The pictures in the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers Image of the Year Competition were disturbing, but not for the reason you might think.
Yes, you can see naked lady parts and babies covered in blood and goop -- but vaginas and body fluids are all part of childbirth, so that wasn't what bothered me. It was seeing all the mothers and fathers working as active partners in labor and delivery.
The couple kissing in the tub and cradling their fresh newborn. The sheer joy and relief and amazement in the mother's face as she holds her baby before anyone else does. The still messy baby burrowing into his mother's chest. The father looking on in awe at the power of the life arriving in front of his eyes.
I didn't get any of those moments.
I know I'm supposed to be grateful that my children were born healthy and beautiful, that we had great medical care, that everything turned out fine. But I'm still sad sometimes about having two c-sections.
And then I saw the photo that stopped me in my tracks. It was so unexpected that I had to turn to my husband. "I need to ask you a really strange question: is that a stomach? Because I don't think it could be a vagina."
It's photo #73. I'll give you a minute to go look, although my squeamish friends might want to glance quickly.
Turns out it's the view that I never saw when I was flat on the operating table -- the cesarean incision pushed apart as the doctor's hands pull and tug and wrestle a baby out into the world. My husband recognized it because (despite instructions to keep his seat next to my head) he had peeked over the screen when we were in the operating room.
Seeing that moment captured on my screen was mesmerizing. A little terrifying to look at, and yet incredible to see that my body could do that. Even when I was flat on my back, staring at the ceiling and numb from the ribs down, I wasn't passive. My body allowed a doctor to pull a baby -- my baby -- into the world to breathe. And then that same body somehow unbelievably healed itself over time (okay, a lot of time) to do it all over again.