First Indian Birth Photographer, Urshita Saini, On Running To Her Mother Post Capturing 1st C-Section
- IWB Post
- March 21, 2018
Every time she comes back from a shoot, her mum asks, “Was it a baby boy or a baby girl?” And today I happened to ask her the same question! Not able to connect the dots?
Well, I am talking about Urshita Saini, India’s first Birth Photographer! When I called Urshita in the morning, she was rushing for an emergency delivery, and when we connected back in the evening, she told me excitedly, “It was a baby girl!”
The concept of Birth Photography is new in India, and yet to gain popularity. “Other than having strong photography skills to capture emotions in the dim light of L-D-R and OT, where flash is also prohibited, one has to have a strong heart to be able to witness childbirth. I hope more women photographers turn to birth photography, and that we can associate and form communities like there exist in the west,” shared Urshita.
Lawyer-turned-photographer, this Delhi girl’s infectious energy won’t leave you untouched. We talked and laughed for about an hour. Needless to add, it was a conversation I’ll always remember.
Here’s our conversation for you to scroll through:
Let’s begin with the beginning. How did you narrow down to ‘birth photography’?
Sahil and I were doing a research on the maternity sector for a magazine we worked with as photographers when we got introduced to birth photography and its popularity in the West. On digging deeper, we realized that it was far from a common concept in India, and four months of research later, ‘InfLens’ came into existence.
Did you have to seek guidance from doctors and hospitals; were there no obstacles in the form of medical concerns?
Since there was no other birth photographer in India, we had no resources to take reference from. So I first got in touch with a few gynaecologists to understand how it can work, and it turned out that except for the basic administrative conditions of consent of the couple for sharing the photographs, there were no other medical concerns. And, of course, if there arises some last moment complications and the doctor doesn’t permit.
And now the question I have really been looking forward to ask, how was the first experience? Nervous, were you?
So, interestingly, it wasn’t I who approached the first couple I did the shoot for, it happened the other way. During one of my hospital trips, a couple walked up to me to ask why exactly I was meeting gynaecologists every other day (she laughed). And it was a bingo from them in the very first go as I explained my agenda and the concept of ‘birth photography’ to them.
Quite a start! I’m all ears to know how it went…
Don’t ask! It was supposed to be a normal delivery, but after 10 hours of labour, the doctor decided to do a C-section, and watching it all happen in front of my eyes was beyond the normal range of overwhelmed. In my mind, I was like, “oh-my-god! This is what my mother had to go through, this is how I came in the world!” And though I couldn’t take any great captures, it was an experience that I will never forget and can perhaps never explain, too – a strange mix of nervousness and excitement.
Aww. So did you run straight to your mum after it?
Yes! I ran straight to my mum from the hospital, and in that crazy mix of emotions apologized to her for bringing so much pain for her at the time of birth. She used to often jokingly taunt me about how painful I had made it for her, and I could never understand the magnitude of it until that day. She laughed wickedly saying, “now you know” (ha-ha).
What do you have to say about the experience of standing in the much dreaded ‘operation theatre’, watching and photographing?
Like most people, I, too, had a very filmi perception of operation theatres. But my dramatic expectations found an exit when I saw doctors performing the surgery and its pre and post tasks, live. The ease with which they function, I just could not swallow it. Cut the stomach, take the baby out, and sew it again – voila, job done! My respect for them, and especially for gynaecologists and paediatrics, has grown manifold.
I am guessing the 100 births that you have shot so far have had some impact on your perception of the breathtaking phenomenon that pregnancy is, tell me about it?
Oh, it undoubtedly has. I used to always tell my mother that I would have an army of kids, minimum 12. But my plans have gone for a toss and now I can’t imagine having more than one, which by the way stands true for my entire team, she laughs.
Ha-ha-ha. And how do you build a rapport with the to-be mothers?
I begin to communicate more with the mother around the seventh-eighth month, which gives me enough time to talk and form a bond. It’s important because, on the final day, she should be comfortable having me around.
Hmmm. Keeping aside the photographer’s lens, what emotions did your naked eye capture from the mothers’ eyes and face?
I witness a plethora of emotions on the mother’s face at the time of labour – a mix of anticipation, nervousness, pain, but the strength and courage they show, stands out of all. There was this one instance where minutes before the doctor was to sedate the lady for C-section, she began laughing, and no one could understand the reason. But she just didn’t stop and eventually, the nurses and doctors joined her, too. After a good 15 minutes when she calmed down, the doctors proceeded. (Laughed)
Birth photography is a rather new concept for our society, and birth a rather private moment, did that ever pose a problem for you in convincing the couple/ husband, or the elders?
In my experience, the couples/younger generation don’t usually have inhibitions, but the elderly mostly do. My own parents didn’t understand it for a long time and they often asked me in the beginning about what I was doing exactly. I remember there was a woman once whose mother-in-law had got rather upset when she heard about it, but since the couple wanted, they hid it from her. Later when they showed her the photographs, she had tears in her eyes, and even thanked me.
Lastly, an unforgettable memory of the time you handed the photographs to parents?
So my action point is when the baby just comes out, to capture the emotions of the mother and father when they hold their baby for the first time, to cease that moment. And when I show them the photographs, the typical reaction is, “Oh my god, we didn’t realize this is what you were doing!” And fathers, who often get carried away in emotions, if they haven’t already fainted or vomited, get pleasantly surprised seeing themselves overwhelmed and crying in the photographs.