Stacey Solomon’s Powerful Birth Photo Reminds Us That Labour Can Be Bloody, Exhausting And Utterly Miraculous

The magic of Solomon’s photo isn’t just the blood, the baby or the bags under her eyes; it’s the universality of the image, writes Nell Frizzell

Women who aren't sure about having children

by Nell Frizzell |
Updated on

I have a photo on my phone that I look at sometimes, if I’m feeling stressed about some l party I wasn’t invited to, a friend’s excellent sex life with their new partner I’ve just heard about or an email I missed. The photo is of me, totally naked, kneeling in a kidney bean-shaped bath in East London, with what looks like an old grey spiral telephone cord coming out from between my legs. My pubic hair is luscious, I haven’t slept in 50 hours and there is a wall-mounted hand sanitiser behind my head. In my arms, cradled against my swollen breasts, attached to that phone cable is a tiny, mauve little man, screaming into my face.

This photo, taken by my cousin (a midwife who spent an entire weekend doing unpaid overtime as my birth partner) captures the proudest moment of my entire life. The moment I had just given birth to my first (and possibly only) baby. After being turned away from the hospital twice because I wasn’t far dilated enough, I finally managed to turn up, fully dilated, euphoric, light-headed and with at least a month’s worth of rigorous perineal massage under my belt. In less than two hours after padding slowly into the birth centre’s waiting room, I managed to push my son out, facing my partner, my face a boiling contortion of pure effort. It was the greatest, most significant and most transformative moment of my life. Every time I look at it, I am struck anew by the magnificence of women, the power of the birthing body and the foul attempts by the patriarchy over the centuries to deny or substitute it with their own pathetic acts of violence and so-called courage.

READ MORE: Stacey Solomon: You Think I'm 'Thick' Because Of Where I'm From? You're Wrong

I was, as I am well aware, extremely lucky. Who knows by what magic combination of luck, fate, genes, physiology, preparation and pure NHS brilliance it happened, but I somehow avoided any interventions or injuries during my labour. As a result, the water around me in that photo is surprisingly clear. I say surprising because, let’s be real here: birth is a bloody business. A very bloody business. According to most estimations a woman loses about 500ml of blood after a vaginal birth but if you have an episiotomy or tear, you may lose more. Which is why I was so thrilled to see the photo Stacey Solomon posted this week of her new baby, just moments after it had been born. The photo is a powerful depiction of the pain, the effort, the pure plasmic reality of birth. Solomon did not apply a green tinge filter, switch to black and white or simply edit out the smears of blood on her baby, her fingers and her chest in the photo. She looks exhausted, damp and rumpled; she looks heroic, beautiful and powerful. It is, in almost every sense, the opposite of standing on the steps outside the hospital with an immaculate blow dry, low heel and creamy clean baby wrapped in new wool. For many people, Solomon’s photo (posted by her partner Joe) may be the first time they’ve been exposed to a post-birth photo that hasn’t been altered, sanitised or even staged. For those people, this photo may be the first time they’ve even realised quite how unrepresentative so many of those other Instagrammable images probably were.

Personally, I have chosen not to put my son on Instagram. At least, not more than the odd pile of hair in the corner of the frame or a headless shot of yet another wild homemade outfit I’ve stuffed him into. I also have a private Instagram account and try to keep all identifiable details about him off the internet entirely. He cannot, I would argue, consent to anything yet - he can barely eat a sandwich unsupervised and is definitely pre-verbal. As a result, I am uncomfortable with photos of him existing in a public space and I cannot control what would happen to his image if I did. But when it comes to me, my experience as a mother, my birth and breastfeeding and blood and bewilderment? That I will talk about until my dying day. Because it is important. It is important that we recognise that being pregnant, giving birth, the months of keeping a totally helpless infant alive, is the single most difficult, courageous and irrevocable thing most people will ever go through. Once done, it can never be undone. No woman on earth should be forced into it by the mistaken will of politicians, religious figures, corrupt health officials or anybody else fighting to uphold the violent inequality that keeps a minority of men powerful and the rest of us oppressed.

But while birth is hard and bloody and overwhelming it is also miraculous. I have friends who remember looking down at their blood-smeared legs after delivering their babies and wondering who it belonged to. So occupied were they with the enormity of what they’d just produced that the fluids slipping out of their body seemed almost abstract.

The magic of Solomon’s photo isn’t just the blood, the baby or the bags under her eyes; it’s the universality of the image. Whether you had a Caesarian, vaginal birth, forceps delivery or anything else on the menu, millions of women like me have been there, felt her weariness and remember her achievement. In that moment we are all the same powerful animal. We have all made life out of sex, love and our bodies.

Congratulations Stacey Solomon. You look great

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