Victorian birth photographer and doula shares beautiful photos to help women rethink labour.

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It might be the fact that it’s been a year and a half and the fact that your body is designed to help you forget what it’s like, but if you ask me what giving birth is like I usually answer, “it’s incredible. It’s pretty wild.”

Does it hurt? Sure. But for most of it, during your pre-labour and the long hours it will take you to get to seven centimetres, it hurts for 30 seconds or so and then you get a break. You’re not in pain for hours and hours on end.

Labouring woman. photo courtesy Angela Gallo

That was the lightbulb moment for me. Sitting in a VBAC class at my hospital trying to make up my mind between having another caeserean or attempting a vaginal birth, the midwife leading the class says reminded us that there's all this time between contractions.

A girlfriend of mine had her baby not long before I fell pregnant with my second. She did a Calmbirth course during her third trimester, laboured mostly at home, arrived at the birth centre at the local hospital in the middle of transition, got into the bath and three quarters of an hour later welcomed her baby daughter into the world. She tells me not long after that she didn't experience pain. She experienced pressure, but not pain.

I found her story so compelling that when I fell pregnant with my second baby I knew I had to think about attempting a vaginal birth, out of sheer curiosity if nothing else.

And so, I approached labour with an open mind, determined to joke my way through the pain.

Water birth. image courtesy Angela Gallo

Angela Gallo is a birth photographer and doula based on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. She encourages her clients to rethink pain and fear in birth.

Angela says, "Fear, anxiety, stress - these emotions cause real physical reactions in labour. As soon as a woman is frightened, her body responds with the 'flight or fight' response. Her body pumps large amounts of adrenaline, and redirects blood meant for the uterus, straight for her hands and feet. It does this as a last ditch effort to survive, giving her the energy to literally 'fly' (run away) or 'fight' (fight back). So as blood flow to uterus is interrupted, labour stalls or stops entirely."

She advises women to approach challenge their fears with education, enthusiasm and empowerment.

"Do your own research, ask questions, get excited, take ownership of your experience. Honour your feelings, whatever they may be. And remember to continually challenge your fears with positive thought and energy."

"I recently attended a birth of one of the most wonderfully positive women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She made a very conscious effort to be happy, excited, educated about her options, the entire pregnancy.

"She smiled through her entire labour. And I mean, she smiled her baby out. Two small pushes, one huge smile, a big roar - and out came baby. And my fondest memory is of her in the birth pool, between contractions, grinning ear to ear. So I say, ' You are so beautiful. How wonderful to see you smiling!' She responds, ' What is there not to be happy about? I'm having a baby! I am about to meet my baby!'

"Her attitude from the very beginning was positive. No fear. She really manifested an amazing experience. It really moved me, and reaffirmed my beliefs in the fundamental importance of attitudes towards birth."

"Birth, to me, is one of life's truest 'human' experiences." Image courtesy Angela Gallo

I asked Angela Gallo to tell me more about what her work as a doula and a birth photographer.

What does a normal day look like for a doula?

"Great question! Besides being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; it involves a lot of personal and professional development in order to best serve the women I work with. I am also very active on social media and spend a few hours a day actively maintaining the pages. I work with about 3-6 women a month, so in addition to the physical birth, I also see them in a few meetings before and after.

"On a typical 'birth' day, one of my mama clients calls me to let me know she is in labour. From there, I assess her (non-medical) needs over the phone. I make a loose plan to make my way to her, then coordinate logistics like childcare, travel time, get my bags ready, making sure my own babies & husband are all set up, too. Births have no fixed length, so I can be away for one hour, or 20. You never really know. I need to make sure that everything is in order before I leave. Like making sure I breastfeed before I head out, so that my supply isn't affected. Lots of little details. At the birth I offer emotional and physical support - verbal reassurance, massage, gentle prompts to change position, reminder to eat/drink or pee, a hand to hold, support for their partner; whatever it is they need!"

"I also want her to feel strong & capable." Image courtesy Angela Gallo

How long is a doula with a woman in labour?

"There are no real 'rules', I am available to these women the moment they need me. But we do lots of work before hand in order to make sure they have the tools needed to manage intense physical or emotional feelings in early labour.

For example, if a woman calls me and it is her first baby, she may be slightly anxious or overwhelmed of the unknown. She may reach out to me to come out to her as soon as possible. But if I did that, I would be doing her a disservice. I help with her needs over the phone, assess the situation, make suggestions. I want her to feel supported and heard - but I also want her to feel strong and capable. If I rush out to her, I can quickly become her crutch. So instead I try to empower her while she is still in the early stages of labour. Encourage her to drop into a space, find her special strength. If she does this early on independently, she is more likely to cope brilliantly when things become more challenging in active labour.

As a general rule of thumb, I make my way when labour is well and truly established. I want to feel my best, and well rested when she really needs me. If I stayed for hours on end, I would be absolutely useless by hour 10!"

"To be able to capture those few moments where a baby can exist between two worlds... it is literally a dream." Image courtesy Angela Gallo

Did you start as a doula or as a photographer first?

The birth of my first child propelled me into a world I hadn't known existed. We hired both a Doula and Birth Photographer, and I remember thinking - sign me up. I was addicted to that 'feeling' right from that moment we welcomed Ruby [Angela's daughter] earthside.

I did some research, and originally started with Doula'ing. Documentary Photography always interested me; so I decided to marry both roles. Birth, to me, is one of life's truest 'human' experiences. To be able to capture those few moments where a baby can exist between two worlds, and where I can play a part in a room thick with some seriously powerful energy and love - it is literally a dream.

I love to laugh, love to cry, love being emotionally and creatively invested; and Doula/Birth Photography work does all those things for me.

You can find out more about Angela Gallo's work at her website.

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