On Thursday, January 2nd, the evening Julie's baby was due, I made a Facebook post about how I was feeling antsy waiting my first birth photography job. With almost a foot of snow already down and still more falling, I was also worried about driving conditions should I have to suddenly leave. In the recent days, I had been going through various contingency plans in my mind. Getting my kids situated was my main concern. I went to bed that night and told myself to get some sleep.
I got the message from Julie at 5:50am that she had been having contractions, but felt there was no need to rush. I was pretty immediately wide awake, and so excited that as I was getting the rest of my things together, there was a lot of, "what was I just doing?" going on in my head. My excellent husband, who had gotten up too, cleared mass amounts snow off of the cars and paths. I got things situated with my kids, kissed them goodbye and began my short journey through the perilous terrain. (I just like the word "perilous".)
If you have never seen a completely snow covered landscape through the rose-colored glasses of the early dawn, then perhaps you have never seen pure, whimsical beauty. Everything in sight was covered in a soft purpley, orangish, reddish blanket and I couldn't help feeling at peace about whatever lay ahead. I arrived at Ken and Julie's large farmhouse at around 7:10am. One of Julie's doula's, Theresa Armstrong, arrived just minutes later.
Ken greeted me at the door and led me up to the bathroom where Julie was quietly laboring in the tub. I softly greeted her and asked how she was doing. I tried to assess how far along she was. She had the same head-in-arms-on the side-of-the-tub position that I and many laboring women assumed when things were getting real. This was not a time for chit-chat.
I discussed with myself how long I should stay in the room. It wasn't a big bathroom. I didn't want to disturb her and I didn't know if she would be in there long since Ken was in the other room blowing up the birth pool. Surely she would be leaving soon and I could give her more space. Judging by the intensity of the low moans during her very calm contractions, and by the length of them, I could tell she was a lot further along then I had expected. How long would it take? Only God knew. I took a few photos, and after asking if she would be alright alone for a couple of minutes, I left to see what was happening in the rest of the house.
While I was downstairs getting some shots of the kids, and about 20 minutes after my arrival time, the doula charged with attending the birth arrived. She introduced herself as Stephanie Gordon, and although we had never met, she opened her arms wide for a big hug. This was a special time and there was a lot of love in the house.
Stephanie and I went upstairs together. After spending some time with Ken, who was setting up the tub in the bedroom, and with Theresa and the kids, who were playing casually around the house, I returned to the bathroom with Julie and Stephanie. We sat quietly while Julie labored. With a gentle strength, Stephanie offered kind, encouraging words. Ken came and checked on Julie several times and sat with her for a few minutes when he got the chance, but water temperature of the birth pool remained an issue and he had to get it right. At this point I had only been here for about an hour and a half.
During the entire hour and a half that I'd been there, Julie had remained in the same position. Her contractions intensified with the very opposite of typical television drama effort. Barely detectable, I could tell that she was pushing. Although in obvious discomfort, she remained outwardly calm. I again wrestled with the idea of leaving the room to get some other shots, and again decided to stay.
Suddenly, Julie changed positions, and within 5 minutes, baby Amelia emerged from the water and was born into this world. Immediately tears streamed from my eyes at the sight of a brand new life. I have the same issue when I shoot weddings. I'm overcome with joy and my vision is temporarily obscured. Se la vie. I am so grateful to Ken and Julie for trusting me to be present at one of the most sacred times of their lives.
Only 11 months earlier, Julie had been the birth assistant at my littlest daughter's homebirth, so this was a particularly meaningful first birth photography experience for me. I pray that more people would reject their fears and see birth for what it really is: the most beautiful and astounding thing that happens in this world. To embrace the natural process and shun the notion that having a baby is a frightening and tortuous experience is to experience life in a whole new way.