WARNING GRAPHIC AND NUDE CONTENT
By Rebecca Drew
RAW IMAGES showing a nude woman embracing her primal instincts whilst appearing to give birth in an exotic tropical garden have been released by one British photographer who was inspired by her own experience of natural homebirth and the view that medicalisation isn’t necessarily as safe as we imagine.
The breath-taking images appear to show a gorgeous model preparing to welcome her newborn child into the world whilst in a glass cube set against a wild garden while her midwife and partner look on in awe.
The stunning shots show the woman boldly standing up whilst passionately going through the throes of labour before peacefully holding her baby in her arms with umbilical cord still attached before starting to nurse.
These pictures were taken by photographer, Natalie Lennard (32) from Worthing, Sussex, UK, and feature in her series Salle Sauvage which forms part of her wider Birth Undisturbed project.
Natalie was inspired by her two experiences of natural homebirth where she found that she was free to follow her own primal instincts during labour under the watchful eye of her independent midwife who let her embrace her body.
Through her incredible work Natalie hopes to show women that there are alternative styles in which to give birth that aren’t just in a sanitised hospital on their back. Natalie, who normally shoots glamorous fashion and commercial work, said she was inspired one day when she was shooting alternative beauty model Gina Harrison.
“The initial spark of inspiration came from seeing the location itself. I am fascinated by how nature meets manmade interiors, and this setting was utterly surreal in itself: a perfect metaphor for home birth: bringing ‘nature’ into the domestic interior, birth out of a medical setting,” said Natalie.
“I saw how little inhibition she [Gina] had with facial expression and poses, so I pledged the question, ‘will you give birth for me?’
“She wasn’t pregnant, had never given birth. I teamed her with retired independent midwife Liz Nightingale, one cold day in Clapham.
“I had never done a shoot like this before, and I was wondering if I was crazy. The model was stark naked, whilst I lubed up a silicone baby and placenta in Vaseline and vampire blood, filmed by a camera crew whilst my toddler ran around on set.
“But it was just like any shoot – ridiculous jokes, down-to-earth Britishness with tea and biscuits after – it was fantastic. These are my favourite images I’ve taken in my life.
“I have experienced two homebirths with the same independent midwife, and both were wonderful in that I was free to follow through the sensations of birth in an instinctive manner, on my own turf, for a very straightforward experience.
“I do not actually know any different than giving birth at home, so I can only imagine how it might be different in hospital. I find that people speak of homebirth as being pleasant, a luxurious comfort, ‘nice if you can have it’.
“But being in your own surroundings on your own terms has a very deep impact on shaping your entire experience. It can reduce the need for intervention or complications from arising at all, and it can influence how much you even define birth as ‘painful’ – which I do not.
“Birth is intense, intimidating, but nothing like pain of injury. I never felt fear, just trust in my body and my midwife’s hands-off care.
“When I first set out to make the image, the relationship between the glass Cube set within the wilderness of the garden was a simple, symbolic dynamic: a woman is birthing at home, and she is connected with nature, she looks like an animal, like she belongs to it.
“I was keen to create Salle Sauvage because it portrays a topic close to my heart, as well as utilising rich and evocative symbolism, a tropical aesthetic that excites me as a fine-art photographer.
“I had a strong vision in my mind from the start, of a buxom, Amazonian woman who would almost be climbing the walls in passion, doing birth her way – a woman character wilder than myself. I did not give birth standing, nor catch the baby in my own hands as she does. It is a character exaggeration of the passion and control I felt giving birth at home.
“Her male partner stands behind her, at once guardian and protector of her space, but also intimidated and in awe. Everyone is hands-off, she is doing it her way. Her face is mingled with pain and passion, but overall, she is a figure of overwhelming power, in the magnificent moment of creation.
“We have a problem in our culture that we see only one depiction of birth: flat-on-back, anaesthetised, sterile hospital birth. That is what has become the prescription.
“Women need to see more styles of giving birth, to know what is possible, and to know the safety and in fact optimal conditions that non-hospital settings give to a woman’s primal birthing hormone: oxytocin.”
The title of these images, Salle Sauvage, meaning ‘primitive room’ comes from the French obstetrician, Michel Odent, who installed hospital rooms intended for childbirth with soft furnishings, dimmable lights, plants and water baths. Natalie took inspiration from his book, Birth Reborn, to convey his notion in her own way.
Natalie has shared some shots from the series on her Instagram to her 29.4K followers. But she said that people are shocked by the pure carnal nature of her images but want to see more portrayals of birth like this.
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.
“The huge reaction to this image is positive. People are blown away by the depiction of the sheer power of childbirth. I believe they are hungry to see more of it, and less of the usual hospital portrayal,” she said.
“Some people are scared by it. I think I would be, if I’d looked at it before giving birth myself. It is raw, there is blood, perhaps more blood than there would be in a typical normal birth, and the woman’s face is not serene, it is highly dramatic.
“Birth is a visceral, carnal experience that needs our attention to a woman’s instinct in the same way as other mammals. Giving birth upright, and letting the woman bear down instinctively rather than being told when to push, is important for the safety of the baby and her anatomy. She is less likely to tear, more likely to experience what’s called the ‘foetal ejection reflex’, and the baby is less likely to need assistance such as forceps.
“I think that showing childbirth raw and uncensored is a good thing. No, we don’t have to see everything that is ‘natural’: sex, defecation, masturbation. But childbirth is different because it’s political. For every birth that modern medicine has saved when it became dangerous, there are many more that were unnecessarily endangered precisely by over-intervention.”
“We need a balance again between nature and medicine. We need to see the good, hard science of mammalian, physiological birth.
“In my series I explore all kinds of characters, both real and fictional, to convey a range of female personalities from the Virgin Mary to the Queen. All have the commonality that they are experiencing a distinct level of autonomy or control beyond what we usually see in the contemporary medical, One Born Every Minute sentiment.
“Funny though, Michel Odent himself – the original inspiration – didn’t quite like it.”
These images are even more poignant because of the lifting of childbirth censorship in 2018, allowing nudity, blood and graphic detail to be shown in scenes of childbirth on Facebook and Instagram.
Salle Sauvage has since won two awards, and that the woman who famously gleaned 77 million views birthing by a stream on YouTube, emailed her excitedly that this was her vision for birthing centres of the future.
For more information see www.birthundisturbed.com