These days, we are inundated with so much content on the Internet, it can be downright dizzying. But once in a while you come across something the truly blows you away, brightens your day, and gives you new life.
That’s exactly what happened to me a few days ago when I came across this viral birth photo posted on the Facebook page of Marijke Thoen, a birth photographer from Belgium.
There is something magical and almost out of this world about this photo, isn’t there?
Water births are not the most common way to birth, but many hospitals have started offering it as an option, and more mothers are now choosing it. Although there has been a bit of controversy about water birth safety, mothers who have chosen this birth method tend to recommend it as a fantastic way to soothe the pain of labor.
What stands out about this water birth is that it’s happening in a transparent pool so we can see exactly what it looks like for a baby to be born suspended in water. But the thing that maybe stands out the most is the big sister witnessing the event before her very eyes, right through the glass.
More than anything, this photo captures the wondrous moment two siblings first meet and the very special moment a young girl witnesses the miracle of childbirth as her amazing mom brings her younger sibling earthside.
Of course, not everyone is as excited or comfortable with something like this as I clearly am. I am admittedly a “birth junkie” (yes, that’s totally a thing!). I gave birth to my first son in water, just like this. And although my son did not witness his little brother being born, it is an idea I’m totally open to if it works for a particular mom and her family.
Marijke Thoen, the photographer who captured this incredible moment, shared with Babble a few more details about the photo and the family it depicts.
“The picture was taken in a Belgian hospital in Ostend,” Thoen explains. “The family hired me to document their birth story. I am a professional birth photographer and I also photographed the birth of the child that is now a toddler in this picture.”
It makes sense that Thoen knew the little girl in the picture beforehand — and from her own birth, no less! She really captured something amazing in that young girl’s gaze and stance as she watches her younger sibling being born.
Thoen tells Babble that having siblings witness a birth is not every common in Belgium, just as it’s relatively uncommon in America. But it was something this mother wished for, and everyone involved was happy to respect that wish.
She also explains that while the little girl was not watching the birth for its entire duration, she was drawn into what was happening, just as the baby was being born.
“The child was not looking closely all the time, but she was in the birthing room, playing in a larger pool (not pictured) with her grandmother,” Thoen tells Babble. “She came to look closer seconds after the baby was born, which is the moment I captured.”
Thoen also explains in a Facebook comment that the little girl was given a crash course in the safety of water birth for babies. Specifically, that babies are still able to breathe via the umbilical cord, so being underwater is not an issue. The child also knew what to expect in terms of what the birth would look like. “No worries, no trauma for this big sister,” says Thoen.
Unsurprisingly, a photo this raw and unusual has been met with a bit of controversy. Thoen tells Babble that the photo was actually removed from Facebook twice for being too explicit.
“The picture was taken down from my Facebook and my account was blocked first for 24 hours and then again for 72 hours,” she explains. “It was taken down because it was ‘too explicit.’ I have no idea what is explicit about it? Is it the nipple? Is it the child being present? Is it the naked body of the mother? I don’t get it. All I see is the miraculous beauty of childbirth and love.”
Preach it, sister. All I see is beauty and love as well. And really, as far as childbirth pictures go, this one is certainly not as graphic as some birth pictures are. (Not that there is anything wrong with photos that show more than this one does — birth isn’t always pretty, nor should it be).
And yes, a little slip of this mom’s nipple is visible, and the little girl likely caught sight of a lot more as the baby was born (gasp!). But I think it would do us all some good to become a bit more comfortable with how natural and normal birth really is, especially when viewed through the lens of a child who only sees the miracle of it all. Birthing babies is one of our amazing superpowers and we should be free to celebrate it and share with others if we feel moved to do so.
The good news is that picture was brought back to Facebook. Thoen says Facebook even issued her an apology. “Facebook put my original post of that picture back up and even sent me an e-mail to apologise for taking it down,” she wrote on a re-shared post of the photo. “Thank you! We did it, all of us, we made a difference, we stopped censorship on birth on Facebook.”
Well, that’s a great bit of news, isn’t it? My hope is that as time goes on, more of us become attuned to all the unbelievable things women’s bodies can do in terms of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and everything else — and realize there’s nothing inappropriate or controversial about it in the least.