Stunning photographs highlight 'extraordinary stories' of childbirth

These birth photographers' images are stunning.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Terri Peters

In a stunning set of birth photos, winners of the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers' 2020 birth photography competition are sharing some of the tender and emotional moments of childbirth.

The images, which range from overall winners in their category to honorable mentions, powerfully tell the birth stories of the photographed couples, from the emotional aspects of welcoming a child after a pregnancy loss to the feelings parents and siblings have about adding a new baby to the family.

The association prides itself on showcasing "emotive, invaluable birth photographs," said Liz Cook, director of the IAPBP, who added her gratitude for "the families who agreed to share their beautiful and sacred birth moments with the world."

Below are some of our favorite winning entries from this year's contest, along with the powerful stories behind the images.

Winner: "Denial" by Natalie Weber of Natalie Zepp Photography

Florida photographer Natalie Zepp captured this image of a 2-year-old girl pretending to be the baby in her newborn sister's hospital bassinet.Natalie Zepp Photography

In a "Fresh 48" photo session — a session conducted in the hospital or birth space within the first 48 hours of delivery — Pensacola, Florida photographer Natalie Zepp snapped this sweet image of 2-year-old Rosie, curled up in a hospital bassinet pretending to be the baby while her mom, Rachel Monk, was feeding her newborn baby sister in the background.

"Rosie, while not exactly in denial or upset about her loss of status as the baby of the family, wasn't terribly interested in her one-day-old baby sister," Zepp recalled. "She was, however, completely enthralled with the hospital room. She inspected everything, took everyone's vital signs with an unattended stethoscope and finally climbed into the bassinet to cuddle up with her sister's stuffed bear."

Zepp says she selected the image for entry into the competition not only because of its cuteness, but also because it addresses some of the anxieties women face about welcoming baby number two.

"The image really tugs at the heart because we all worry about how our babies will cope with a new sibling and the loss of Mama's undivided attention," said Zepp. "We know exactly how tired we will be and how much of our time will be spent feeding and caring for the baby in those early months, so naturally we struggle with the idea that our first baby — who is still just a baby and has been our whole world until now — might somehow feel less loved."

Monk says her daughter is a sweet sister who loves baby Lily, born in April 2019, very much.

"After labor, delivery and a good shower, snuggling baby Lily in the postpartum room and introducing big sister to her was the highlight of it all," said Monk. "Though Rosie wasn't super interested yet, it was so sweet to see how Natalie captured her curiosity in the hospital — it was like we all saw it through the lens of a toddler. Rosie climbing into that bassinet ended up being so precious and seemed very fitting, as she is still and will always be our baby."

Honorable Mention: "Overflowing Love" by Barbara Aviz

In her award-winning image, Brazilian photographer Barbara Aviz captured the moment when a father shed tears at the sight of his newborn daughter.Barbara Aviz

Barbara Aviz says her goal when taking birth photos is to become a storyteller, capturing both the strength of women and the moment a man becomes a father.

In an email, the Brazilian photographer told TODAY Parents that her honorable mention-winning image, taken of a client named Alaina and her husband, Claudio, at their daughter Maria's birth, is just one of the "extraordinary stories about childbirth" she has captured in the more than eight years she has been taking birth photos.

The image shows the moment Claudio sees his newborn daughter.

"A tear fell and it slipped over Alaina's shoulder," Aviz wrote shortly after the baby's birth. "It was Claudio. He sobbed, he was touched, he cried, he clasped his hands on his girl. His family was now complete."

"I believe in the strength of mothers during childbirth and how great they become, but I also believe in the power of the delivery of fathers at that time," Aviz said in her email. "It's a love that is still invisible — this is until the baby is born. And that was how Claudio, Maria's father, overflowed what was stored in his chest, or rather, in his heart."

Honorable Mention: "In It Together" by Lori Martinez of Lori Martinez Photography

5-year-old Piper stayed by her mother, Ashley Shaffer's, side throughout her home birth. Photographer Lori Martinez says Piper was "a total doula to her mama."Lori Martinez Photography

Lori Martinez, a birth photographer near Albuquerque, New Mexico, says she captured her award-winning image during a home birth where mom Ashley Shaffer's 5-year-old daughter served as doula.

"She was one of the best doulas I've ever seen," said Martinez. "She continuously spoke affirming words to her mom, rubbed her back, poured water on her back, held her hand, massaged her and gave her sips of water in between contractions."

Martinez says little Piper never tired of caring for her laboring mother, staying focused and present.

"It was truly one of the most beautiful moments I have witnessed in the birth space," said Martinez.

This was Shaffer's third baby, and Piper, the oldest of her children, was present when her younger brother, Sawyer, 4, was born, and wanted to be a part of her new baby brother Ryder's birth as well.

"Having this moment captured so I can relive it over and over is incredibly special to me," said Shaffer. "It is a moment I will treasure for the rest of my life, and I will never forget Piper's support and love for me as I ushered in a new life. Piper is very special and has always been well beyond her years ... I believe, after seeing her in that birth experience, that she is meant for something great."

Honorable Mention: "Reactions" by Paulina Splechta of Paulina Splechta Birth Photography and Films

This image by Florida photographer Paulina Splechta captures a big brother meeting his baby sister, and realizing he is no longer the baby of the family.Paulina Splechta Birth Photography and Films

Paulina Splechta, a birth photographer in Boca Raton, Florida, says she captured this image when her client's older son came into the room to meet his new baby sister.

"Magically, he slept through his mom's labor," Splechta told TODAY Parents. "At first he was really enamored with this baby sister, but when she suddenly started crying — I can only imagine big brother's reaction was a case of reality sinking in that he was no longer the only baby in the family."

Splechta, who photographed big brother's birth in 2017, says she knew this image would be her most successful entry to the contest.

"This is the moment we all think about as parents when we are having our second child — how they are going to react to their little sibling, wanting them to love their baby sibling and to be best friends," said Splechta. "We imagine every possible scenario and I think sometimes, they catch us off guard and surprise us with their reactions to being promoted to big brother."

Honorable Mention: "Holding Two Sons" by Lindsey Ellis of L.E. Ellis Photography

Lindsey Ellis captured this image of Luke Halvorson holding his newborn son, Kamden. On Halvorson's chest is a tattoo honoring his son, Keegan, who died in utero in 2018 from a chromosome disorder.L.E. Ellis Photography

Lindsey Ellis shares a special bond with the family she photographed for this photo shoot: The baby's mom, Sara Halvorson, was married to James, with whom she co-parents two children, Joshua, 9, and Christopher, 6.

"Of all the photos I entered into the IAPBP contest, this one means the most to me," Ellis explained, sharing that Sara Halvorson and her husband, Luke, lost a baby in 2018 after learning around the 20-week mark that he had a chromosomal disorder. "Baby Keegan passed on Mother's Day weekend 2018 — you can see him memorialized in the tattoo on Luke's chest in the photo. While James and I weren't directly a part of this loss, our sons were. We witnessed the grieving of our entire second family."

Ellis, who lives in Big Timber, Montana, says she took this photo on the day after the Halvorsons welcomed their son, Kamden, into the world.

"In that moment, he was holding both his sons, one who was in his arms and the other who lives always in his heart," Ellis recalled. "That was what I captured with this image — an entire story of loss and birth for a family who will never forget either."

Luke Halvorson says the photo reminds him not to hide behind the loss of his first son, but to embrace the loss and carry Keegan's memory with him.

"Keegan has a place in my heart and a story to tell even though he never got to see this huge world of ours," said Halvorson. "Kamden will grow up and he will know about the loss of his brother and how special he is to us being healthy and strong. I love the photo because it shows even though one has passed, there is still light at the end of the tunnel."