Maggie Shannon documents four LA midwives as they deal with the influx of births during the pandemic

Extreme Pain, but also Extreme Joy is an awakening series that chronicles the stories of midwives working hard to comfort and support during terrifying circumstances.

12 January 2021

Here’s a scary thought: those who conceived a child at the very start of the pandemic will now be with a child. But what’s even scarier is that many of those who’ve given birth have had to do so under treacherous circumstances, often experiencing it alone in a hospital or even at home – not to mention having to worry about what would happen in the case of a positive test.

Maggie Shannon, a photographer currently based in Los Angeles, had this very conversation with her good friend and LA-based doula Paige Schwimer. A trained companion who supports those going through experiences such as childbirth, miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth, they shared their thoughts on the current events taking hold of the globe. “She mentioned that there might be a rise in home births because of the virus,” Maggie tells It’s Nice That, “with partners being banned from the delivery room and hospitals being flooded with sick patients.” This realisation sent Maggie off in a state of flurry, as she proceeded to research further into the topic and started a dialogue with midwives across America, “trying to see if this was true.”

After a few conversations Maggie soon came to learn that it was a “resounding yes”. She’d spoken to a whole range of midwives from an array of backgrounds and ages, concluding in a variety of findings and meeting different personalities along the way. “Each of them were so focused and determined to provide the best care for the women they were working with,” she says, noting how one of the initial midwives she’d met was Naomi Drucker, who became a midwife after having a negative experience giving birth to her first child. “Naomi works both as an RN at hospital in LA and also as a certified nurse midwife, walking the line between hospital-based and private care. Her entire demeanour is so relaxed and calm, just being in her presence was such a comforting experience.”


Maggie Shannon: Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy. (Copyright © Maggie Shannon, 2020)

A further midwife was Chemin Perez, who comes from a long line of midwives and Curanderas in Mexico – which by definition is a traditional native healer who uses remedies for mental, emotional and physical illnesses. “During the beginning of the pandemic, Chemin moved the majority of her birth centre outside into tents in the parking lot, reserving the interior space for birthing mothers.” She continues to state how this experience contrasted heavily from her meeting with Naomi, due to the large amount of clients Chemin and her team had to support. “They saw around 40 patients on the day I was there photographing, yet they treated each woman with such kindness and respect, listening to concerns, laughing with them or offering a shoulder to cry on. They also put out bins of clothes and other items for folks to grab if needed. It was true community healthcare.”

These types of conversations are what drives Maggie’s photography work, as often she will seek out the stories of those from smaller communities – hoping to give a voice to those who need it the most. With past works including the documentation a community swimming team and a book that tells the story of New England shark fishing, her most recent endeavour is a welcomed turn. Titled Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy, Maggie’s most recent series is an impactful documentation of the aforementioned midwives across LA as they deal with the influx of new clients due to the pandemic.

Shot entirely in black and white, the flash-lit and artfully composed series chronicles the narratives of four midwives in the midst of Covid-19. After numerous intimate and emotional meetings with soon-to-be-mothers – whereby Maggie would photograph from the sideline – there are a few experiences that she will never forget. The first is Tsune Brown’s birth, where Maggie had photographed her husband catching their newborn son in the birthing pool. Another is Taylor Almadovar’s labour: “It was around 11pm and Taylor had been in labour since early that morning. After trying numerous positions and labouring hard for hours, Taylor was exhausted and decided to head to the closest hospital. Weak and in agony, she admitted guilt to me and said she felt horrible about not being able to push through the pain.” Student midwife Renae Morales was there to support and comfort her at her side, and Maggie was confound by the strength and confidence that she evoked.

This is just a small example of the efforts gone into this series, which openly depicts the intense struggle of the mothers and honourable work of the midwives. Having to observe the pain and discomfort of her subjects as they experience of birth in unfounded manners, Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy is not only a sharp awakening for the current climate that we find ourselves in, it’s a wide awakening to the facts on childbirth and the impending pressures put on the staff. “I wanted to tell these stories as a way to help normalise this practice and empower these women who are continuing to do incredible work during terrifying circumstances,” says Maggie on the lasting note of the series. “I want women to be armed with this knowledge and to be able to make their own educated choices, to feel supported, loved and respected, whether they pick a hospital or a home birth.”

GalleryMaggie Shannon: Extreme Pain, but Also Extreme Joy. (Copyright © Maggie Shannon, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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