The one photo that perfectly captures the exhaustion of labour

labour photographer

Birth photographer Elliana Gilbert has shared this amazing image of a woman passing out during her contraction ‘waves’. The mesmerising picture is also a powerful reminder to everyone as to why it’s called ‘labour’.

She was a lone warrior, in this moment in time, clawing and gripping her way through the waves. This was a difficult labour. And she was over a day without sleep and so completely depleted by the time labor became active. She would pass out like this between the waves. I looked at her quietly from the corner I was perched from, and thought just how heartbreakingly beautiful this woman was, in her surrender. There was nothing weak about this moment, even though to the unknowing eye, it looks like she's not using any strength. But she is. Oh but she is! While she lays there surrendered to the power within her body, the pain that accompanies it, and the downward and outward force in which this physical power is moving within her… she is strong beyond description. She holds onto this power with complete abandon. Doesn't fight it. Doesn't hide from it. She gives in completely, and collapses from the weight of it, when there is a moment to rest. That brief rest is all she gets before forging ahead on that next powerful wave. Watching a woman labor like this is more fascinating and exhilarating than ANY action film or ANY adventure documentary out there. Believe me. I am a huge fan of the Banff Mountain Film Festival where there are some jaw-dropping, adrenaline-pumping docs about mountain biking and climbing and cave diving and all sorts of wild adventures. There are incredibly brave people out there. But a woman laboring is different, yet similar, almost frighteningly powerful. It's why I show labor and birth images. It's why I document birth. If more of us were witness to it, I think the world would view women in a whole new light. Whether you have labored or will labor ever in your life, or NOT at all…. the bottom line is, women are capable of it, women are POWERFUL and STRONG. And we need to remind ourselves of this, because there are plenty of people out there who want us to believe otherwise. I'm here to tell you, WOMEN are a 🌳FORCE of NATURE🌳.

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Raw and beautiful

The black and white image is of a woman who is at the end of her labour tether.

“This was a difficult labour,” captions Elliana, who goes on to explain that her subject had been labouring for over a day without sleep and was, “completely depleted by the time labour became active”.

“She would pass out like this between the waves”. 

A lone warrior

In the post, Elliana describes the woman as a ‘lone warrior’ which we love.

Because isn’t that it? When we birth our babies, whether it be by natural vaginal means or undergo a caesarean section, we are alone in that moment.

It doesn’t matter who is in the room with us, although we may feel and be comforted by their presence, we alone are experiencing birth. It’s our body. Our experience. Doctors and midwives may assist, to varying degrees, but it’s our body that must endure the pain, exhaustion and then, elation.  

Labour is truly labour

As well as being a beautiful work of art, the photo also perfectly encapsulates why it’s called labour. 

“There was nothing weak about this moment, even though to the unknowing eye, it looks like she’s not using any strength. But she is. Oh but she is! While she lays there surrendered to the power within her body, the pain that accompanies it, and the downward and outward force in which this physical power is moving within her … she is strong beyond description,” writes Elliana.

“She holds onto this power with complete abandon. Doesn’t fight it. Doesn’t hide from it. She gives in completely, and collapses from the weight of it, when there is a moment to rest. That brief rest is all she gets before forging ahead on that next powerful wave.”

Life in pictures

Elliana has made it her life’s mission to capture moments like these. A scroll through her Instagram is a treat with beautiful images and captions that remind us each day is a gift.

I spent so, so, so many years feeling uncomfortable in my skin, concerned to the max over what others thought of me; my laugh, my smile, my body shape, my fitness level, my capabilities, my intelligence, my ambition, my artistic potential, my musical skills, my sexuality…. it just goes on and on and on. So many years. Then I had my kids… and everything just fell apart. All these shells I had been covering myself with, acting like the most brittle, misleading armour you could imagine (that only made me weak and completely and utterly hindered) started to fall apart. Now that it's been almost 6 years since the birth of my first, I can actually feel some of those shells creeping up on me again, out of habit, years and years of subconscious programming. But do you know what I do? I make art like this. And I look at it. And I gain strength from it. I find inspiration, and a beautifully rich dose of, "I don't give a fuck" and another wonderfully potent dose of, "I am who I am." Get rid of the bullshit from your life, surround yourself with authentic honest people. It's amazing, the freedom you discover, when you walk out of your home every day feeling no shame, no apologies, breathing in the fresh morning air, belly NOT sucked in, wearing clothes that are comfortable for YOU ALONE and doing the things YOU believe in and want to do. Happy Monday everyone!

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The photographer clearly felt privileged to be at the birth and even says for her, watching a woman in labour is more fascinating and jaw-dropping that any action film.

 “There are incredibly brave people out there. But a woman labouring is different, yet similar, almost frighteningly powerful,” she says.

Strong beyond description

Elliana goes on to explain how this interest and admiration for the power of the female body fuels her passion for creating art. 

“It’s why I show labour and birth images. It’s why I document birth. If more of us were witness to it, I think the world would view women in a whole new light.”

“Women are POWERFUL and STRONG. And we need to remind ourselves of this, because there are plenty of people out there who want us to believe otherwise. I’m here to tell you, WOMEN are a 🌳FORCE of NATURE🌳.

I am a complex woman. I dwell in my emotions. The emotional palette I live in is vast, and sometimes I feel multiple emotions at once, a turbulent tug and shove of contrasting feelings, thoughts, memories, dreams, longings, inspirations. Sometimes I feel based on the concrete. While other times I get swept up in the what could have been's, and the if only's. My imagination is cinematic. My senses are aroused easily. I frighten easily. I cry easily. I erupt into laughter easily. (Unless you're telling me a proper joke. Those apparently don't work on me) If I am in company that is too polite, I become anxious and fidgety. I like to curse. I like getting mud on my clothes. I love getting "stuck" in the rain. I'm never actually stuck. It's a choice I made and love. I love flowers… living, thriving, cut, wilted, or fully dead and dry. I love botanicals… but am perfectly capable of killing them if I get sad for a little too long. I am haunted by a painful past. This drives me in every creative thing that I embark on. I experience mood swings. I am brilliant. I think about things. I churn them around in my mind, and then churn some more. I am full of passion. I am flawed and damaged and bruised. I am beautiful. I am a peculiar mix of jaded scepticism and idealistic optimism. I want to believe. I want to believe in magic and sometimes I really do. When I take photos like this… I do believe in magic.

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