I approached an expecting mother in my ward a few months back about taking birth photos for her. It was something I'd been wanting to test out for awhile. I had even been toying with the idea of becoming a doula, and I thought that doing birth photos for someone would give me a good idea of what that would encompass. I was pleasantly surprised when the mother said she had been thinking the same thing, and she agreed to have me take photos.
Over the next few months, I mentioned my plan to do birth photography to a few people, and most of them were totally turned off by it. I had to explain over and over again, "No I'm not going to be all up in her hoo-ha. They will be tasteful and modest, from the waist up." Still, some people just did not get it. I asked one more sister in my ward, who was expecting twins, how she woud feel to have me there, and she said it well: "As long as there aren't any 'parts' showing, then I'm fine with it." I promised her I would be creative in my positioning to make sure no "parts" were showing.
Two nights ago, Momma #1 called me at 2am and told me her water had broke, she was at the hospital and dilated to a 1. It was 6 days before her due date, but I was ready. Immediately my stomach clenched and I felt adreneline tingling through my arms and down to my fingertips.
"That was [name]," I told Adam. "She's at the hospital." I jumped into the shower, dressed in my clothes, and even put my shoes on. I don't know what I was thinking - my brain knew that I still had hours before she would even be close (she still had 9 centimeters to go for pete's sake!) but my nerves would not let me do anything that didn't involve preparing. So, for the next 12 hours I kept myself busy by emptying all my memory cards, re-charging my already charged batteries, looking up the same birth photos on pinterest I'd already looked at several times before, calling back-up babysitters, taking Adam to work so I would have the car, packing a bag for Axton. I couldn't be stopped. I couldn't relax, even though I was running on only 2 hours of sleep.
Finally, at 2pm, she was dilated to a 6 and I felt it was time to go. When I showed up at the hospital, all the nervousness I had felt earlier got knocked over and engulfed with excitement and confidence.
"This is going to be awesome."
And, while I still had 6 hours of wait time, it really was awesome.
As I waited for the big moment, I chatted with the parents off and on, took detail shots of baby's warmer and hospital band, the nurse's names on the white board, the view out their window, Mom and Dad holding hands and kissing, Mom squeezing her eyes shut during a contraction, all the monitors hooked up to Mom. I also spent some time out in the hallway, trying to allow the parents some final alone time before baby came into their lives.
Okay, so maybe not ALL of my nervousness was gone, because I couldn't force myself to go down three floors to the cafe to get some food. My illogical brain kept telling me that I would miss the baby if I took 15 minutes to eat food, so all I did was eat crummy crackers and a fakey cinnamon roll all day long. Baaaaad idea. Lesson learned: Bring food! Eat! (Just not in front of Mom...)
Unfortunately, the hospital had a policy that I could not take photos during the delivery, until after baby was placed on Mom's chest. Anything that the doctor was involved in could not be photographed. So, since I wouldn't get that glorious first shot of baby's first breath as he emerges from Mom, I readily agreed to help when the nurse asked if I wanted to.
Suddenly, I was no longer just their photographer - and, looking back, I'm absolutely honored.
This meant that Dad was holding one leg, and I was holding the other. Dad counted the 3 sets of 10 for Mom to push during a contraction, and I encouraged her - "Come on, girl, give it everything you got. You're doing so good, keep him down, keep him down, don't let him come back up. One more, I know you're tired, you can do this. You're doing it!" Thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes, but I am proud to say that I kept it together while I was there. Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm an emotional wreck, but I had prepared myself for this and told myself I could NOT get emotional. The hardest times to swallow my quivery voice were when I was encouraging her, telling her she was really doing it, because it was just so incredible, but I was thankfully able to swallow it down and get control of myself.
Then baby was getting close, and the doctor and the rest of the nurses came in. "Everybody's here, sweetie. We are all ready for him to come, it's up to you to bring him here, okay? You can do this. Come on, you're so close. I can see his head, sweetie, don't stop, don't stop!" Once he had crowned a bit, I told Mom to reach down and feel his head, and she gave a small smile at that.
"Proof that he's there!" the nurse said.
Watching her push, and then seeing his head slowly make its way down, was an absolutely surreal experience. I watched her, such a tired mama, give her entire being into each and every push. Pushing against the pain, pushing against the fear, the pressure, the burning and the stretching, pushing like she was ready to meet her son. She was literally on the edge of her strength, she was holding nothing back - how often do humans really give an absolute 100% of their power to something? I say not often, but when they do, it is a beautiful and awe-inspiring - dare I say sacred and quite God-like, sight to behold. I think watching her push, seeing her do something no one ever thinks they can do, was the most powerful moment of the night for me. Yes, a brand new spirit coming into the earth was incredible, yes of course. But seeing someone work so hard to become a mother? That struck something deep within me, and I will never forget it. Not only was I completely struck by watching her work so hard, but then I had another revelation:
That was ME.
I did that.
......I did THAT. I was that woman, not 11 months ago.
Women. Are. So. Amazing.
Nothing on earth can compare. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
And then....and then her work paid off. He was out and she was still pushing, eyes still squeezed shut, unaware that he was out and screaming. "[Name], [Name,] look! Look, he's here! Open your eyes! You did it." Finally she opened her eyes and her shoulders began to shake in sobs as he was placed in her arms.
The moment broke, and I was taking pictures like a madwoman.
I took the usual shots: Mom's first look, Dad's first finger-grasp, footprints, weighing in, swaddled and handed to Dad to hold while Mom got some extra care. And then, for the second time that night, I had to switch gears: Right then Mom didn't need me to take anymore pictures; I had gotten enough for now. Right then, Mom needed me to hold her hand while Dad held baby and she had some more work done. I turned my camera off and went to reach for her hand and -- BAM! Her hand grasped mine so tight, so grateful, so desperate. To be needed in that way? Words cannot describe. I held her hand and squeezed back when she squeezed mine, brushed the hair out of her face and told her it was going to be okay, the hard part was over. I told her that Dad had baby, and man, was he gorgeous. "Dad's singing to baby, can you hear him? He's so happy, just watching his Daddy." Her eyes were closed, but her smile told me she heard me.
Not only was I proud of myself for not spilling any tears, but I was also proud to learn that I was not in the least bit grossed out by a single thing that happened that night. Not a single drop of blood or piece of flesh bothered me, and I watched, well, everything, happen with fascination.
I did, however, make one more mistake. Keep in mind that by this point, I was STARVING, and I knew Mom must be, too. So, once things calmed down, I offered to get food for everyone; but I did it just a tad too soon - before baby was handed back to Mom. I missed a lot of sweet moments by doing this, I regret it terribly. When I came back with food, Mom was already nursing and requested I not photograph this, so I decided it was time to allow the family to be alone together. That being said, I still got lots of great shots, but I won't make the same mistake in the future.
I learned SO much - and not just about birth photography. It was so eye-opening to see birth from the outside, having only previously experienced it when it was happening to me. I learned a TON about the difference between hospital births and birth center births, medicated and non-medicated births, doctors and midwives. I learned a ton about what it would be like to be a doula, and I think I've decided that being the photographer is a nice, happy medium. I'm not sure I have the stamina to coach a woman through unmedicated contractions for 12+ hours, but I loved playing a small role in it all.
I came home that night, after not sleeping for 22 hours and eating crappy food, and said, "That was amazing, but I'm not sure I need to do it again. It's exhausting and on-call life is a bit stressful with a baby." Then, not even 12 hours later, I get a text from Dad #2 that says Mommy with Twins is in labor - and everything I just thought goes out the window and is once again replaced with excitement and anticipation. Now that I've had a few days to rest and recover, I think I would really enjoy having a birth client once every 2-3 months. I don't know if that will actually be the case, but I know I probably won't turn down the opportunity to in the future if I'm able to be there.
I'm now anxiously awaiting my next call for my twins! It should be in the next 24-48hours (they had her on medication to slow labor down since she is only 33 weeks. ).