Every chapter of birth is profound from the arduous labor to the birth unfolding with empowerment and sometimes unpredictability. The transformation of birth can feel like the culmination of dreams, hopes, and months/years of preparation for some families. For families who want each of these moments documented or supported though it can be limited if you choose or unexpectedly have to have a cesarean birth.
Here in Salt Lake City, the opportunity for photographers or doulas to be invited into the OR birth space during a cesarean birth is still very limited. As a doulatog I’ve been given all the excuses, from “not enough space” to “only one support person,” “the doctor or anesthesiologist says no,” “didn’t get approval beforehand,” to “hospital staff cannot be photographed,” and the list goes on.
It can feel like a slap in the face to some families who have advocated and fought so hard for a supportive birth team and to have their birth story memories documented. Like at the last second, the one thing that felt still in their control for their birth has been taken away.
The situation here in Salt Lake City is truly unfortunate and it’s only hurting the birthing families of our community. In contrast, many hospitals all over the USA are opening up the door to additional Cesarean birth support. They acknowledge the long-term and short-term benefits of birth photography and having intentional doula support in the OR. They also recognize how low-risk it is to invite a trained and experienced birth worker into the room, whose only goal is to make this experience just a little more positive for the birthing family.
Today I want to dive into these benefits and why hospitals all over are changing their policies for the sake of Cesarean birth families.
There is Power in Continuous Support
Entering the OR can feel scary and overwhelming, and can often leave you and your partner unsure of yourselves. You will both likely feel the need to cling to someone you trust but in the busy OR it’s common to feel like just a part of the furniture. As the medical staff prepares for a swift and safe surgical delivery they are rarely thinking beyond the task at hand. This is why having a doula and birth worker walk alongside you through the experience can be so powerful.
Continuous emotional and physical support by a doula is essential for all birth settings, but especially entering the OR. You want to have someone who knows you well and who you have built trust and safety with right there beside you. Whether it’s a home birth transfer where everything is happening so fast or a planned cesarean after unexpected risks changed the course of your birth plan. Either way, it can be incredibly beneficial to have YOUR doula, the person you chose, know, and connect with there with you every step of the way.
All Births deserve celebration
All births are beautiful and deserve storytelling. We don’t live in the dark ages anymore where cesarean birth is seen as ‘gross’ or too surgical for us to see it. We want to see how our baby is born even if it’s not the way we imagined it. We want to feel connected to the process and we want to see its beauty.
We can shout “All Birth is Beautiful” from the rooftops and believe it in our hearts but until every family has the choice to celebrate their births with photography and support it will always leave cesarean families feeling “less than” or like they missed out on a part of their birth dream. Inviting a birth photographer into the OR can often be a gesture of inclusion and support that birth is powerful and beautiful however it unfolds!
Healing through Birth Photography
Having the images from your birth story continue through any unexpected turn in your birth plans can be healing both mentally and emotionally. It’s a way for families to return to the moments, process them, and find grounding within their hazy memories. This is especially the case for families who have an unexpected cesarean. The chaos and upheaval can often leave both the birthing person and their partner feeling mentally and emotionally disconnected and guarded from their experience. It breaks my heart when I have to leave a family right when they are processing all of this inside. When I have to deliver a birth gallery with a big gap missing in their storytelling, the part that shares the culmination of all their beautiful and hard work happening in real-time.
I believe that birth photography has healing properties for families who need to process and recall their birth stories. And I believe that giving the families those details and moments within the OR to look back on is a powerful part of their journey to healing and acceptance.
Reduce and Avoid Birth Trauma
Unexpected or emergent cesarean births are often a part of many stories of birth trauma. While some families feel prepared and informed in their choice for a surgical birth others feel forced, overwhelmed, co-oerced, or scared into their choice. This is why having additional and experienced support navigating the unexpected twists and turns of cesarean birth is so important. Having your doula there to support you in your choices and continuously throughout the experience can help you reduce the effects of trauma and in some cases avoid it altogether. Doulas can help you think through your options in a healthy way so that ‘coming to terms with your cesarean’ feels empowering.
Having the photographs can also support healing after birth trauma. Having our stories documented so we can return to them when we are ready is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that all families should be able to choose if they desire it.
Birth Partners Play A Different Role than a Doula
Similar to labor and birth, your partner can be an amazing support. The love you share with each other creates a bond of safety and trust but without the knowledge of cesarean birth, it can be very hard for them to know what to expect or how to prepare you when you are laying on the operating table feeling alone or overwhelmed.
Having an experienced birth worker whose job is to solely be there for you both can be incredibly beneficial. A doula’s job is to help you process and stay calm during surgery, help you find grounding in unfamiliar settings, affirm you in your strength, and support your partner to stay present and offer what they can. A doula can explain what’s happening or gently help you find center when your world feels like it’s spinning out of control.
A doula can be there for both of you as you navigate your journey into parenthood through cesarean birth.
Positive Birth Experiences Lead to a Healthier Postpartum Experience
Lastly, allowing families to have the things they desire in birth and making sure families are seen, heard, and offering informed consent throughout leads to a more positive birth experience. Whether a planned cesarean or an emergent cesarean, allowing families to keep the support whom they chose and trust to walk alongside them leads to a more positive birth experience.
And when families have a positive birth experience that leads to a higher chance they will have a more positive postpartum experience as they process and find support after the baby is born. That means healthier parents, healthier babies, and a healthier generation of families.
What you can do!!
I can write all day about what the benefits of having both doula and photography support in the OR are, but none of that matters if the birthing people and their partners aren’t doing the work. Here’s some things you can do to increase your chances of having additional support in the case of a cesarean birth.
- call and speak with the director of labor and delivery at your local hospitals outlining why you need this additional support and ask them to have it pre-approved. Change starts here!
- Ask to speak with the charge nurse and their patient out reach to discuss the importance of having additional support during a cesarean birth
- Remember that policy is not law! This is your birth. You can advocate for your needs. So can your partner. You both deserve the support and the images on your baby’s birthday!
- One of the common reasons given for not allowing a second support person is the “increased risk of infection”. Let your care team know that you assume that risk and are happy to sign a waiver or simply stand your ground and remind them that if they are okay with regularly allowing students, EMTs, etc in the OR then you should be able to opt to have your doula/photographer there too!!
- If it’s a planned cesarean, let your doctor/hospital know that you will be shopping around for a different care provider/hospital that SUPPORTS you and your wishes for additional support in the OR from your first appointment.
- Remember that the OR nurse and anesthesiologist normally call the shots in the OR so they are the people to get on board first. Ask your doctor/midwife to advocate for you. Be direct and don’t back down. This is your birth and you are the boss, even if it’s urgent.
- Put it on your birth plan so that you’re having these conversations with your care team from the moment you walk in the door to the hospital
- Feel free to share this blog post with anyone and everyone! Be the change!
The tides are turning, and hospitals across the United States are recognizing the significance of allowing doulas and photographers in the OR during cesarean births. Their decision is rooted in a profound understanding of the lasting impact that continual support has on birthing families and the birthing community. Beyond the immediate benefits for the family, they have come to appreciate how powerful images of cesarean births can be. Seeing the unknowns of surgical birth supports future families by normalizing birth, calming fears, and inspiring strength.
Allowing access to doulas and birth photographers is not merely about capturing fleeting moments or being an extra body in the room; it’s about providing continuous emotional support, pathways for healing, and offering families a positive birth experience even when unpredictable changes occur. My hope is that Salt Lake City will join in this profound shift towards inclusive and compassionate care, where birthing preferences and support options are honored and valued in all settings.
As we continue advocating for these essential changes in hospital policy, let us remember that every birth story is beautiful no matter how it unfolds.