bodily autonomy and respect.
Photographing birth showed me the importance of providing women with unbiased information and evidence-based, respectful birth approaches. One morning, I dropped my baby off at daycare and walked to photograph Jen Carnig having a baby at home. She showed her husband exactly how to hold her, then worked powerfully through rolling contractions. Later, I followed Carnig and other mothers as they went back to work shortly after their babies were born, pumping milk and answering emails through a sleepless haze.
In looking at birth, I found a liminal process embodying beauty, power and surrender. Birthing involves crossing from un-being into being; it mirrors death. The transformation is violent, physical, cultural, medical – yet somehow normal. We’ve all been part of it. When I chose to become a mother, I had seen so many women give birth that I knew I could do it too. I’d told the stories I needed to know.