Most of us grew up hearing our fair share of birth stories.

Perhaps some of them were positive. But I imagine that many of them left you cringing, just like they left me.

We live in a culture that instills fear of birth in women and men from almost the moment we leave the womb.

We live in a world where giving birth often brings one of two images to mind: a woman writhing in pain, or a freshly swaddled newborn, with no hint of the birth process in sight.

As a birth photographer, I'm lucky to work with men and women who have found a way to move past this cultural norm. Men and women who embrace the beauty in birth, because yes—birth is beautiful! And yet it only takes one of my posts or photos going viral to remind me how far we still have to come.

When I began my work, I would hear about friends and acquaintances who would scroll through my Instagram account (@monetnicolebirths) in complete shock and sometimes disgust. And these were people who knew me! I can only imagine the hundreds or thousands of people who do this around the country and the world, people who have this fear instilled so deeply that they can only react with a similarly negative emotion.

But here's the wonderful truth: Birth is beautiful whether or not they can see it.

There is something intrinsically powerful and stunning about bringing another human being into the world, whether it's through an unmedicated vaginal birth or an emergency cesarean. Giving birth is akin to the aspens changing in the fall or a powerful snowstorm that overtakes a city street. Birth is an immensely transformative and beautiful experience.

I have the unique honor of capturing that beauty and then sharing it with the world. As a birth photographer, my goal has always been twofold: to give my clients lasting memories from one of the most important days in their lives, and to show the world that Birth Becomes You. Despite the scary stories you might have heard, despite the overly sterile images you've seen, birth, in all its fullness, is beautiful... and you, my friend, will be beautiful when you give birth to your child.

This beauty is bigger than words, and it will invade you slowly. As each contraction peaks, birth's beauty will soften you, open you, transform you. As you let go of your body, and perhaps as you let go of all well-laid plans, you'll find that there is such beauty in bringing your child into the world. It's a beauty that defies narrow parameters. It's a beauty that couldn't care less about what you wear or the makeup on your face. And then the moment will come when your baby is in your arms, and you'll realize that never before have you felt this level of pride and joy. Then beauty will pour out and flood through the room, and we'll all be captivated by you and your baby.

Perhaps you don't believe me. I understand. We've all heard so many stories, and so many negative images have been burned into our minds. Or perhaps you had your birth, and you didn't feel beautiful—you felt scared, or alone, or just ready to be done. Regardless, let me assure you: There was still beauty in your story. And it might take years for you to find it, but it's there. I promise.

Birth becomes you. Birth can be one moment in your life where you're able to fully sink into yourself and find that at the core of your being is an overwhelming beauty. A beauty that is bigger than wrinkles or a dress size. A beauty that doesn't rely on superficial standards that none of us can meet.

So thank you for those who celebrate and share these images with your family and friends. Thank you for choosing to abandon the negative talk we've engaged in for years. Birth is beautiful. And may the beauty of birth be the first thing we tell our children.

May that be the first thing that comes to their minds when it's their turn.