By Rebecca Drew
THIS BRITISH photographer has created INCREDIBLE underwater nude images celebrating the undisturbed beauty of water births after being inspired by the heart-breaking loss of her firstborn who she was told had no chance of survival.
The collection of majestic pictures appears to show naturally nude women welcoming their beautiful newborn babies into the world, still connected by umbilical cord.
The stunning pictures are the work of photographer, Natalie Lennard (32) from Worthing, Sussex, UK, who was inspired by her own birthing experience to start the project.
In 2013 when Natalie was 32-weeks pregnant with her son, doctors diagnosed him with Potter’s syndrome, a fatal condition which meant her son had no chance of survival as his kidneys had not developed. Natalie continued with her original plan to have a homebirth in December that year as a peaceful end to his life.
In 2015, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl at home which was undisturbed, and she wanted to use this in her photo series to share the primal beauty of birth for women all over the world.
These pictures feature in Natalie’s series, Aquadural, which celebrates the beauty of waterbirths and forms part of her wider project called, Birth Undisturbed. Natalie doesn’t shoot real babies as part of her work, she uses models and movie-standard prosthetic dolls and umbilical cords to set up the scenes.
“One of the main triggers for beginning this project has been my own experience becoming a mother. In 2013 our first child was diagnosed at 32 weeks in-utero with a fatal condition called bilateral renal agenesis, or Potter’s Syndrome, which meant our son had not developed kidneys and had no chance of survival,” said Natalie.
“We decided to continue our original plan to have a homebirth for the most peaceful end to his life. After, we went on to have a healthy daughter in 2015, also born at home. Both of my births were very much ‘undisturbed’ and I wanted to use that essence to share universally for women in all situations of birth.
“For this underwater part of my series I wanted to create a birth submerged, a serene image where a woman would be birthing in water alone, reaching down to her baby.
“Many women birth in pools for the pain relief, mobility and autonomy it gives them in labour.
“Some people may not know that the baby can be safely born into the water as they already have been living submerged in amniotic fluid, and do not inhale for the first time until they reach the air. But what is also little known is that there is a deeper philosophy to waterbirth.
“In the final ocean image, I wanted to hark back to the primitive history of waterbirth. We have actually given birth for thousands of years in water. Only in modern times has it reappeared as a form of fad or trend.
“And, also some women do give birth in the sea – even with dolphins. But the image is intended to be taken symbolically as well as literally. The woman is in her own world, floating in her own womb memory – resonant in the experience of every woman giving birth regardless of the setting.
“I wanted to speak for the stories of mothers, specifically women’s primal experience giving birth in a way that is undisturbed, so that we can see more positive and inspiring birth images.”
Natalie has shared some shots from the series on her Instagram to her 26.7K followers. But she said that some people commonly think her pictures are of real births, something Natalie explained contradicts the name of her project. She also spoke about the problems she had to overcome on the shoot.
“Some people wonder why I do not shoot real births for the series, but this would definitely go against the idea of a ‘birth undisturbed’, if I turned up at a birth with my camera system, lighting and assistants, and asked them to hold a pose,” she explained.
“Birth documentary images are a separate and very beautiful genre which I enjoy looking at on social media – more people need to see them, and this year social media rightly lifted its censorship on childbirth.
“But with this series I want to construct a specific story that is in my mind, create and direct that scene exactly how I envision. This is the genre of fictional narrative photography – think of it in the same way as a movie-still, or a painting.
“Going underwater was one of the most challenging concepts of my birth images. I had never shot underwater before. I had to buy an underwater housing for my DSLR camera, practice focusing through water and triggering the lights that didn’t fire beyond a certain depth.
“We used professional movie-standard prosthetic silicone babies with realistic umbilical cords. The models had a very difficult task to repeatedly get into realistic birthing poses, put the baby and cord in position, and hold an expression on her face – all at once.
“I am used to having a very controlled set-up, but with shooting underwater, I had to go more with the flow. Every shot would be different because of the nature of how water moves the model, her hair, the bubbles, and the play of light on the surface.
“It means you get a big lucky dip of images afterwards, and a big challenge was picking the right one to suit my vision. Nice underwater poses weren’t necessarily the right birth poses.”
Natalie has used a Nikon D850 to capture her wonderful images since she started the project last year – she described the reactions she has received to her work.
“Some people are misled it is real. Others think it’s a painting. Some express concern at the sea salt and pollution of giving birth in the sea, or being too far from a medical environment which they deem as the safest way to birth,” she said.
“Because I share all my series online, I receive many kinds of reaction. I have also created a graphic birthing Virgin Mary, the Queen giving birth in Buckingham Palace in 1964, and a woman in a Victorian London slum who inspired the most famous book in birth history.
“Also, I staged a woman in the back of a car giving birth to her baby onto a roadmap, her husband peering through the window, entitled ‘Baby on Board’”
For more information see www.birthundisturbed.com