Cambodia 27 Dec 2014 09:52
If you’re a man in Cambodia, being present at the birth of your child is widely frowned upon. As both the prospective father and a camera-wielding photo-journalist, attending and documenting the birth of my son was a challenge, to say the least.
At 8pm on 26 December 2014, my partner of nearly nine years alerted me that her water had broken. She started to have her first contractions, but we were advised to stay home, get some food and rest, and wait it out until the morning.
By 7am and after a sleepless night, the intensity of Madeline’s contractions reached a peak every ten minutes; it was time to leave. Descending seven flights of stairs from our apartment in Phnom Penh, we hailed a remork (tuk tuk) to take us across the city on a journey that would change our lives forever. As is common in the capital city, the driver said he knew where to go, (which meant no, I don’t, please tell me), so with the limited Khmer that I knew, and ten minutes trying to explain where the clinic was, we came to an agreement and departed.
For twenty minutes, in a rickety wooden carriage towed by a 125cc motorcycle, on substandard roads, we careered through early morning city traffic on with Madeline panting heavily all the way to the clinic. On arrival, Doctors and midwives monitored the baby’s heartbeat, and then lead us to the room that we had pre booked, ready for Madeline to start the first stages of labour.
For the next four hours, the intensity in the room increased tenfold; I watched as the midwives coached Madeline with every technique in the book to ease her pain and mental state. Encouraging deep breathing and keeping her calm was part of my support role .When the staff decided she was ready, my partner told me to grab my camera. She was screaming as they wheeled her upstairs to the delivery room, and I realized I was about to begin documenting the birth of my son.
From a photographer’s point of view, taking photographs of my woman giving birth was not easy. She was in a lot of discomfort and pain, so trying document this, whilst retaining her dignity, was both mentally and physically draining.
There were other factors I had to take into consideration. Room to move was at a premium; I was in a small delivery room with six medical staff and a pregnant woman, so gaining the trust of the midwives and doctors was essential. Lighting conditions were very harsh, and Madeline was constantly moving from one chair to another, from standing to sitting, and from crouching and crawling positions.
The majority of the time I was supporting my partner and wishing for a safe and problem free delivery, and she says she can only recall one moment of me taking photographs from the entire labour. Madeline was having very heavy contractions whilst kneeling on the floor on her hands and knees. My natural instinct as a photographer kicked in, and as I lay on my back in front of her, pointing the camera at her pain stricken face, I composed the frame and took the photograph. This was the only point in the delivery when my partner told me to stop taking photos and to hold her hands!
The images shown were taken in the last three hours of a fairly short seven-hour natural labour, and at 1.50 p.m. on the 27th of December, we were blessed with our first son, Frank Nickels.