– All photographs courtesy of the amazing Destinee Blau Photography –
I’d been photographing births for almost 4.5 years when I became pregnant with my own baby. After photographing my first birth all those years ago I immediately knew that this was some of the most important work I could ever make. It completely swept me off my feet. I knew that telling the story of how we invite our children into the world was sacred and powerful beyond measure.
But it wasn’t until having my own daughter’s birth photographed that I was able to fully understand just how life changing birth photography can be. Very little about my daughter’s birth went according to plan. I’d longed for an unmedicated birth at a birth center but found myself 42 weeks pregnant with an induction at the hospital.
Before telling my story I want to remind readers (especially those who may be preparing for their own child’s birth) that every birth is so so different. I have photographed beautiful inductions where pitocin worked perfectly to encourage a peaceful and uncomplicated labor. Allow yourself to stop reading if this story triggers your own birth trauma or brings up any fear as you approach your own birth experience.
We started with the foley bulb hoping it was all I’d need to kickstart labor. Immediately I entered into active labor and was overjoyed to finally be experiencing contractions. But after hours of intense work my contractions weren’t falling into any sort of rhythm and I wasn’t making progress. We decided to start pitocin.
Immediately pitocin took labor to a whole new level for me. This point on is a hazy painful scary blur. It felt like I was being dragged behind a train. It was the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. Everything sped up so quickly and it is all a jumble in my memory. The contractions became so intense and on top of each other with barely any break. Before it had felt like I could work with my body through each contraction but with the pitocin it felt like I was having to fight against my body. Like the contractions were happening to me rather than them being me.
I loved the water. So we sat in the shower, stood too I think. After being in the bathroom and shower for a couple of hours, I really have no idea how long, I was dilated enough to get in the bath. I was 7cm.
The bath brought relief although not as much as I’d hoped. But it made the work manageable again. We labored hard there for 2 hours and I began to meet my edge. All the positions that had worked stopped bringing relief. I got out of the tub and started to panic. It felt like I was being tortured. No matter how we moved or what position I got in I couldn’t find the space to breathe. I asked to be checked again desperately hoping that I was in transition and the end was in sight. This check was 5 hours after the last when I’d been 7cm. Shifts had changed and a new doctor came to check me. She told me that I was in fact 5cm not 7cm and I lost it. I yelled our code word, “Spaghetti!” and asked for the epidural.
I remember the angelic voice of the anesthesiologist when he came into the room. I never laid eyes on him but heard his voice and was filled with relief. I’ve attended births with this same anesthesiologist since my daughter was born and my eyes always well up with tears when I hear him speak. Ironically an epidural was one of the interventions I feared most about birth and it turned out to be one of the greatest gifts on my journey into motherhood. It took perfectly and suddenly in one short hour I was ready to push.
My epidural never got in the way of pushing. I could feel the pressure of each contraction and of her moving down. I could tell that she was big, it felt like a watermelon being pushed through my pelvis. I became consumed with a fear that I wouldn’t be able to get her out, that she was just too big.
But with the gentle encouragement of Zach and our doulas she was born after just an hour of pushing. I tore badly but didn’t care. Finally I was holding my baby! She was 9 lb 14 oz and 21.5 in long.
And this series of photographs here, these are some of the greatest treasures I possess. After a difficult pregnancy and a labor that brought me to my knees, these photographs captures the courage and joy that carried us to this moment. How hard all three of us worked to finally be united. In these photographs I not only see a baby taking her first breath but I see the birth of a mother and a father.
And these photographs are even more sacred to me because immediately after they were taken Rilla was moved to the warmer and then rushed to the NICU due to trouble breathing. She had too much liquid in her lungs.
Without these photographs that would be the defining moment of her birth story for me – her being taken away from me. Us being separated for hours. Me suddenly finding myself with an empty womb and empty arms not knowing where my baby was. Me finally being taken to the NICU but not even knowing which baby was mine because I had no idea what she even looked like. Without these photographs that would be the story.
But with this photograph I see the moment our family was formed, I see the love that greeted my daughter when she entered this world. I see a brave and strong woman pouring love over her baby the moment she took her first breath. Because of this photograph I was able to rewrite the way I experienced her birth story.
When I was separated from Rilla for those first few hours our birth photographer followed her to the NICU to capture those moments for me. Instead of feeling completely disconnected from her first hours of life I am now able to pour over those photographs. To notice the vernix clinging to her legs, to witness the brightness of her eyes, the cowlicks in her hair. I grieve that I wasn’t able to experience the wonder of her first moments of life in person, but these photographs kept me from losing that miraculous experience all together.
Before experiencing birth firsthand I believed that birth photography was important and valuable. I believed that it was a gift for babies as well as mothers. But now I know this to be absolutely true. I’ve experienced in the deepest parts of my heart just how healing and empowering birth photography can be whether you experience your dream birth or encounter more left turns than you can count.