There was much anticipation leading up to Beth Philcrantz’s first birth.
She didn’t know what to expect and worried everything would happen so fast she would miss precious moments.
In the final weeks, Philcrantz even started carrying her camera everywhere she went in case she had to rush to the hospital at a moment’s notice.
Around 12:25 on Oct. 18, she got the call. Her client, Lisa Mungovan, had gone into labor.
Philcrantz, who owns BMP Photography in Londonderry, New Hampshire, rushed to Southern New Hampshire Medical Center and arrived just as Mungovan was beginning to push.
Hired to capture the birth of Mungovan’s first daughter, Millie; Philcrantz is part of a growing trend in photography—expectant mothers inviting professional photographers into the delivery room.
After years of treating the process of labor and birth as a private, clinical event; society has developed an increased comfort level with the birthing process.
Not only are women opting for births with minimal medical intervention; but men, who weren’t invited into the birthing room until the 1970’s, are playing an active role in the process.
Now, men are not only welcomed into the birth room, they are encouraged to serve as their partner’s labor coach. Many partners attend labor series classes together, demystifying the labor and birth experience.
It is speculated this increased comfort with and understanding of labor and birth as a natural process has helped nurture the rise in popularity of birth photography.
And women who are hiring birth photographers say the benefits are significant.
‘It was still a blur, even though I was totally present and unmedicated,’ Mungovan said of the birth of her third child. ‘Looking at the photos, I was able to look at the birth as a spectator. Many of my questions about the experience were answered.’
And for Mungovan, a professional photographer herself, hiring Philcrantz wasn’t just about capturing the memories of her daughter’s birth—it was about leaving the experience with beautiful photos she will treasure for years to come.
‘A professional photographer has that artistic eye,’ said Mungovan, who only has a few, lower-quality photos to remember the births of sons Austin, 4, and Dayton, 2.
With that ‘artistic eye,’ Philcrantz captured precious moments, like Mungovan’s husband, Tom, a high school teacher, rubbing her head while she pushed; and nurses placing Millie on her chest.
‘The photos bring me right back to when I saw [Millie] for the first time. It brings up tears just thinking about it,’ Mungovan said. ‘I kept thinking, ‘you’re here, you’re finally here.’
When Mungovan revisits the photos from her daughter’s birth, it’s a memory that becomes as vivid as the moment Philcrantz’s captured it with her camera.
And it’s that tangible reminder of Millie’s birth that played an important role in Mungovan’s decision to hire a birth photographer.
‘I remember asking my mom all about my birth,’ she said. ‘She has one Polaroid of me lying on her chest. It’s special to have that. I hope [Millie] has that, as well, when she sees these photos.’
In addition to offering Millie a rare glimpse of her own birth, Philcrantz’s photos will ensure memories of the day are preserved, even if Mungovan’s memories of the experience are not.
After Mungovan’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the value of hiring a birth photographer became all the more ostensible.
‘I wanted the photos to share with [Millie] in case I, too, have memory issues,’ she said.
Although the benefits of birth photography are apparent, the trend has raised a few eyebrows.
Some worry that in an age of hyper-sharing, the sanctity of private moments like the birth experience has been lost.
But Mungovan said she didn’t find Philcrantz’s presence in the birth room to be an imposition.
‘Some people are very private and are afraid the photographer will interfere with the moment between father and mother,’ she said. ‘I didn’t feel as though she intruded at all.’
In fact, Mungovan said she now feels a special bond with Philcrantz, as she does with the nurses and doctor who also shared in her family’s momentous event.
Philcrantz, who has a four-year-old son, Collin, and is expecting her second child in March, said she ‘expected to be a mess’ in the delivery room.
But when she arrived at the hospital, Philcrantz remembers feeling separate from the birth experience Mungovan and her husband were sharing. She is a professional, and it was her job to capture the moment.
‘I remember thinking, ‘this is what I’m here to do,” she said. ‘At that exact moment, it was Lisa, but not my friend Lisa. This was Lisa becoming a mom again. I was there to take the pictures.’
Philcrantz said her first attempt at birth photography was definitely a learning experience and definitely one of the most exciting events she has photographed.
While she looks forward to capturing future births and improving her technique, Philcrantz said it’s not something she plans to commit to regularly.
‘I was on call,’ she said, noting Mungovan assured her it would be alright if she missed the birth, but that she felt guilty every time she had to leave the area.
Philcrantz even had her brother stay at her home when her husband, Brian, was away in case she got the call in the middle of the night and had to leave her son to attend the birth.
And even if a professional photographer would like to commit to a birth for a client, some hospitals and doctors don’t allow the practice—or place restrictions on what may be photographed.
‘[Birth photography] creates another level of liability,’ said Philcrantz.
Having communicated with other professional photographers from around the country; Philcrantz said it appears birth photography is most popular in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest.
When asked if she will consider hiring a birth photographer for her own impending labor, Philcrantz said she’s not sure.
‘It goes through my mind constantly,’ she said. ‘I definitely think you should have someone there to document it, if that’s something you will want to revisit. But it’s not for everyone.’