Ilsa W. H. Kidd

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Birth Story #4 Ilsa Wynne-Hoelscher Kidd
From Melbourne, Australia

When did you become a mother?
2015 I fell pregnant, 2016 I became a mother earth-side.

Was it a premeditated decision?
It was neither planned, nor a surprise. We just decided it felt right to us to start a family when we did. We don't live our life to a plan so to speak and try to live as much through our hearts as possible, not letting external circumstances come in our way too much as hurdles. I fully believe life -and parenthood- is more about the wanting, than the when.

Which is your approach to Motherhood?
My motherhood approach is very hands on and very attached. I'm a sentimental person by nature and a deep thinker, so I grasp firmly onto these precious days of raising our young and with urgency and need to be there. And to remember. I document a lot of our time together, but also try to just be present as much as possible too, amidst the endless juggling between motherhood and work. I think my advice to myself as a friend would be at times the opposite to what I do, as I have sacrificed a lot of myself to really be there for my children's needs and, in turn, have put my sleep and sometimes health last. It's important to find that balance between instinctual nurturing and working within the constructs of the modern world. I don't think it's an easy era to mother the way nature fully intended. The lack of “the village” and slower times really presses upon us as nurturers. It causes a lot into “mother guilt” and so I'm learning to find ways that allow me to be the best me I can be for them. In the day-to-day I find rigid scheduling quite stressful, so I rather like to have an expected flow / rhythm to our days and our seasons, growing through life. We all seem to work well within that approach. Some days we fly, other days it's just a race to the end. The challenges of life are all part of the adventure and learning, so I don't think it's a bad thing that our children watch us grow alongside them. I have to keep reminding myself that showing them our emotions is okay, it helps them to navigate their own and validates our emotional centers as human beings.

Why do you think so many women experience this “mother guilt”?
I don't think we're in sync with how we live in this modern world as mothers. We are far removed from nature. Being a mother/pro-creator is nature, so it goes against our instincts to manage, juggle, maintain it all... modern life, demands, pursuits, opportunities and raising our young. But I think it goes against us to also eliminate the modern complexities of society and humanity. It's important to feel fulfilled in many ways. In saying this, the disconnect drives us to judge ourselves when we feel we are failing or not giving enough or not making ends meet. We are constantly trying to prove ourselves in so many ways.

Could you tell us about the birth experiences you had?
We did HypnoBirthing for both our births. I felt quite empowered by the insight and knowledge of natural birth that we were absorbing. We did a lot of preparation for birth both times.

The first time was very fast and began with a hit of adrenalin, from there moved quite forcibly without many breaks. At the time of delivery, I also lost a lot of blood (postpartum hemorrhage), which was likely caused by my placenta tearing away during labour, it is quite uncommon. So my first experience threw my expectations and I had to grieve the birth I was hoping for and be proud of my body and baby for powering through with a natural birth, despite not as calm as we had hoped.

My second birth was so healing. Due to my first experience, the risk factors had us birth in hospital, but I didn't want that clinical space and past experience to dictate my reactions into history repeating. My waters broke slowly, unlike my last birth. Over the next 12 hour I had a gradual lead up to delivery of our daughter. I laboured mostly at home, with all the techniques we had in mind for this birth based on our last experience. It was so empowering and thrilling. We arrived at hospital just in time to hop into the birth pool and bring our daughter in to the world, without any hemorrhaging. I couldn't sleep that night, I was riding oxytocin from the calm birth and just coming to terms with my reality. My husband got to stay with me the entire time, which made a huge difference also, as the first time around my son and I were hospital bound for almost a week, navigating motherhood for the first time, post a somewhat traumatic birth. In saying that though, they are truly treasured memories, spending that time bonding with my boy and leaning into the wild ride.

How did you face the trauma of the first experience? Did you get any help?
Writing out my birth story was the starting point. I was proud of myself, baby and body. I found a lot of the "healing" came in preparation for my second birth, working with the knowledge of my birthing body and empowering myself with strategies, tools and mindset. I did a lot of forgiving, fear releasing, bonding and body and mind conditioning.

What about your postpartum experiences?
Postpartum is never over. I believe once another human has grown inside your body, you are never the same again. I like to think of that in both a romantic sense, in that they are now always with / within me. Also as an evolutionary sense that biological huge growth and change has occurred to create and bear new life. Postpartum seems to be a tricky one to talk about. It seems to be quite misunderstood in our modern society and associated mostly with anxiety or depression. Both of which are completely normal body, spirit, mind reactions to something so transformative and life changing.

I felt waves of these experiences post both births, along with the expected hormonal journey and ups and downs. In a long term sense, I think postpartum has shown me more of myself than I have ever felt or lived before. I believe I am more in tune with the human experience, mortality, my children and myself, and feel everything on an amplified level. Physically, my body has changed forever, and that's okay. Initially I struggled with letting go of unrealistic expectations, of what society pressure's women to feel about themselves physically. I've worked through body hang ups to extreme body appreciation and now I'm at a level of comfort and gratitude. Overall, postpartum comes as a shock... not many people talk about or prepare for what follows after birth. While working within modern constructs, healing from birth, and bonding with your new child, plus all the hormone changes, it's a lot to get a handle on. If I have another child, I'd really like to focus on the fourth trimester is a healing sense and a way of slowness and closing of this chapter in my life. I love postpartum and the growth within that era of life. I’m focusing on it more and more now both through my personal experience and through my work.

Did your life change even more after your second child was born?
My life expanded further, my capacity to love and to be productive. It hasn't been as slow or easy as having just one child. I am learning more about myself as I mother both a son and a daughter, and manage our lives together and my work. It's been very full, crazy, emotional, busy, but also I wouldn't change it.

How did Motherhood become a subject to study through photography? What is it that you like to portrait?
I was drawn to document motherhood without question. Motherhood had opened up this new understanding of humanity and myself. I wanted to document others’ stories and give back in that way, through life's art. Four years later I'm still documenting it, maybe more now than ever, finding its inspiration endless. It really simplifies for me as a study on humanity, the life cycle and beauty in our known mortality, pushing me to “timestamp” memories and personal growth. Everyone I meet through this genre of my work is truly generous and divine. I like to capture the truth in a subject or moment and the beauty of love, pain, release, extending beyond oneself... I aim to have a soft grit and rawness to my portraiture. I particularly love documenting the holistic journey of a mother from early pregnancy to postpartum and thoroughly love immediate postpartum documentation.

How do you build the intimacy with the women you portrait?
I feel the story of motherhood lends itself to intimacy naturally. Being a female photographer and mother, it's easy to bond and form a safe space for sharing with my subjects. I have a very calm and gentle approach, and hope my subjects feel empowered, beautiful and important. They inspire me to see things in the moment that aren't premeditated so there is a flow to our work together.

How easy and how difficult has it been (is it still) for you to combine being a mother with your work?
They go hand in hand for me. And it's really lovely to work with mothers, as they understand the juggle and the nature of life at this stage in raising offspring. I won't lie, I still struggle to find a true routine or balance between the two. Often lines are blurred. There have been times of travel (for work) where it's been a big job juggling that with mothering a newborn or infant. But also a very rewarding experience and memory. It's becoming more difficult currently, as this pandemic (covid-19) spreads wider and deeper into our communities, as it puts a strain on business and a limit to what / when and how I can go about work. It's a whole new world, navigating what's unfolding globally, much like when you become a new mother. I feel with this new world forcibly making roots. I hope with it comes opportunity for us to take stock of what really matters, slow things down again to reset, to reconnect to each other and nature, and to bring back a more localised living and more sense of “the village”. A healing era, perhaps?

How intense is it to photograph a birth?
Oh birth! How I adore thee. It's interesting that across my years of documenting various births, not one has unfolded the same. My nurturing self gets great satisfaction holding space with birthing mothers and to be able to give them the physical memory of their transformative state and experience. I try to document birth truthfully, but find a balance between the actual and the spiritual also in the room. It's a very moving space to be in and I feel so grateful I get to do what I do. It's a heavy rush of oxytocin, pride (such a sisterhood!), support and universal love - no matter how the birth unfolds.

Do you believe women should be more supportive towards other women?
Yes, I truly do. Our lives would be easier, happier and together we could make great changes and shifts in the world.

Why is it important to talk -and to show- about birth and motherhood these days?
Motherhood is often overlooked these days, just as something we do as we are biologically made to procreate. I find that perspective so shallow and sad, as it's so much more. Women / mothers are the healers and becoming a mother is world-shifting, literally. To be a great mother and to expand oneself, to often do this alongside other pursuits that are a part of one's identity is extraordinary. Women should be praised more than they are and should also feel incredibly proud of themselves, not guilty, not like they could be doing more, not sorry. Showing this story is so important for human growth, evolution and healing. Motherhood, balancing work and motherhood, birth and nipples... it should all be seen as normal, wonderful, not a threat or something to be censored or behind closed curtains. We are living in 2020, it's never been more important to talk and see both motherhood and birth. All stories within this realm are valid, important and special.

— Photos: Ilsa W. H. Kidd. Check out her work at ilsawhk.com.