Birth Photographer Aims To Debunk 'Horror' Stories Surrounding Labour

10/11/2015 10:00 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Selena Rollason

In 2014, pregnant actress Mila Kunis famously said partner Ashton Kutcher would be "staying above the action" when she gave birth to their daughter.

"He'll be head to head. Not head to vag. Unless he wants to risk his life and see. But I wouldn't if I were him," she told Marie Claire.

But for the 2015 AIPP APPA Australian Birth Photographer of the Year, Selena Rollason, being in "the action" is an important part of her job -- an occupation, she says, which is on the rise in terms of demand.

"Birth photography is becoming more and more common -- it has really escalated in popularity over the last five to ten years," Rollason told The Huffington Post Australia.

"When I tell people I’m a birth photographer, I wait for the look on their face. People either go 'that’s really cool' or go 'what? You do what!?'

"They think about the moment of birth itself, they don’t think of the story around it.

"If you think about it like a wedding -- the wedding kiss itself is a small but very important part of the wedding day. Likewise, birth itself is a small but important part of the day but it’s not the full story.

"I'm interested in relationships, connections and the story of the parents and their new baby -- the story of what a woman and her partner go through on the day they welcome a baby in to their family."

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One of Rollason's award-winning photographs.

Rollason -- herself a mother of four -- has been working as a birth photographer for the past five years and is due to capture her 60th birth next month.

"It can be very intense. It can be long and gruelling," Rollason said. "A lot of the parents who come to me actually want to have photos because they have had a traumatic birth experience before.

"Or they have heard horror stories and want to remember the experience in a nice way.

"A lot of mums come to me specifically because they have had babies before and they have either been drugged up or not remembered a lot of it. There are a number of reasons people come to me."

One such reason -- and one that some readers may find upsetting -- is in the case of a stillborn baby, and parents wanting to create memories with the child they sadly won't get to take home with them.

This was the case for Sarah Ryan-Charles and Adrian Dudek and their son, Theodor. Rollason remembers his birth, and the events leading up to it.

"[Sarah's sister] came to me and said 'my sister has found out baby she is carrying is terminal'," Rollason recalled. "He had a genetic condition, and his parents were told he may survive the birth and he may take a breath or two and survive a little while after he’s born.

"She told me they would love to have some photos taken of the birth -- just in case he was born alive -- and she put [Sarah] and I in touch and eventually I met up with her and her partner.

"It took some time together getting to know each other and to understand what the situation was. Unfortunately, Theodor passed away during the birth, but I had been with them for the eight hours or so prior to that and captured pretty much everything.

"They celebrated him and having the time with him and knew that it was going to be so short -- they made it really special.

"As a photographer, it was incredible to be in that room with them and experience their story."

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Adrian Dudek, Sarah Ryan-Charles and their son, Theodor.

Rollason is passionate about her craft and hopes her work helps debunk some of the "horror stories" she feels are often associated with the birthing process.

"I really want to see societal perceptions change," Rollason said. "One thing I really hated when I was pregnant with my first child was hearing all the horror stories at mother's groups.

"Everyone wanted to tell me their stories about how this happened or that happened, and as a result I went into my first birth feeling quite scared.

"I was anticipating something that was painful, gross and not a nice experience. I want to try and reverse that perception. I want to see mums talking about their birth experiences in a positive way, so other new mums can be think of it as something to look forward to rather than something to be scared of.

"I mean, yes, there is pain but that’s not what it’s all about.

"I just love [seeing] the reactions. The best part about it is seeing families welcome that child and the instant love that they feel for them, for their new baby.

"As soon as they see that child, the expressions and emotions on the faces say it all. That's the crux of it for me. It's so genuine and authentic and magical -- you can't replicate that."

Check out some of Rollason's work in our slideshow below.

Disclaimer: images show some medical procedures.

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