Photographer Tiffany Phillis said the popularity of birth photography has drastically increased

POWER: Nicole Kelly said she was surprised by the strength she saw in herself when looking at her labour photos. Picture: WONDERLAND PHOTOGRAPHY
POWER: Nicole Kelly said she was surprised by the strength she saw in herself when looking at her labour photos. Picture: WONDERLAND PHOTOGRAPHY

Tiffany Phillis has witnessed more than 20 births, but she's not a doctor or midwife, or even a doula.

She's a photographer, regularly hired to capture the highs and lows of childbirth.

Labour is generally considered one of the most intimate times in a woman's or a couple's life, but increasingly Albury and Wodonga mothers are inviting photographers into the birthing suite to capture every contraction.

Miss Phillis of Wonderland Photographyhas been working as a professional photographer for about seven years and offering birth sessions for four years.

She is one of only a handful of photographers in the region who offer the service.

The 29-year-old first became aware of birth photography through images from international photographers and when her first child was born seven years ago, she employed a photographer to capture the moment.

Miss Phillis was so in love with the images produced, and empowered by them, that she wanted to give other women a chance to have the same experience.

"During my own labour and birth, I felt very vulnerable and felt like I was weak," she said.

"I know a lot of mums feel the same and don't feel strong at that point in time, so being able to look back at photos and see myself as strong... was just amazing.

"I really want to showcase that side of women."

Picture: WONDERLAND PHOTOGRAPHY

Picture: WONDERLAND PHOTOGRAPHY

Miss Phillis said witnessing other women giving birth has given her a greater appreciation for the struggle and strength of childbirth.

"For me birth is just amazing, when I have the honour of being present at a birth I view the women as warriors, they're so strong and powerful," she said.

"It's amazing to see someone go through what women go through in labour and birth and to see them come out the other side so in love, happy and fulfilled with the baby in their arms."

When she first started providing birth photography four years ago it was very much a niche market but now, Miss Phillis said, it was becoming much more common.

"The popularity is increasingly drastically each year," she said.

"From four years ago when I had maybe one or two [people] a year even inquire, to now when I get a good 15 to 20 inquiries a year."

Miss Phillis said given how unpredictable due dates could be, she only ever books one or two birth sessions a month and always has a back-up photographer on stand-by.

CAPTURING LIFE: Tiffany Phillis of Wonderland Photography with son Ezra, 2, and daughter Lilly, 6, in her Albury studio. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

CAPTURING LIFE: Tiffany Phillis of Wonderland Photography with son Ezra, 2, and daughter Lilly, 6, in her Albury studio. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

Prior to starting birth photography, Miss Phillis met with the hospital to discuss their policies so they were comfortable with her in the room.

Due to COVID-19 visitation restrictions Miss Phillis has not been able to take any birth photos recently.

Mother-of-five Nicole Kelly hired Miss Phillis to capture the birth of her youngest daughter and wishes she'd known about birth photography when pregnant with her other children.

We're in a day and age where we want to remember moments and birth is something to be celebrated. It's not so much of a taboo subject...

Nicole Kelly, mother

"I just thought it was an amazing way to get a memory of the birth experience," she said.

"When you're birthing you don't have time to reflect on what is happening and often your partner isn't able to take photos himself, so it's nice to have those images to look back on and see, I did that, I was strong enough."

Ms Kelly believes a growing openness around the realities of labour had driven the increase in women looking to document the experience of childbirth.

She said birth was no longer something to be spoken about in hushed tones but something to be admired.

STRENGTH: A woman lies in bed during labour. Picture: WONDERLAND PHOTOGRAPHY

STRENGTH: A woman lies in bed during labour. Picture: WONDERLAND PHOTOGRAPHY

"We're in a day and age where we want to remember moments and birth is something to be celebrated," she said.

"It's not so much of a taboo subject, so we want to have memories and images or videos to remember those moments."

Like Miss Phillis, Ms Kelly saw herself in another light after seeing the images of her labour and birth.

"You see a strength in yourself that you don't feel at the time," she said.

"[Labour] gets to a point where you feel like you can't do it anymore and you feel so weak. But looking at photos of that point I actually look really strong."

IN OTHER NEWS:

Although it might seem intimidating or unusual having an additional stranger present during childbirth, Miss Phillis said it was far from a business relationship.

Throughout their pregnancy she meets with the mothers-to-be multiple times to make them comfortable.

The photographer said she saw her role as a supporter, rather than impassive observer.

Picture: WONDERLAND PHOTOGRAPHY

Picture: WONDERLAND PHOTOGRAPHY

"It's really a very unique and special role to play," she said.

"It's an absolute privilege from my point of view every time someone allows me to be there to capture that moment. But I'm not just there to capture [the birth] I do become a support person, we meet on multiple occasions throughout their pregnancy to get to know them and their birth plan."

Miss Phillis said she tries to look after her mothers and their partners during the experience as she knows childbirth can be overwhelming.

"That way if at any point things get too much and they can't advocate for themselves I can help advocate for them as I know what they want," she said

"I don't think I've ever had a birth where the camera hasn't been put down to assist mum at some point, whether to rub her back or help her into bed."

Miss Phillis has even taken labour photographs while pregnant herself with her youngest son.

Ms Kelly said she didn't feel "watched" or documented during her birth photography and actually found it comforting to have an extra presence in the room.

LIFE: Tiffany Phillis says birth photography is becoming increasingly popular. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

LIFE: Tiffany Phillis says birth photography is becoming increasingly popular. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

She said it helped that she'd hired Miss Phillis previously for other photo sessions.

"Tiff was amazing, I didn't even notice her taking pictures half the time, and having that second person to crack jokes with made me feel so comfortable," she said. "I actually enjoyed this labour experience a lot more than the others."

Ms Kelly was overwhelmed when she saw the images of her daughter's birth.

She said it was amazing to see herself from an outsider's perspective.

"I cried," she said. "I think you almost forget what you go through once you have had the baby.

"To be able to look back on the experience again was so emotional."

Ms Kelly said she can't wait to share the images with her daughter, now one, when she's older.

"It's such a beautiful thing to have so I can show her that when she's older and say, 'look here's you at a minute old'," she said.

Ms Kelly said the images also helped her older children understand childbirth.

"My eldest son was shocked, I don't think he knew what you have to go through when you have a baby," she said. "He said the photos were beautiful and was so excited to see, in pictures, his sister being born."

TOGETHER: Tiffany Phillis captures the moment a pregnant woman leans on her partner for support during labour. Picture: WONDERLAND PHOTOGRAPHY

TOGETHER: Tiffany Phillis captures the moment a pregnant woman leans on her partner for support during labour. Picture: WONDERLAND PHOTOGRAPHY

Miss Phillis said generally both men and women were intrigued when they heard she takes photos of women in labour.

"Honestly I've only had really positive reactions," she said.

"People are interested, many don't know much about it and would like to know more, not necessarily for themselves but in general.

"A fair amount of people who I speak to who have previously had children and learn of birth photography and say 'oh I wish I'd done that', or 'next time'."

Ms Kelly said whenever she tells people she chose to have a photographer present at her daughter's birth she's generally met with envy, with many women wishing they had done the same.

Without fail, Ms Phillis says, when she shows new mums images of themselves during labour, set to a recording of their baby's heartbeat, they cry.

"Generally they're overwhelmed with how beautiful it really was and how strong they were," she said.

This story The rise of birth photography, capturing life and love during labour first appeared on The Border Mail.