TULSA – Cherokee Nation citizen Taryn Starkey has been able to combine two passions into a business as a photographer and a doula, and her work will be seen a new documentary called “Aftershock.”
Starkey started as teacher, teaching art, photography and graphic design after graduating from Northeastern State University. She said early in her teaching career she began to shift her focus to photography, specifically on birth and newborn photography.
“I got more into that, I found out what a doula was and how much of an impact doulas make on the birth space, especially for marginalized people,” Starkey said. “So I did several different doula trainings and specialized in birth photography and cinematography along with that doula support. So, it’s kind of like a two for one, and I really love it.”
Starkey has documented more than 225 births since she started, starting when her sister gave birth in 2014.
“I went and photographed my sister’s birth in 2014 and just immediately knew that that’s where I wanted to be and wanted to be doing,” she said. “So, I spent the last couple of years while I was teaching really promoting and growing birth photography as something that people can have.”
As a doula, Starkey said she provides families with education and support during their pregnancies, helps them create a birth plan and informs them how they can advocate for themselves in the birth space.
“So if they’re in a hospital setting or with a midwife or a provider, I give them lot of information and coaching and encouragement, so that whenever they are meeting with their provider they’re empowered to speak up for their wishes along with asking questions and just preparing them for the kind of birth that they want,” she said.
With her combinations of skills and turning it into a business, Starkey was sought out to work on a new documentary called “Aftershock,” produced by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, the wife of filmmaker Spike Lee.
“The producers actually found my website online,” she said. “They were looking for someone to document a birth here in the Tulsa area and they thought, of course, birth is such a vulnerable event or a vulnerable time in someone’s life they wanted to be very mindful of who they had in the room…to allow us in to photograph and video their birth. We wanted to make sure that person was as comfortable as possible.”
The documentary is telling of what it is like to have a baby for marginalized people in America.
“It talks about the crazy death rates that women have, especially in New York City,” she said. “New York City only has one birth center. Tulsa actually has three birth centers. So midwifery is really hard to come by in the New York City area. Women of color are dying at a higher rate than anyone in else in the hospitals across the United States.”
She said the documentary brings to light the biases and struggles that women of color face when it comes to having children.
“It happens all of time and no one is really talking about it the way it should be spoken about,” Starkey said. “The goal is to bring to light these biases that are happening in the communities across the United States. So it really brings to light all of these struggles that people are dealing and all of these people who are losing their mothers and their daughters. These women are having their babies in the hospital and they’re still dying at a higher rate than women that are having their babies in third world countries.”
For the film, Starkey was the birth cinematographer for an expecting family.
“My part of the film was actually getting to video a birth and show people how birth can be when a person is supported and heard and taken care of,” she said. “My job through that was to document how her birth went, and it’s kind of the highlight of the film. It really shows how birth can be very empowering and be a positive experience. It can be a really beautiful thing when people are taken care of and listened to.”