The Birth Story of Driftwood + Co, Saskatoon Birth Photographer
Part of my mission as a documentary photographer is to capture and share people's truths. So I thought it only fitting that I would share the true story of how I became a birth photographer.
I can't tell this story without starting at the very beginning, and the beginning of my story is not a fairy tale. I want to warn you all in advance that the origins of my photography career were forged in grief. In love, but also in grief. Although I am fully committed to the value of being open about universal issues that impact humans at a foundational level, if you are someone who is distressed by the topic of infant and child loss, please make sure you prepare yourself before reading further, if you choose to do so...
Many of you are aware, but many more probably aren't, that several years ago I lost a son. He died shortly after he was born in August of 2013. Our family photographer at the time, Lisa Landrie, graciously agreed to come down and photograph a portion of our time with him, and I'm sure I don't need to tell you how incredibly important those images are to our family to this day. You don't think you could ever forget the face of your own child, but grief and time can have cruel effects on our brains, and without those images I would have no idea what my first son even looked like, let alone the shape of his tiny, perfect fingers and toes...
At the time of Marlow's birth we had a 2 year old daughter, and my "quirky habit" of photographing her every moment very quickly became a full-blown obsession: if anything were to happen to her, those images would be all that I had left. That year I bought my first professional camera and began taking every on-line photography course I could get my hands on. I began taking pictures for friends and family so that they, too, would never have to be without professional quality images of their loved ones.
Of course, I never told ANYONE the reason pictures had become so important to me. Even now it feels morbid to admit, but it's the truth, so there you have it.
The following year I met an incredible woman who changed the course of my life, and eventually would change the lives of hundreds of other local families. Jasmin Herchak and I met in an online support group for bereaved parents, after she lost her daughter, Jael, also in 2013. Much like my obsession with photography, Jasmin's grief created a passion in her for supporting other loss families. She had a vision for a comprehensive birth and bereavement organization, and of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity to add photography to their list of services. And that's how Empty Arms eventually came to be! We served our first family in hospital in June of 2015, and over the course of the next 2 years I photographed the births (and deaths) of many, many more sweet babies.
As passionate as I was (and am) about supporting loss families in this way, my heart was beginning to become extremely heavy: even though I *knew* this wasn’t the case, it was beginning to feel like all babies did was die. As I went through the process of conceiving and birthing our next child, I realized that "happy births" would be just the balance my soul needed...
I began advertising for birth photography services, but even as a free model call to build my portfolio, I just couldn't attract any clients - aside from a very few exceptions, birth photography was basically unheard of in our city. So I reached out to a couple of local doula friends who in turn reached out to their clients. Eventually, one set of expectant parents agreed to invite me into their birth space and were THRILLED at the opportunity.
Tragically, their birth was not the "happy birth" we had all anticipated. Although they and their beautiful, perfect daughter will forever hold place in my heart, their story is not my story to tell. Suffice to say, after baby was born, Jasmin was called in and we spent the remainder of the day supporting yet another family that had joined the worst club on earth...
Although I had photographed dozens of losses by this time, this one was different. This one was unexpected and tragic in a way I hadn't yet experienced, and the trauma was almost more than I could bear. Their doula and I supported each other through those early days and weeks, and I honestly didn't think I'd be able to step into another birth space again.
I took some time to search my heart, take some therapy, and eat a LOT of takeout, and after about a month or so I decided that yes, birth was where I was meant to be. I immediately contacted another doula friend, who connected me with her next clients. After a long and grueling labour, that baby ended up being born via emergency cesarean, and the family, discouraged by the events of that evening, had asked me to stop photographing shortly after my arrival.
This was it. I walked out of that hospital room and down to the nurse's station and collapsed into the arms of a nurse I had come to know through my work with Empty Arms. I wanted to be a birth photographer with every fibre of my being, but it seemed that the universe just wasn't going to let it happen. But Korrina was not having it.
In the way that only she could, Korrina looked at me incredulously and said, "No. This is not happening. You're here, you have your gear, we have an entire floor of people having babies. You're doing this."
With that, she turned and left, returning only minutes later, "Ok. You have a family who is thrilled to have you and they're VERY close to baby. Get in there." I walked in to find a mama fully in transition, being supported so beautifully by her husband, doula, nurse, and care provider (who, incidentally, is the fabulous doctor who has delivered all of my babies. He's not even an OB, he's a family doc who also does deliveries. How's THAT for a sign!??), delivering her *perfect* baby girl just minutes after my arrival. (Fun fact: the mama pictured below is the nurse from that birth. She contacted me to document her own birth almost three years later - how amazing is that??)
The rest, as they say, is history.
If you made it this far, congratulations, lol. I tried my best to keep it concise, but as you can see, getting here hasn't been easy for me. This business is the definition of a labour of love for me, and I don't know where I'd be today if it weren't for every single one of the people mentioned in this story, and of course every client who has entrusted me since then to capture your babies' birth stories.
Perhaps now you can understand a little bit more clearly how sincerely I mean it when I say that birth photography is so much more than "just a job" to me.