Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy

After much of the US went into lockdown in early March 2020, I began following midwives in Los Angeles as they navigated new protocols caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. By photographing the midwives, I explored what it means to bear life in a time of sorrow and grief. The midwives’ phones rang endlessly with calls from terrified women hoping to deliver safely in their homes. With hospitals flooded and many banning partners from the delivery room, the possibility of going through childbirth without a mask and in a familiar setting seemed, to these women, like the only option.

Amid a Covid surge in late 2021, I started documenting midwives in West Michigan. Many of their patients have tested positive, refused to get vaccinated, or wear masks during their appointments. They are on the frontline of seeing Covid complications in pregnant women. The midwives are understaffed, overwhelmed and burnt out after the two years of working under extreme stress.

Midwives provide guidance and guardianship rooted in generational wisdom, combining medical expertise with emotional support. This work takes place under the shadow of the movement to overturn Roe vs. Wade. The midwives are adamant about empowering women to make their own choices and shape their own bodily experiences by terminating a pregnancy or giving birth at home.

At a time marked by separation and death, these stories of connection, care, and birth are especially healing. Childbearing and the work of midwives is not well documented; the realities of childbirth are still taboo. When a difficult process is made even harder by a global pandemic and restrictive laws, the need to be honest about childbirth and our own bodies is even more important. Each one of these stories is unique and it is crucial to this project to present a diversity of mothers and birth workers, and not just a whitewashed version. This pandemic has disproportionately affected women, and this project illuminates some of the burdens they must bear.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Midwife Chemin Perez checks on Taylor Almodovar’s progress during her labor at the New Life Midwifery Birth Center in Arcadia, CA in summer of 2020.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Jezreel De Cohen, a student midwife and doula, holds Aquilla’s daughter Storie as Aquilla gets settled into a bed at the birth center after her labor.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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After giving birth to her daughter Storie, Aquilla is helped out of the birthing pool by midwife Chemin Perez, two student midwives and her husband Will. The student midwives gently dried her hair and body, and supported her as she stood for the first time after labor. Chemin explained that she might feel dizzy as her internal organs moved back into place after labor.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Joanna, a member of the Amish community, stands in her kitchen in her home in Holton, Michigan while her daughter plays on the floor. Joanna is expecting her 2nd child in the spring of 2022 and has been seeing midwife Patrice Bobier, who works with the Amish population in West Michigan.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Taylor Almodovar’s husband Justin Gardner looks up as Taylor experiences a painful contraction during her labor at the New Life Midwifery in Arcadia, California. Taylor Almodovar decided to switch to working with a midwife due to the outbreak of Covid-19, worried that her husband would be banned from the delivery room.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Midwife Patrice Bobier checks on Lauren’s progress during her labor at home in Muskegon, Michigan with the help of student midwife Anna Stowie and doula Hannah Jurcich.

© Maggie Shannon - Lauren clutches the sheets of her bed during her labor at home in Muskegon, Michigan.
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Lauren clutches the sheets of her bed during her labor at home in Muskegon, Michigan.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Jes Anderson with her husband during the early hours of her labor at her home in Los Angeles, California. Jes Anderson experienced contractions since early afternoon and kept a careful log of the time, length and strength of each.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Water boils on Lauren’s stove to fill the birthing tub and keep it at a warm temperature. Midwife Patrice Bobier kept the pool at a steady temperature during the entirety of Lauren’s long labor at her home in Muskegon, Michigan.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Student midwife Anna Stowie checks on the baby’s heartbeat using a doppler during Lauren’s labor at home in Muskegon, Michigan, with the help of Lauren’s husband and doula Hannah Jurcich.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Taylor Almodovar grasps her husband Justin Gardner’s hands during her labor in the bathroom at the New Life Midwifery Birth Center in Arcadia, CA.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Lauren experiences a contraction while in the bathroom at her home in Muskegon, Michigan, supported by her husband and midwife Patrice Bobier.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Midwife Chemin Perez and her team of student midwives help move Tsune Brown and her newborn son to a bed so she can comfortably deliver the placenta.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Barbie’s son’s highchair with a hymnal pinned to the wall at her home in Fremont, Michigan. Barbie, a member of the Amish community, worked with midwife Patrice Bobier on both of her births.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Midwife assistant Barb Olsen slices an apple for Barbie during her early labor at her home in Fremont, Michigan. Barb has been working as midwife Patrice Bobier’s assistant for years and helps out on births.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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New mother Shelby Branch nurses her infant at home in Walkerville, Michigan. Shelby worked with midwife Patrice Bobier but had to be transported to the hospital due to high blood pressure. Patrice was able to stay with her the whole time during her labor.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Will gently kisses his daughter Storie for the first time in the birthing pool at New Life Midwifery Birth Center in Arcadia, CA right after her birth.

© Maggie Shannon - The cradle and other baby items were set up at Barbie’s home in Fremont, Michigan for the arrival of her new baby.
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The cradle and other baby items were set up at Barbie’s home in Fremont, Michigan for the arrival of her new baby.

© Maggie Shannon - Image from the Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy photography project
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Student midwife Anna Stowie helps Lauren out the door and into her car so she can be transported to the hospital. Lauren’s labor wasn’t progressing and she made the decision to head to the hospital, with the support of her birth team.

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Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy by Maggie Shannon

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