June 4, 2020

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Photos capture miracle of birth

Birth photography exhibition showcases beauty of the often-taboo subject

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/7/2018 (691 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A baby’s wet and fragile head, covered with a sticky, protective fluid called the vernix, has just emerged from its mother’s womb.

It’s immediately after the crowning process. The mother’s legs are covered up to the knees by a white hospital sheet, but the rest of her body isn’t visible in the photograph.

The final push is about to happen.

A nurse’s latex-gloved hands are gently pushing aside an umbilical cord that’s wrapped around the infant’s neck. Even though it’s not yet fully born, the newborn’s eyes are open to the outside world.

PHOTOS BY HEATHER BAYS</p></p>

PHOTOS BY HEATHER BAYS

For centuries, this moment would be one a mother would never get to see.

Thanks to photographers such as Heather Bays, mothers now are able to relive their miracle moments forever.

Bays, a birth photographer, has opened First Breath: An Exhibition of Birth Photography, a show of 23 colour and black-and-white images and several short videos reliving the earliest moments in a baby’s life, at the PrairieView School of Photography (200-464 Hargrave St.)

The photographs capture the miracle and drama of birth: the emotional and physical pain, the messiness, the overwhelming elation, the beauty, as well as the natural instincts of motherhood.

Bays began documenting births in 2009 at St. Boniface Hospital. She says the birthing process had become a taboo subject even though it is one of the emotional cornerstones of being a parent.

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"Our society has kept this incredibly beautiful part of all our lives hidden away for so long," Bays says. "Bringing a child into the world is the most memorable day of a parent’s life. To be a witness to such an event and photograph a baby’s first breath is one of the most incredible experiences a photographer can have."

Giving birth to her daughter and having the photographs to look at years later provided Bays even greater inspiration for providing the experience for other parents.

"It’s wonderful. After my first daughter’s birth, I became more convinced than ever before of the magical quality that pictures hold," Bays says. "Since this time, I have been fervently capturing life’s precious and everyday moments as they emerge organically. And while my own experience has brought me deep joy and meaning, I am truly humbled by documenting and participating in other people’s lives."

Much has changed in the birth world in the nine years since Bays has been documenting births, and the shroud of mystery in the delivery process continues to be lifted away, she says.

"It’s safe to say more and more women are feeling in control of their birthing day and are given more support and choices," Bays said.

CRAIG KOSHYK</p></p>

CRAIG KOSHYK

"They are more knowledgeable and as a result, more sure of themselves. It’s wonderful. When I first started, I was always welcomed by midwives, but I wasn’t very welcomed by some of the hospital staff."

Comments such as "Why would anyone want this photographed?" were made to both Bays and the expecting parents when she first began the project.

"But now, I’m welcomed everywhere, even in the operating room," says Bays, who is registered with the Canadian Birth Photographers Association and the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers.

Craig Koshyk, the founder and owner of PrairieView, calls Bays, a 2007 PrairieView graduate, a pioneer who is pushing photography forward.

"Heather’s work is brilliant," Koshyk says. "It’s the first time I’ve ever seen birth photography.

"We encourage our students to push the frontiers of art and thought," he says.

For further information, contact the PrairieView School of Photography at 204-956-4708; prairieview.ca

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