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Should You Videotape Your Birth?

QUESTION: I am about to give birth to my first child. My husband and other family members think it would be great to videotape our birth to share with our children when they are older. What do you think?

ANSWER: The birth of a child is a historical event of great magnitude for any family. Like weddings, video documentation can capture the emotional richness of this meaningful rite of passage for generations to come.

Unlike weddings, childbirth also involves heightened pain as well as pleasure. And there is the specter of the unknown, and a life and death drama inherent in the unfolding process of childbirth that is absent from a scheduled ritual.

Still, much can be gained from capturing this event on videotape, if you are prepared and willing to adapt to mother nature as she unravels one of life's greatest mysteries.

Start by reflecting on your feelings about being "on camera" during labor and childbirth. Many women report anxiety about "performing" for others, once the labor begins. Pressure to look or act in a manner that would inhibit your working through your contractions would be detrimental.

If you are generally uninhibited about your body and easily express yourself without self consciousness, you may feel at ease with an unobtrusive videotaping. If you are a very private person, you may find that having a camera in your birthing room causes tension which can interfere with your coping, and even the flow of labor.

What to consider if you are planning to videotape your childbirth:

  • Performance anxiety. Speak with the person who will be doing the videotaping. Let this person know that your most important focus will be the labor and that you do not want to be distracted by any high-end technology. Ask that lighting be natural rather than using spotlights or artificial camera lighting. Use of a hand held camcorder that is relatively small and can be moved around easily is advisable. Be clear that you may even ask this person to refrain from videotaping, if it feels uncomfortable for any reason.

    Avoid using a professional photographer (or anyone) whose primary motivation is to create a videotape of a birth, rather than to support the process of labor. Undue tension can result when a professional's investment is tied to producing an art "product," over maintaining an atmosphere that is conducive to birth. Control of the environment can become a battleground, if not discussed ahead of time. Instead, consider using a friend who is capable of adapting to your needs as they arise.

  • Timing. For a first baby, it is important to identify early labor as separate from active labor. (See my book, An Easier Childbirth for discussion of this demarcation and ways to best cope with these stages.) Be aware that once you are in active labor, you will be less likely to be distracted by a relatively unobtrusive camera person. Contractions will be all consuming to your attention and your energy will be focused. However, if there are any difficulties in the labor, keep in mind that you may want a break from the camera. It is also possible that you will not mind a camera near the end of labor, as your baby is crowning, while earlier on you might find it distracting or even irritating. Talk with your camera person about all of these possibilities.

  • Flexibility. Prepare realistically for the challenges of childbirth. Know what your coping tools are and who is there to support and encourage you on your journey. By all means, make a birth plan, which includes videotaping, but stop short of rigid expectations that do not yield to your labor and childbirth experience. If your preparation is realistic and includes coping skills for handling the normal, healthy pain of labor, your preparation will likely embrace, rather than resist nature's rhythm. Your preparation for labor should be primary and foremost on your mind. Having a videotape is a great idea, but secondary to a positive and healthy childbirth experience.

If you decide that videotaping is for you, by all means do so with the commitment to yourself that you will steer clear of any pressure from others that the show must go on. Mother nature is at work here, but if we are humble, it is possible to capture a glimpse of her raw beauty and power.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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