It Takes a Compassionate Village to Birth a Child

I often write and consult on the importance of understanding the different role players in birth and choosing your birth team wisely. However, a talk by Margaret Hefferman, has blown the concept into a new orbit of importance for me.

Hefferman discussed an experiment on productivity by a biologist called William Muir. The experiment, in which a group of so-called ‘average’ chickens were pitched against the egg-production abilities of a “super chicken” flock, resulted in a flourishing ‘average’ flock. And the ‘super flock’? All but three were pecked to death by the end of the experiment.

Although a rather crude comparison, I couldn’t help but see the close resemblance the ‘super flock’ bore to the current birth & medicine landscape, in which many seem to think that success, can only be achieved by suppressing the effectiveness of the others (including the mom herself!) in birth. There seems to be an unwillingness amongst some birth professions and institutions to cooperate, collaborate and work together as a birth team when it comes to providing mothers with the best perinatal care possible. The result? Confusion, hostility, dysfunction, emotional trauma and disappointment.

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In my experience modern-day birth can be categorized by two schools of authoritarian (or “super chicken”) thought:

The first is where the “perfect birth” can only be achieved by selecting a birth authority and giving that authority all the power to manage your birth. With no team members to balance them, these ‘authoritarians’ sometimes give in to ulterior motives (fear, time money, the need to always be a superstar or know best), which lead them to make choices that are not always necessary and wanted by the mother. Add to that the fact that the definition of a perfect birth is subjective and you have a recipe for disaster.

The second is where the power of birth is taken back by the mother, or at least she made to think that she has the power (hello “mommy super chicken” *wink *), who is offered a menu of birth options by a permissive birth team. The team often fails to help the mother interpret information in the context of her own personal situation and she is left to weigh benefits and risks without a proper scale. The permissive team often also fails to prepare the mother for the randomness that can sometimes be nature and birth.

Both these approaches fail the mother and her baby. In both instances mothers are also often left, without any explanation or support, to process choices that are sometimes needed but not wanted or choices that did not have the desired outcome.

Since the birth of my first child, I have believed that, as with raising a child, a mother and baby’s physical and emotional well-being in birth is largely dependent on the impact of individuals and groups who play a role in that birth. Birth should therefore, in my humble opinion, be an outstanding collaboration between nature, birth partners and birth professionals with empowered mothers right at the center of it – a compassionate birth village where birth professionals, advise, encourage, recommend, and help where appropriate and needed.

The bricks of such village (OBG, midwife, doula, birth photographer, hospital staff, hospital etc.) is however not nearly as important as the mortar holding it together, which should be identified by a high degree of social sensitivity, compassion and trust – for each other, but most importantly for the birthing mother.

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Rome wasn’t built in a day and I’m not naïve enough to think that the ideal Birth Village will spring up overnight. I am however leaving you with five 6 tips to get you going in the right direction when choosing your birth team:

  1. Work from the standpoint that as long as they are all qualified to uphold safety and integrity standards in birth, you should get to choose who your birth team consist of. No one team member / institution should have the power to refuse other team members, without good reason, if they are uniquely qualified for their chosen role and you want them on your birth team.
  1. When you choose healthcare providers and birth professionals, look for individuals who are authoritative in their field but not authoritarian in their approach. You want people who can advise and help you without making you powerless. People who help you to make your own informed choices and not drive their own birth agenda.
  1. Steer clear of permissive healthcare providers who provide you with a ‘birth menu’ of options but no guidance on how to interpret the options in relation to your unique situation or on how to prepare for the randomness that is sometimes birth.
  1. Look for individuals with a high level of social sensitivity and compassion, but also the ability to take the lead when needed, without wanting to run the show. You want confident, but compassionate team players on your team – not lone super stars.
  1. Your birth team’s recommendations and actions should be free from any motives other than your and your baby’s emotional and physical well-being. It should be about your needs and wants. They should therefore also only intervene when truly appropriate and necessary. This is where pre-established trust between you and your entire birth team plays an important role.
  1. It is clear that putting together the right birth team for you and establishing trust is important. I would argue that such trust can only be established face to face and be strengthened as teams work together. How to make that happen in the current time-is-money, super-chickens- only system is beyond me (some team brainstorming might be required!), but I think a starting point is for you to request a team briefing before and a de-briefing session after a birth.

Apart from birth photography I offer birth mentoring as well.  Learn more about the value of having me as your birth mentor

NEWORN PHOTO SHOOT SESSION 101

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Newborns change so much and so fast in the first couple of weeks after birth.  As parents we want to capture our babies’ delicate features as they unfold like flower petals in front of our eyes so that we can treasure this incredible time forever.

By the same token, the first couple of weeks of life with a newborn can be a mixed bag of recovery, discovery, adaptation and wonder and braving a newborn shoot in this sensitive time can be daunting (even with my background I found my son’s nerve-wrecking and tiring with aching breasts and a sore c-section wound!)

As birth photographer & storyteller I am a firm believer that capturing memories of this special time should not distract from the memories itself.  I also understand that all mothers do not feel ‘photo-friendly’ in those first days which is why many opt for newborn photo’s only and even that can be challenge.  I myself was one of those moms who opted for newborn images only and I regret not having had some of those precious, natural moments between my newborn and myself captured.

Here are some tips to make sure you end up with positive and timeless ties to this special time:

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Love You Endlessly | Huxley’s Birth | Vincent Pallotti, Cape Town

This is the story of how Huxley, with eyes as fierce blue as his mommy’s, came into Daniela’s life. I knew Daniela was going to be an exceptional mother when I met her again at her maternity shoot. Dressed in the most ‘vogue’ maternity dress I have ever seen, we spent an entire afternoon capturing the most beautiful maternity memories for her.

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Nikon SA Backs Birth Photographer Love Alda

 

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September 2015

Nikon, one of the largest and most respected photography brands in the world, is known for its investment in and support of professional, passionate and dedicated artists and storytellers.  The brand is committed to empower and educate and is well represented by world-class photographers, who inspire a new generation of artists across various genres. In view of the above, Nikon South Africa’s recent decision to support Birth Photographer & Mentor Alda Smith, from Love Alda, is not only a huge honor, but it also bodes well for the unique and developing art that is birth photography.

“Alda’s devotion and passion for birth photography is truly inspiring. We at Nikon in South Africa are proud to be associated with her and contribute to the development of such a unique segment in the photographic industry,” says Chantal Hauptfleisch, Head of Marketing at Nikon in South Africa.

“Alda’s birth photography is up there with the best international work and she portrays it with her signature intimate style. One can clearly see Alda has an affinity with people through her beautiful portraiture and she has a masterful understanding of natural light,” says Dr. Mark van der Wal, an avid Nikon supporter and past time birth photographer. “Her commitment as chair of the South African Birth Photographers Association, to promote and protect this relatively new genre of photography, is inspiring as she is a firm believer in the inherent value of her and her colleagues’ work,” he continues.

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“As a mother of three I have such a passion for capturing these once in a lifetime moments for parents and I think that to be able to show a child the story of how he / she came into this life is an incredible gift to a parent, but also to that child one day,” says Alda Smith. “I truly believe that those first memories & stories of love and connection are the most treasured heirloom we can give our children, but that a birth photographer should understand how to hold the birth space for a mother (and her birth partner). Working in association with Nikon will only strengthen efforts to educate and have a positive impact on the market,” she says. “It’s a wonderful development for birth photography – locally and globally.”

When she is not busy capturing birth journeys for her clients, Alda can be found mentoring not only clients but also birth photographers and professionals.   For more on Alda’s work visit www.lovealda.com  For Nikon-related question go to www.nikon.co.za

 

A personal thank you from Alda:  

We are all carried on the wings of love, support and friendship.  I would therefore like to thank the following ‘wings’ for your continues support and love:

The Artist of Artist

My husband, Johann

My mom, Bea, sister Lize and brother Chris

My friend and birth (ninja) buddy, Marysol Blomerus

Dr. Mark van der Wal (a birth photographer cheer leader if ever there was one!)

All the beautiful mamas who invited me into their sacred birth spaces and continue to do so

Lyndsay and the International Birth Photographers Community

All the amazing birth (and other) professionals, midwives, doctors and nurses out there who saw the beauty and importance of birth stories when I first approached them and continue to support and protect the the professional integration of medicine, birth and the arts  (Lana, Mirinda, Ina, Jeanne, Sandy, Jacky, Harriet, Marie, Elmarie etc. – you all know who you are!)

Forever Ours | Bejamin’s Birth | Mediclinic Durbanville

I will forever remember Benjamin’s birth as the one where they lifted a pixie with the most amazing crown of hair out of his mama!  And the one where his grandmother sobbed with bursting joy at his arrival.  Benjamin’s birth was truly celebrated by his mom, dad and many, many more!

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Our Love Song | Mari’s Birth Story | Mediclinic Louis Leipoldt, Cape Town

Mari, with her ivory skin and dainty features reminds me of a porcelain doll. She is a strong little baby though – I noticed that from the moment her grandfather (the assisting OBG) helped her into this world and she so wholeheartedly told the everyone around her that she was there. This is her birth story. It’s real. It’s honest. It’s filled with love. And it’s beautiful.

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Timeless ties to your Birth | Birth Story Photo Books

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My mom made a birth & newborn book for me when I was born.  I love that book.  Though there are no photo’s of my birth itself (I was born in a nunnery and even my father had to wait outside) there are some faded newborn pictures of my parents and me in it, some letters and cards of friends and family and my hospital wrist band.  It contains small pieces of my birth story – my beginning.

I would have loved to see an image of my father sipping communion wine given to him by the nuns to celebrate my birth.  Or my mother’s relief when she finally got to hold me after a rough labour.  I have to fill in the blanks, but somewhere between the pages of the tatty old book lies the story and memories of life and love at my birth.

Give your child the gift of his or her birth story one day (the entire one!)  Custom-designed birth story photo books can be ordered with all Love Alda Birth Packages.  Contact me at [email protected] to book your timeless ties to your babies birth.  Birth is a gift.  Celebrate it!

Our Big Little Miracle | Alice’s Birth Story | Kingsbury Life

Once there was a family of four. A beautiful mommy. A loving daddy and two blond boys. They were a happy family but still needed a little girl made of butterfly wings. And then she arrived. She was in a hurry to meet her new family and arrived a too early, but the family of four (now five) did not care. They loved her with all their hearts. This is Alice’s birth story and how she was nursed on the outside with love until she could go home. The moment when her big brother finally gets to hold her and meet her will melt your heart. And then there is cheeky Christopher – already pulling faces in the family photo like all good younger brothers should!

 

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Maternity Shoot Tips & Style Tricks by lovealda.com

“The cobbler’s children have no shoes.” I think this phenomenon applied to me when it came to having my first two pregnancies photographed (or in my case not photographed).  I only had my third and last pregnancy photographed.

I regret not having my other pregnancies captured.  Each maternal journey was so very different and influenced the person I grew into over the past eight years. I treasure the images I do have of me being pregnant and knowing what they mean to me on a personal level inspires me to put heart and soul into my clients’ maternity shoots.

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When pregnant you have so many things to plan for and preparing for your maternity shoot can seem daunting.  It needn’t be.  I have put together an easy-to-use guide with planning tips, styling tricks and more to make sure you get the most out of your maternity photo session.

When should I book my maternity shoot?

Good photographers are often booked up well in advance so I recommend that you make your booking at least 3 months prior to your session date.  The session can be done between 34 and 36 weeks of your pregnancy (after that you may be too uncomfortable or too close to your due date).

Photography Style

It is important to decide what style of photography you prefer and book a photographer that specialises in that particular style of photography.  I have a life style approach to my maternity sessions and am a natural light photographer. Most of my work is done on location. If you however like a more styled approach, you might prefer someone that specialises in studio photography.

Location

Most photographers can make useful locations suggestion with consideration of light, preferences, weather and more, however sometimes it can be special to do a session at a location that has sentimental value to the parents.

What to wear: Colour Contrast Guide

My golden rule:  Compliment. Don’t match. Contrast brings depth and dimension to photo’s so avoid wearing all white or matching tops and bottoms.

What to wear:  Brights vs. Neutrals

You do not always have to shy away from bright colour.  It can bring excitement, personality and fun to your session.  Just avoid the ‘rainbow effect’ by having everyone in different, bright colours. Decide who your ‘star of the show’ will be  (sometimes the pregnant mom or sometimes a sibling if this is not your first pregnancy) and let that person wear the bright colours.

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What to wear:  Patterns

Try to avoid pictures or logo’s that may date. You want your photographs to be timeless.  Patterns can however, like colour, create an interesting focal point if worn correctly – just don’t go pattern crazy!

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Accessories & Props

Scarves, hats, bright boots, belts, jewellery etc. are always fun and can bring out your personality. A fun idea is for your accessories to draw out or compliment something your partner is wearing. Accessories should however bring that small point of difference and not dominate. Props can provide something to interact with during your session, but make sure they are simple and meaningful.

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Layers & Textures

Wearing layers will allow you to create different looks without a wardrobe change. Textures can be worn with neutral colours in much the same manner as patterns.  Textures like tweed or crochet can bring beautiful depth and character to your images.

Shoes

It is important that you wear comfortable shoes, however don’t underestimate the importance of shoe style and choice as they can make or break an outfit.  If uncertain, bear foot is best!

Be Game!

The best shoots are the ones where the mom-to-be and her partner are game.  If you are at the beach, you need to make peace with the fact that you will most probably get a bit wet or sand up your nose.  If you are in the field, chances are you will meet with a couple of thorns or ants.  So make the effort and bring those towels, dry clothes and walking shoes.

Creating vs. Capturing Beauty

As a maternal photographer I firmly believe that I do not creature beauty.  I simply capture it as it flutters by my lens.  So my most important tip:  interact and have fun with your partner and other children if applicable – that’s when the real magic happens!

All Love Alda Birth Packages include a complimentary Maternity Shoot.  Below a preparation guide with love from me to you.

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This article was originally written for Carmien Kiddie Blog.  Alda is Carmien Rooibos Tea’s Birth Photographer and Maternal Professional of Choice.Expert Button-04

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be kind. please :-)


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I’m so proud to be part of the be kind. South Africa movement.  I’ve included an introductory paragraph below so that next time you see the be kind. mark you will know that it is from a nice group doing nice things for creatives like myself.

“be kind. South Africa is a support group for creatives. We appeal to people’s good nature (in a kind way) to respect South Africa’s idea generators & artists. We are not a legal or rights enforcement agency – just a bunch of creative (kind) people who don’t want “power cuts” to our “light bulb community”. We can’t enforce intellectual property & copy rights (for that you need the guys in the grey suits), but be can ask nicely.”

So there you have it.  Go like the be kind. page  Share it. And remember to be kind – not only to creatives (although they are special breed) but to all human beings.