On Feb 6th, 2:04am after an insane 52-hour labor from Cindy, Seneca Thiên Anh Kim was born into this world:

Why I Photographed the Birth of My First Child

Podcast

Why I Photographed the Birth of My First Child

The Birth of Seneca

Life is precious.

To start off, my greatest appreciation is the fact that Cindy (or my child) did not die during childbirth.

Thank god she (and Thien Anh) didn’t die.

My biggest fear:

Seneca was dead inside her womb, and the midwives (and everyone in the room) were just trying to encourage her to give birth, even though she knew Thien Anh was dead inside her womb.

Technically everyone knew the baby was fine — Cindy had a fetal heart monitor hooked up, and they could hear the heartbeat of the baby. But I myself did not know — when Cindy was bleeding so much, I feared that she might die of losing too much blood.

Or another fear:

Thien Anh would be born okay and alive, but the childbirth would have killed my wife (Cindy).

Fortunately and miraculously, Cindy and Thien Anh ended up (not) dying. And this is the biggest miracle:

To simply be alive, and not dead, is the greatest joy of the living.

Documenting it while trying to be present

The big reason why I wanted to document the labor and birth of my child was this:

The idea that after we gave birth, and recovered, we could look back at the photos with great joy, appreciation, and awe of the whole process.

So first of all, it was personal. Frankly speaking even through-out Cindy’s pregnancy, I kept it uber low-key. I didn’t blog anything about her pregnancy, nor did I upload any (obvious) pregnant photos of her. This is the tricky thing:

You don’t want to prostitute insanely personal life events.

Also (for now) a personal rule is to not reveal any obvious nudity, to protect Cindy and her image and reputation.

But for me, the desire to share these photos and the experience is many:

  1. To encourage more people and couples to have children (witnessing childbirth has been the most phenomenal experience of my life)
  2. Showing the joy and insane beauty of birth and life.

Fighting back against the millennial mindset

The funny thing about millennials:

They see having kids as a negative impact in their life, and would prefer having a dog or cat(s) instead.

I see this as perhaps a combination of changed cultural values, societal values (towards individualism) and perhaps misguided fear. A lot of couples who want to have kids are afraid of the commitment, their loss of ability to travel, have $15 avocado-toast brunches, and do other typical ‘millennial’ things. But I can say, I have achieved all of my millennial goals (travel the world, become famous, have exhibitions, etc) and this new step into fatherhood is an insanely exciting and joyful one.

RICOH FTW

Ricoh GR III was the best solution. All the photos I shot in nearly the dark, at AUTO ISO, with autofocus P mode (AF light turned off), was perfect. I am glad I shot this on the Ricoh GR III and not the Ricoh GR II. The GR II (flash) would have been too disruptive. I am starting to now far more appreciate the GR III:

  1. Ability to really really close focus (macro is superior to Ricoh GR II)
  2. High ISO capabilities (especially in high contrast monochrome) is phenomenal
  3. It is smaller than Ricoh GR II which meant it was able to fit in my front pocket the whole time.

I didn’t miss any decisive moments. I captured them all. And I am glad that I did — it augmented my birthing experience and in some ways, made me feel more present, and more in awe of the whole process.

On creating a new family

People often think of children as a burden. But having Seneca has been one of the most inspirational experiences when it comes to photography and life. Every day, I am amazed how much he learns. I look at him as the most beautiful thing in the world. And he (yet) is bothered by me photographing him. The perfect subject in the world.

I’ve been shooting him to death, nearly 1000+ photos a day. Macro photos, 1080p at 24fps video has been insanely inspirational.

So in some funny ways, if you desire the ultimate motivation and inspiration in photography, photographing your kid might be the best thing.

Insanely beautiful

Seeing the labor, birth, delivery, postpartum has been breathtaking. I see these pictures with great awe, and even more appreciation for life (knowing that my mom gave birth to me in the same position, and also knowing that all of life is due to the power of women, and their birthing powers).

As her laboring partner, we literally slept almost nil for 52 hours (for the labor, and active labor and delivery). But the recovery afterwards (3 days in the hospital) was a very unique and meaningful way for me to learn how to take care of a child, insanely sleep deprived, and confused. I had to learn to change his diaper, read his cues, soothe him. But I see fatherhood as one of the new great joys in life.

Why has no philosopher been a father?

Perhaps besides Socrates, no great philosopher has been a father. I see this as a great flaw —

A philosopher can never truly understand or appreciate life without witnessing the birth of his/her own child, and to also experience the laboring experience and birth of his/her wife or birthing partner.

To labor and give birth (based on what I have witnessed) is 100x the most painful experience a human can naturally experience. But through the deepest of pain comes the most elevated of joys.

I have no idea what fatherhood holds for me, but I know:

I want to become the father I wish I had; the father I never had.

ERIC


Below the story of Seneca, written by Cindy:

The Story of Seneca

seneca thien anh hanul kim birth announcement

It began at our favorite street taco stand at the corner of Colima and Córdoba in Mexico City January 2020. Nourished by the savory suadero and late afternoon warmth, Eric and I embarked on a long walk back to our hotel. On the way home, we had a gun pulled on us (never has happened before, we love CDMX and will still go back if we can!). Somehow, out of Eric’s quick wits and reflexes we escaped unharmed. Yet, we could just not shake the fact that something much much worse could have happened to us. What would we have regretted if this was really the end?

That incident moved us to try to start a family, rather than waiting for all the pieces to magically align in terms of careers, travels, finances. As the world transformed with COVID, economic uncertainty, social uprisings, and the prolonged state of political turmoil, we wavered between profound fear and mourning. During this year, we lost loved ones to COVID including my dear maternal grandmother bà ngoại right before Seneca was born. We moved 3.5 times and lived out of a suitcase uncertain where we should start our life with Seneca. I went on the academic job market during the worst of all economic downturns. Eric and I taught remotely, hustled to figure out jobs, all the while navigating pregnancy in a pandemic. We were fueled by the fear of the pending apocalypse (mainly me) and a fervor to survive and thrive (mainly Eric). We made art, dancedfilms, to make sense of everything going on around us.

Through all of this, we were nourished and lifted by all of you. Friends near and far, new and old reached out to support my family’s restaurant hit hard by the pandemic. Feminist parents shared their empowering pregnancy and parenting advice. The Providence Buy Nothing Group donated baby clothes, furniture, and helped us nest and also believe in the power of local mutual aid communities. Colleagues became friends and we dropped the professional pretense. My students uplifted me through their deep commitment to our class community and learning. I connected with community organizations and participated/hosted events on intergenerational communication, family history, refugees, online teaching, and creative expression.

Now in these wintery days, we recognize that each day grows longer and brighter with spring around the corner. In this New Year of the Ox, my mom reminds me that the Ox wakes up early in the day to work, but rests in the afternoon.

After a difficult 52 hours of labor, Seneca came into this world on February 6, 2021 at 2:04AM in Providence, Rhode Island. Our little family has truly been surrounded by so much love, power, and resilience. Seneca grounded us throughout all of 2020, reminding us to dream, wonder, and believe. I learned to trust myself and some semblance of fate. Eric and I grew deeply as individuals and partners. We honor our family and ancestors through Seneca’s many names, chosen by Eric’s mother and my mother.

  • Seneca
    • Stoic Philosopher, “Life is short, art is long.” (Eric’s favorite philosopher who reminds us to have a zen detachment from things outside your control).
    • Seneca Falls, the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention (To honor and remind us that the struggle for equality concerns all of us).
  • Thiên Anh
    • Heavenly wisdom: to look beyond the present moment into the boundless possibilities, to trust in ourselves and others
    • Chosen by Cindy’s mom. Name is also a derivation of Cindy’s Vietnamese name “Kim Anh”
  • Hanul 한울
    • Universe protector: old written way of sky, universe, or big support (actually big fence , “울” is fence but “울” meant support or protect)
    • Chosen by Eric’s mom.

Sending love in this New Year of the Ox Chúc mừng năm mới!
Cindy, Eric, & Baby Sen Sen

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