Who is Jenna?!
As one half of Jenna + Tristan, Jenna is a wedding photographer with a photojournalistic style who also happens to document the most amazing experience the human body goes can go through – birth. I caught up with Jenna as she was about to sit down to enjoy a glass of sherry with her Grandma while relaxing at her cabin near her hometown in Ontario. So naturally, we found a better time to talk! Once we did, my appreciation for birth photography, although already high, increased by tenfold. Here’s why…
What drew you to birth photography?
When I was a kid, I loved hearing from my mom about her birth stories. She was always a big fan of babies, and so I think that naturally rubs off on you. I got so used to listening to her talk about births and babies and nursing with other moms that I got interested in the same stories. Whenever I met someone who was pregnant or recently gave birth, I was right along side them asking a ton of personal questions about their experiences. Eventually the type of moms that I was talking with evolved, and it was during photography college that I finally met someone who had had a home birth and I was fascinated. From there I met more and more women who had done the same.
Soon after that I became close friends with a doula. Her and I would (and still do) go on and on about birth to the point that our partners probably wanted to explode. (Granted to be fair to Tristan, he’s really great about taking interest in birth stories and has photographed as my backup when I’m unable to make it.) After a while I said to myself, “Hey, why aren’t you photographing birth, you’re obsessed with it?”. I’ve always had a really strong draw towards women’s issues, and so this is just right up my alley. Although I graduated with a psych degree, my original major in university was women’s studies. It’s kind of nice to feel like I can connect my two different fields of education, photography and women’s issues.
How did you get started?
Two weeks after the realization that I was meant to photograph birth, a friend asked me to be at hers. It was totally unexpected and obviously I was thrilled by the chance to begin my work in this field! Though my business is in wedding and family photography, I’m interested in documentary work too so photographing births fell right into that.
Describe your first experience..Any nerves?
I would say that I was fairly confident going into my first birth. I was far more nervous than anything that she would change her mind and not call me. I think it’s probably natural to feel like that when you’re so excited about something. I was just so paranoid that she wouldn’t call, but of course, she did! During her labour, I felt oddly calm. As crazy as it sounds, I am just so drawn to the sounds of labour, I find them soothing and so beautiful. Instinctually, I know what the body is doing and so I think I just take some comfort in the amazing feat it’s about to perform!
Was there anything you realized after your first experience photographing a birth?
Well, considering I have no children and have never been pregnant, I have read an embarrassing amount about birth, labour and parenting so I knew what to expect. Even with that under my belt, I realized I wanted to have a bit more education to back me up. I felt that taking the training to become a doula was the right thing for me to do. So I did just that! Even though I don’t work as a doula, I loved the experience and feel even more confident in the birthing room.
What keeps you inspired when photographing births?
Birth is so different for everyone. It’s inspiring each time for that very reason. Beyond the fact that I’m just obsessed with birth, I really value what photography can bring to the table during that kind of event. It minimizes the fear, empowers the woman, and focuses on the beauty of what’s transpiring. As a culture, we look at birth in such a chaotic and scary fashion and I am not ok with that. I want be an advocate for women’s birthing options and experiences and this form of photography is one way I can do that.
What is it about it that you love?
I just love everything about birth. I love being able to be a part of such an incredible event in someone’s life by helping shape how they remember that day. It’s like a high! I believe women are the most beautiful when they are in such an instinctive state. Being able to show that [beauty] back to them is such a privilege. I know they don’t always feel pretty when they are going through it, but I see their beauty and I get to show them that angle. It’s just so…lucky.
What do you think it means to the mother or parents of the baby to have this time documented for them?
I think it can be so empowering for the parents to be able to look back on their day and see what I see in them. For a woman to be able to see what their own body can do has so much value. There is so much going on during that time that it’s really hard to remember it clearly for both parents. I have one birth father that can barely look at the birth photos because he cries each time. Right after his baby was born, he came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Thank you for being here to capture that moment. I know the art of all this is important to my wife.” It was so sweet and he doesn’t even remember saying it, but it certainly meant a lot to me.
Most people aren’t even talking to you let alone thanking you at that moment. He was so proud of his wife for that birth and I love that I was able to give them a visual to add to those memories. For other couples where the births didn’t go completely as they hoped, I think the photos can help shape more positive memories as opposed to negative ones. Again, as a culture birth can be seen as being a “chaotic thing” and I think women feel a lot of pressure to do it a certain way. The truth is that what will be, will be and it’s still an important moment in a woman’s life. I wish every woman could have someone or something there to remind her how beautiful she is and how amazing her body is.
If one was interested in becoming a birth photographer, how would you recommend he/she go about it?
I think knowledge is power in any given situation but at the same time, sometimes just jumping right into something works too. I would go with what feels right, but at the very least really listen to the parents you’re photographing and read between the lines. Be ready to support them with your photographs and discuss any boundaries before the birth!
To see more of Jenna’s amazing work, check out her website here.
Article by Esther Kelly.