The Myth of “Pretty” Birth

Photo courtesy of Birth Boot Camp


As we have entered into the age of social media and digital photography, there has begun a wellspring of gorgeous birth photography, readily shared and re-shared across the world through forums and websites and outlets.

This new-found access to images of all kinds, but particularly those of birth, have had a powerful impact on birthing culture in many positive ways.  It is readily apparent that birth is in fact powerful and beautiful.  Images easily shared of home birth and natural birth make it apparent that normal women are birthing healthy babies, free of wires and tubes, in their own homes and under their own power.

This is a good thing, and it will change for the better the way another generation views birth.  No longer is birth relegated to the dregs of sit-com crazy and documentary drama filled with horror and bursts of amniotic fluid.

While the access and allure of birth done well blooms before us, I wonder if we have lost sight of something a little bit important but not that photo-friendly.

While I love birth and have dedicated my life outside of my children to its advancement, I wonder if women are surprised when they give birth with a professional photographer present and find the reality of their own birth is somewhat different than the air-brushed version that is seen in music covered, black and white pictures and video.

In my own birth classes I show a wide variety of birth videos.  Some are expertly done and simply breathtaking.  (I DARE you to watch some of Ceci Jane’s birth videos and not weep like a little child overtaken by the splendor of nature’s power unveiled through woman).  People love these sacred works of art chronicling the journey from woman to mother.

I also show more…shall we say, raw birth videos.  Some are home videos, not shot by professionals.  They are uncut, in color, sometimes noisy and often a little bit shocking for people.

I think it is important to show both types of videos- the one to inspire and show us how different birth can be from the media portrayal, and the other to show us what real women look like when they roar (or scream) out their baby into a messy pool shortly after their greatest challenge.

But people are sometimes a little bit scared when they see that “uncut” version of birth.  Why, you ask?  Well, while many things (powerful, life-changing, overwhelming, and yes, beautiful), birth is rarely actually pretty.

What are some of the real things that happen in birth that nobody actually wants on camera? Let me give you the short list:

  • Vomiting
  • Pooping
  • Crying
  • Screaming
  • Motherly “positions”
  • Grunting
  • Burping
  • Shaking
  • Sweating

Birth may also involve the following:

  • Mucous plugs
  • A variety of fluids
  • Blood
  • Orifices
  • Primal, gut instinct behavior

Personally, I like to embrace both the pretty and not-so-pretty aspects of birth.  I don’t think we can really appreciate the beauty in life without some of the hard (and not-so-photogenic) stuff to go along with it.  I simply LOVE the convergence of everyday and miracle, hope and fear, pain and ecstasy that meets in a birth.

But I talk to women who are disappointed and shocked at their behavior and some of the “icky” stuff that happens at their birth.  They plan for tubs and candlelight (a pseudo spa day) and the reality was not quite what they pictured in their mind.

The truth of birth is that it is much more like a family picture with four kids under the age of 8. There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  There will be bribes and frustration and lament (after all, everybody ELSE seems to have an amazing photo on their wall).  After a few hours of posing and arranging and lighting, you will be LUCKY if you walk away with a few pictures where everybody is looking at the camera and smiling and has nothing strange poking out of their teeth.

And THAT is the picture that you put on your wall and on your Facebook page and on your Instagram.  Not because it is the reality of your everyday life, but because it is the ideal that we all shoot for and every once in a while, actually get.

Birth is beautiful.  It might even involve candles and soft music.

But birth isn’t pretty.

Let’s embrace both sides of it for the experience that it really is, not the fantasy that we would prefer to share.



About Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark is a natural birthing mother of four who teaching birth classes in Santa Rosa, CA and trains birth instructors for Birth Boot Camp.  In addition to blogging on her own natural birth blog,, she can be found as a regular contributor on Speak Mom, a website for mothers.

3 thoughts on “The Myth of “Pretty” Birth”

  1. I think it is great that birth is so ”dirty” and ”primal”.
    I think that we made a lot of mistakes over the last century by trying to make it pretty, clean, quite.
    I like birth, because it is still one of the rare aspects of our life where we can still have a ”primal” social event! (other then sex, but we try often de be ”pretty”).
    I mean, I can just do what I need in front of other people: poop, scream, put myself in weird position, and it is exactly what needs to be done.

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