“This series sprung out of a natural lure towards the beauty of laboring women,” said Jenna Shouldice, a Canadian photographer who started a personal project she calls “The Labour Process.”
While she recognizes it’s not traditional for photographers to be involved with their subjects, she says childbirth is one situation where crossing that boundary is warranted.
“Mothers need to be comfortable with everyone in the room, and an encouraging word can go a long way,” she said.
Shouldice recalls that while photographing one birth, she had to hold the mother’s hand throughout most of the labor.
“I had considered if I should be letting go to get a different angle, but knew in the end that this was more interesting and real,” she said. “I photographed that birth one-handed.”
“The fact is, Jenna gets it,” said Cory Taves, a father who participated in the project. Shouldice photographed his wife, Kerianne, in labor.
“This creative endeavor of hers sends a clear message to people: Birth is beautiful,” he added.
Shouldice first became interested in the birthing community after reading a novel about midwives before she attended photography school.
Her curiosity was further piqued when she met a woman at school who had given birth at home.
After photographing a friend’s birth, she decided to train as a doula in 2011. A doula provides physical and emotional support to a woman during labor and birth.
“I wanted that extra training to be able to back up my knowledge, and be helpful in a birth situation should it arise,” she said.
Shouldice, who describes herself as a “birth junkie,” has photographed 14 births to date and intends to continue the project. She and her husband currently do not have any children of their own, but “would love them though,” she says.
She has photographed in both home and hospital settings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of U.S. home births increased by 29% between 2004 and 2009, from 0.56% to 0.72% of births.
“I believe that the single most empowering event that a human can experience is birthing a child into the world,” Taves said. “I can't think of a greater opportunity to discover the inner strength that each woman possesses.”
- Sarah LeTrent, CNN