Cisse’s Birth Story
Cisse’s Birth Story
Mieke and Joris are expecting their second child. I had been with them when their daughter Nelle was born, and they’re keen to have me record the arrival of her baby brother as well. It promises to be yet another extraordinary experience: Mieke’s dad will be the obstetrician again, and her mum Chantal, a midwife/doula, will be supporting Mieke and Joris through labour. Last but not least, big sister Nelle will be there to watch her baby brother be born. It’s one more thing Chantal gets to juggle: looking after her granddaughter, making sure Nelle doesn’t get overwhelmed. A second midwife will take care of the midwife side of things.
Tuesday, November 21st. Around 10 am I get a call from Joris. Mieke is well into labor, contractions are frequent and dilation is progressing. Mieke and Joris were hoping to manage things as home as long as possible, so I check with Joris whether I should go to their place or straight to hospital. “Just come to ours,” Joris decides – but my gut tells me to enter the hospital coordinates into the gps just in case.
Not even fifteen minutes into the drive to their home city of Ostend I get another phone call. It’s Joris: “You might want to head for the hospital after all.” I knew it…
When I arrive at the maternity unit I’m greeted with big sighs of relief. The midwife, who’s been taking a couple of snaps, is especially grateful to have me step in – although she doesn’t really have her hands full quite yet. Mieke and Joris are proving such a phenomenal team navigating the contractions that she can take a backseat for now. Meanwhile, Chantal is both keeping an eye on Nelle, who is loving the whirlpool, and being there for Mieke. Joris and Chantal make another great team, sharing the care for mother and daughter as needed.
When Mieke’s dad comes in to check how things are going, he can clearly see he’s not needed yet :)
Dilation stalls, the team decides to break the water. Soon after, Mieke is fully dilated and ready to move to the birthing tub. Time for her dad to step back in. Nelle stays in the whirlpool with grandma, offering the occasional words of encouragement: “Push, mommy, push!” For a moment, time stands still, and I see only the loving looks exchanged by this very special, close-knit family.
And then it happens: the baby’s head crowns. Chantal and Nelle climb out of the pool, and as they come closer Cisse is born. In a split second, I get to capture the two siblings meeting for the first time.
That very photo begins to take on a life of its own as soon as I share it on social media. It’s deemed too explicit by both Facebook and Instagram, and gets removed time and again. I’m outraged, and decide to speak up. The picture – or rather, birth photography censorship by social media – makes headlines in the Belgian and international press, and sets off a wave of support for normalizing birth photographs – and birth itself.
#stopcensoringbirth #stopcensoringmotherhood #birthisnatural – with those hashtags the picture conquers the world wide web: it’s shared faster than it can be taken down, and my head spins at how big this has become. I’m flooded with messages from people all over the world telling me my picture has shown women everywhere that giving birth is a thing of beauty – not something to be afraid of. I’m grateful that I didn’t just shrug my shoulders when Facebook tried to shut me down. This was definitely a fight worth fighting.
P.S. If this story has inspired you and you’re thinking of having your own baby’s birth recorded, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I record both home and hospital births anywhere in Flanders, and I’ve worked at hospitals in Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, Leuven, Aalst, Deinze, Roeselare, Ostend, Bruges, …