Photos Show What Childbirth Really Looks Like

This photo series gets up close and personal to the experience of giving birth. It doesn't hold back—and it's been getting tons of attention for that simple reason.

This is What Childbirth Really Looks Like Marijke Thoen Geboortefotografie

Giving birth is a beautiful experience for so many reasons—but that doesn't mean it isn't messy, painful and completely overwhelming. It does not look the way it does in the movies and it certainly doesn't feel the way most people do while watching those sugarcoated scenes. It's uncomfortable. It's raw. And we've finally discovered the photo series that presents the experience for what it really is.

The photos comes courtesy of the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers. The association held a contest urging photographers to submit pics they'd taken of childbirth. It has run for five years and this year it had over 500 submissions. Talkshow host Ricki Lake and co-producer of her documentary The Business of Being Born, Abby Epstein, judged the competition, choosing one first-prize winner, three bests in categories and three honorable mentions.

"The Surge" by Apple Blossom Families—Best in Category: Labor

Lyndsay Stradtner, the photographer behind the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers, told Today Parents that she started the contest as a way to highlight other birth photographers.

"There are many challenges unique to birth photography," Stradtner said. "Being on call, difficult birth experiences...and it's becoming much more mainstream as consumers realize it's not all about the crowning moment, but about the entire birth experience—what the room looks like, who is present, the details, the baby, the siblings, the dad's support and, of course, those precious moments after birth."

"En-Caul Unassisted Twin Water Birth" by Birth Blessings Photography & Childbirth Services, Best in Category: Delivery

Some parents have chosen to have their deliveries shot by professional photographers—after all, maternity photos are a thing; why shouldn't images that capture the moment a woman becomes a mother be as well? The photos are so, so detailed and truthful. They show the moments most people have never seen: the final push before a baby is born, the contraction that makes a woman double over in pain, the moment when a doctor guides a baby out of his mother.

"It's important to be able to bring the parents right back to that moment when they view their photographs," Stradtner said. "Those moments are so fleeting and it makes sense that people want to remember and capture those precious moments to hold onto for a lifetime."

"Where peace begins" by Natalia Walth Photography, Best in Category: Postpartum

"It calls to her both loudly and softly in song" by Krista Evans Photography, Honorable Mention

"Maternal grace" by Angelo Callo—Untethered Beginning for The Birthing Woman, Honorable Mention

"In between two worlds" by Alexandra Kayy Photography, Honorable Mention

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