Lynn Hughes knows all about birth. She’s had her own babies, so she has that personal experience to call on. And, as a licensed midwife of more than 30 years, she’s delivered her fair share of babies in the Seattle area, assisted many other midwives in home and birth center deliveries, helped train dozens of midwifery students and provided doula care to parents giving birth in hospital settings.
Hughes also knows a lot about photography. In fact, Hughes, 67, says she received her first black and white film camera when she was 9 years old and hasn’t put it down since.
“I’ve always loved taking photos and documenting everything,” she says.
This year, Hughes hung up her stethoscope at Rainy City Midwifery, one of the city’s longest running midwifery practices, and opened one of the region’s newest pregnancy, birth and family photography businesses: Lynn Hughes Photography.
While several birth and baby photographers in the region have become doulas and vice versa, Hughes may be the first licensed professional midwife to fully make the switch. What does a trained midwife see through her camera lens? Seattle’s Child asked Hughes, who graduated from Seattle Midwifery School in 1991, about how her decades as a provider informs her camera work today. Here’s that conversation:
Seattle’s Child (SC): What drew you to midwifery?
Lynn Hughes: My passion caught fire more than 40 years ago when I became pregnant with my oldest child. I remember having a conversation with a co-worker before I even knew I was pregnant after which I was clear: If I ever have a baby, I’m giving birth at home. Even though I didn’t know the first thing about home birth or midwifery at the time.
I read every book about midwifery and obstetrics that I could find and with each one it became clearer that this was my calling. My path took lots of twists and turns. I worked in the community health, midwifery education and birth advocacy arenas before spending my last 12 years with Rainy City. But at 65, I decided I wanted to get a little more sleep and hung up my catcher’s mitt.
SC: How did photographing birth and newly postpartum families come into your wheelhouse?
Lynn Hughes: As a midwifery student, I was so struck by birth in all its glory and emotion and felt compelled to capture the beauty of it. Luckily, families were mostly fine with a student midwife taking photos of their experiences.Then, over my years as a licensed midwife, opportunities to document birth would come up. While one of my fellow midwives might quietly knit during a long labor, I would ask the family if they would like me to take some photographs of their labor and birth, although I would rarely capture the birth itself since my hands were busy doing other things at that moment. But, once the baby arrived and mom and baby were stable, I’d grab my camera for those precious early moments. Over the years, I’ve photographed well over 200 births.
SC: How is photographing a birth different from other family events?
Lynn Hughes: Birth photography is storytelling at its finest! I love to get photos during early labor when families are filled with anticipation, relaxed or laughing as they prepare for their baby. The excitement of the family knowing they’re going to meet their baby soon – before the intensity of labor begins – is part of the story I try to capture.
Each birth is the tale of a parent or a couple, their relationship and the beginning of multiple other relationships There’s the dawning relationships of a new family, each parent’s individual relationship with this new person and the baby’s relationship to them.
My best birth storytelling captures myriad emotions: love, joy, excitement, emotional intimacy, fear, challenge, exhaustion, strength, connection, surprise and relief. The images are a document of what happened, what was lived and felt not just by the person giving birth but the whole birth team. I document the first cry, the reactions of parents meeting their baby for the first time, friends or family members being introduced, cutting of the cord, the placenta if parents want that. I capture the wonder of a baby’s first feeding, weighing and measuring. All of these things are precious lines in a family’s unique story. Being a midwife is hard, sometimes exhausting work, but it is witnessing these moments that has fed me for so many years in that work and now behind the lens.
SC: What does your shot list look like?
Lynn Hughes: I am not in a rush to leave at a prescribed time. I don’t have a specific “shot list” per se. But I do try to capture at least one image the family might like to hang on their wall.
As someone who has watched this story unfold so many times through its varied emotions and stages, I know what I am looking for, but I’m also always ready for the surprises. Every birth is different, every family unique and my experience as a midwife has trained me where to look, which moments of activity or pause will best tell the full and deepest story.
SC: How does your experience as a midwife inform your work as a photographer? What extra does it bring to the table? What unique perspective?
Lynn Hughes: I’ve seen all the myriad of ways that labor and birth can unfold. With this much experience, I don’t need to think much about what to photograph – it just comes naturally. And the way I “see” labor and birth, I think, is a little different because of how intimately I’ve been involved up close in the process. I’m also very comfortable with the intense emotions and strong sensations that are experienced and vocalized, so families feel a sense of calm from me. I have a wealth of experience with the normal birth process as well as deviations from normal, so I know when it’s appropriate to step back if there are complications and how to still close the loop on the story if all doesn’t go as planned.
SC: What is it like to view birth through the lens, rather than as a hands-on provider? Are you involved in care in any way, or do you blend into the background?
Lynn Hughes: That’s a great question. Once a midwife, always a midwife. While my aim as a photographer is always to blend into the background – to be the proverbial fly on the wall – there are times I may join in the chorus of voices chanting, “That’s the way! You’re doing it! You’re so strong!” or offer quiet encouragement when appropriate.
Clients always know I’m a midwife and they naturally ask my opinion about things before and sometimes during their labor. But I am very careful about what I say – and make it clear that I’m not their care provider. I do offer photography and doula care to a limited number of families, so in those cases I may share more of my birth knowledge.
SC: One of your clients said she believes that it is your experience as a midwife that makes you “so deeply invested in capturing the profound sacredness of birth.” Why is capturing this intimate event in pictures important?
Lynn Hughes: Birth is an emotional and spiritual process – not just a physical one. It is transformative for everyone involved. I experience the welcoming of a new life as a sacred event deserving of respect, reverence and celebration. There is a sense of magic in the air as labor unfolds, and even after witnessing nearly 800 babies come into the world I always find it humbling and profound to witness the sheer power and beauty of the human body. These photos allow a family to visually connect back to the events of the labor, birth and welcoming their baby. Not only do the images celebrate the birth day, but they have the potential to be empowering and healing during the emotional processing of the birth journey. For some they may even help heal past trauma.
SC: So, you are past “official” retirement age. Why not just retire?
Lynn Hughes: I may not be catching babies anymore, but I can’t not go to births! Photography is another way for me to share my insights, knowledge and experiences with expecting families. It’s a gift to me and to parents to capture the wonder of a family welcoming their baby.
SC: Birth photography is expensive. I notice your site offers options that may make it more affordable for families.
Lynn Hughes: I do have an option for photographing only the final moments of labor, the birth of the baby and the immediate postpartum rather than the full labor. And I invite families to contact me if they want to discuss options like payment plans and bartering.
I truly wish professional birth photography was accessible to all families who would like it, which is why I still occasionally will provide pro bono photography for low-income families.