It was the first snow fall of the year and I was on my way to photograph a family of four. As I drove along the winding road, the butterflies in my stomach began to flutter around and I instantly thought of Courtney*. Months ago, Courtney had contacted me about photographing her home birth and today was the day that her baby was due to arrive. Whenever I take on a birth photography session, the ‘butterflies’ start to act up about a week before the due date and each day after until he/she comes, and every time I think to myself what if I have some innate telepathic abilities and somehow I’m instinctively sensing that the baby has decided to come. In lieu of the snow and my possibly intuitive senses, I decided to call my mama client and see how she was doing.
me: “Hey Courtney! So I happen to be in the area and thought I’d give you a call, see if I should stick around for the day in case you were having any contractions already?”
courtney: “Hey Suzy! Thanks for checking on me! No unfortunately I feel totally great, though I’ve actually been in labor on and off for the past 3 days. At this point I’m just exhausted thinking the baby is coming and then not..”
me: “Ah yes, emotional torture. Well I’m glad to hear you’re feeling well and that you’re not in too much discomfort.”
We chatted a bit more and then I told her I’d call in the afternoon after my session to check on her again. After an hour and a half of playing in the snow and catching up with familiar faces, I met up with a childhood friend for lunch at my favorite deli spot down the road (no seriously, if you’re even remotely near this place you have to go and check it out). After indulging on the best chicken salad sandwich known to man, I got back in my car and called Courtney before trekking back to the city.
me: “Any luck?”
courtney: “No, sorry. We’re actually doing great and about ready to snuggle up together for family movie time.”
me: “Sounds awesome. Well, I suppose I’ll head back home and I’ll talk to you soon I’m sure. In the mean time, enjoy the movie and snuggle time!”
I don’t really remember much about the rest of my day but I do recall Vasili saying to me that evening, “Don’t worry about it too much tonight. Tomorrow is going to be the day.”
8 hours of sleep later, I was sitting at my computer desk working on a blog post and going through my emails when phone rang at approximately 9:00am.
jeff*: “Hey Suzy. It’s Jeff – ”
jeff: laughs, “Hey! It’s time! The baby is coming and the midwife is on her way so feel free to come on over.”
me: “Oh I’m so excited!! Wait, do you think I have time to shower?”
As I stood under the water, I envisioned the birth and what it would be like, which was quite foreshadowing of the events to come since Courtney & Jeff told me that they were renting a tub and hoping to have a water birth. It was my very first homebirth experience in general and while I have a fundamental understanding of the birthing process, I’ve only experienced childbirth in a hospital setting and was so anxious to see how it would differ in somebody’s home. Would there be any complications? Would it be longer? Shorter? What’s it like to see a baby be born under water??
A little while later, I arrived at their house at approximately 10:30am. Already it was exactly what I envisioned. Courtney had told me it was going to be more like a party than a birth and sure enough the driveway was lined with cars – in addition to the family members who would be there, also joining us were the midwife and the partnering midwife of their practice, as well as Courtney and Jeff’s old babysitter they flew in from New Hampshire to help with their 4-year old son, Caleb,* who also happens to be a licensed massage therapist. Okay so a party with a hot tub and a massage therapist to watch your kid. At this point, home births were already looking pretty awesome in my book.
I came inside and was immediately greeted by Caleb. He held up a book called Runa’s Birth which is a children’s book to help children understand a little better what’s going on when they’re having a baby brother or sister. I went upstairs with Caleb to find Courtney reading a newspaper and one of the midwives knitting on the bed. In his excitement to be a part of the day, Caleb jumped up on the bed with mama and said he wanted to read the book with me. It was so sweet to see how aware he was of his baby brother or sister’s arrival and he turned through the pages. He even pointed at one of the story’s characters in the book and said, “That’s the midwife!” I’m happy to see that at least one more man is going to enter this world who isn’t bothered by things like breast feeding or childbirth.
At about noon, Jeff finished filling the tub and as Courtney’s contractions began to increase she got in to help ease the pain. While things were still relatively calm, they allowed Caleb to join Courtney for a bit in the water. He splashed around and poured water over his mama’s belly as he leaned in and said, “Come on baby, get out of there now!” (that was truly one of my favorite moments from the day) After a little while, dad came and whisked Caleb out of the tub and dried him off to give mom more space as the contractions continued to progress and get closer together.
At about 2pm I could tell that the contractions were getting stronger. But despite the pain, I was so impressed by Courntey’s ability to remain calm and centered – clearly those pre-natal yoga classes were paying off. As things intensified, Courtney invited Jeff in the tub for comfort and support. Though us women feel pain during labor, I truly sympathize for the father as well. It must be so difficult to see the woman you love in so much pain and understand that there isn’t much you can do to help ease that suffering. However, conversely, it warms my heart to imagine the immense joy and love that you men must feel while watching us work so hard to give you the most treasured gift you will ever receive. As Courtney worked through each contraction I had to hide a few of my own tears behind my camera. As a woman there is something really difficult and emotional about watching someone you care for to be hurting, not to mention my own feelings about motherhood and knowing one day it will be me in that tub.
At about 2:30 pm things quickly picked up and I feel like it was only a matter of minutes before the midwives were preparing for baby to come and telling us that it would be any moment. I think it was about 5 or 6 pushes later and at 2:59pm dad shouted with glee, “It’s a girl!!!” and together he and the midwife placed her onto Courtney’s chest. Surprised, relieved, overcome with happiness.. she kept saying over and over, “I did it?! It’s over?? I did it! We did it!” as she hugged her treasure close to her heart. After taking a few moments for some skin-to-skin bonding, dad cut the cord and they bundled up baby so that Caleb could meet his brand new sister. Caleb’s favorite movies are Toy Story 2 and 3 and so it was absolutely fitting that the first thing he did was hold a toy Woody doll up to her face and say, “Hey baby, this is Woody. He’s a really nice guy.” (I could honestly make an entire blog post of all the quirky, adorable things that Caleb says each time I see him)
The remaining hours that I stayed with this family was spent soaking up the joy of what we all just witnessed, and celebrating with gifts, ice cream cake and a champagne toast. From my perspective and in Courtney’s own words, it was perfect. Nothing about the birth of her second child could have been better and she couldn’t have imagined it any other way but in the comfort of her own home.
Without making this too long, I’ll end by saying that I am so unbelievably grateful and happy that Courtney and her family are allowing me to share such a personal time in their lives. I hope that by sharing my experiences with childbirth, particularly with home birth, it will empower you women out there to know how strong and powerful you are. Please know that I’m a very firm believer in the idea that each woman (or couple even) has different needs and so just because someone chooses to have a medicalized birth or to have their baby in a hospital does not mean that it’s the wrong decision. I just dream that one day we will live in a world where childbirth is embraced and respected again, not feared or abhorred.
And with that being said, I’d like to leave you with one last thing to read before you see the beauty that awaits you…
“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield.
As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.
This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” (Lao Tzu) Via Ayurveda Alchemy
*to respect the privacy of the family, all names have been changed.
and this is the sweet & squishy baby M just one week later…
(funny side note, as I was editing this Vasili came up behind me at my desk and said, ” Ha so cute. However, you do realize you’re going to have an entire generation of people who hate you one day..” LOL!)