Way back in the spring, at our congregation’s Young Professionals class retreat, Ashley asked me a Very Important Question. Would I be willing to be their birth photographer when their third baby was born in August? I think I hesitated only for a moment, perhaps in surprise, before I said, “Yes! I think I can do that!”
Never mind that I’m only an amateur photographer. Never mind that I’ve never had a baby and seen what all goes on during a live birth. Never mind all that! I waved it away and let excitement wash over me. I felt honored that Ashley was comfortable enough to ask me to do that, and I immediately started looking forward to Man Cub’s birth with anticipation.
Fast forward to August. The days started approaching the due date and there was one point where Ashley said, “I’ve never been pregnant this long before.” There was still no indication that Man Cub was eager to arrive, but I started making preparations…charging up the camera battery, deleting pics so there would be plenty of room for new ones, pinning birth photography tips on Pinterest. And I started getting a little nervous…
What if I didn’t do a good job? Hospital room lighting is so weird. What if the birth experience freaked me out? What if I said, “That’s it, definitely no babies for me!”? What if I got in the way??
But I was still excited. I just had a lot of questions crop up, but I tried not to dwell on them. 😉
I just keep waiting for word from Ashley that things were starting to happen. That moment finally came on a Friday evening…Jeremy and I were having our Bob Ross painting night, and I started getting messages from Ashley that she miiiiight have some signs of early labor. Jeremy and I finished up our paintings and then went to get gas in our vehicles. He was working at the hospital that weekend, and it looked like I would be, too! =)
When we got back home, I was getting messages that it looked like labor was For Real, so I started packing a bag. I don’t usually sleep with my phone right beside me, but I had to be ready that night! I was afraid I was going to be in a deep sleep and miss Ashley’s call, so I was pretty wide awake. I remember asking Jeremy to pray for me before we went to sleep. My stomach was nervous and I was just getting afraid of the unknown. I prayed for myself, too – and of course, Ashley and Man Cub. I just wanted everything to go smoothly for them. Within a short amount of time, I felt completely calm. I knew God was at work.
Keli, Ashley, and I wrote back and forth while we were all still awake in the late hours of the evening – we joked about having a Ruffled Mango birth party and just Skyping Keli in for the whole thing. 😉 A little before midnight, Ashley said they thought they should head to the hospital soon – they were just waiting for Sandy to get there to stay with the girls.
It was Go Time! I still didn’t know what to expect, but I felt ready. God was with us!
I met Ashley and Jason at the front of the hospital about 12:30am. I think I expected Ashley to be doubled over in pain, but she was walking and talking normally the whole time. Since it was after hours, we found the right phone and Ashley calmly made a call, “Yes, I’m in labor.” I shook my head in disbelief. “This must be Superwoman.” It wouldn’t be the last time I would think that exact thought during her labor process. 😉
Jason and Ashley told me, though, that she hadn’t been neeearly so cool and collected during the birth of their first daughter. Whew! O.K., yes, this was the third child. I guess you learn some valuable coping techniques along the way. 😉
Due to a new policy, Ashley had to be checked in through a triage process first before being taken to Labor & Delivery. Jason went with her; I waited in the waiting room. They were in a holding area for a couple of hours, so I was glad to have the Food Network on TV (especially since we don’t have cable anymore). Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives was on. I watched that for a bit, until I started getting hungry. (Chicken and waffles had never appealed to me before that night.) So then I switched gears and started a new-to-me book – At Home in Mitford (The Mitford Years, Book 1) by Jan Karon. So many people had talked up the Mitford series and I got settled in a non-comfy chair to wait for word that they were finally moving Ashley to Labor & Delivery. For the rest of my life, I’ll probably associate Mitford books with Man Cub’s birth day. 😉
After a non-optimal experience in triage, Ashley was very glad to be moved to a birthing room at last. Her midwife, Hannah, had arrived – and her nurse was Linda, a member of our congregation and Ashley’s former dorm mom. I was excited to see this team in action!!
Ashley was now having more painful contractions…we’d be in the middle of a conversation and she would go silent and close her eyes. I wasn’t sure what to do – shut up? Keep talking to distract her? I started following Linda and Hannah’s lead…they always went silent when she did, so I started taking a page out of their book. I figured they knew how to act around birthing moms. 😉
Things were progressing, but slowly. Slower than expected, so I hung out in the rocking chair, adjusted my camera settings until satisfactory, and chatted with Jason and Linda while Ashley hung out in the shower – her happy place. I loved watching Linda do all the prep for the birth…setting up the instruments, making sure everything was sanitary, monitoring the baby’s heartbeat, etc.
After Hannah checked Ashley, we found that things were, indeed, progressing, but still not quite enough yet. Ashley had to stay in bed for awhile so she could wear the belly monitor. Then she headed back to the shower. She wasn’t in there for long when she called for Jason to help her out. She was shaking all over and starting to get sick. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s not fair to be throwing up while you’re in labor!” Bless! Jason was right there with a pan and a cup of ice chips.
I felt kinda bad that I was taking pictures of my friend in such pain, but I knew she wanted pictures of the whole process. This was definitely part of the process. I cannot imagine that I would have been so quiet during such intense pain, but I like to think that watching Ashley laboring so gracefully has prepared me, should I ever go through labor myself.
Hannah checked her one more time and she was finally at 8cm – Ashley decided to go ahead and let them break her water. Things were about to get Really Real in here! It was almost time to push.
I pulled out the stool to stand on (I’m short, y’all) and then pushed the rocking chair and my camera bag back out of the way. I wanted to get a great angle to grab a shot of Jason catching their son. I remember my heart beating faster as things were getting pretty intense. Ashley had warned me that she hates the pushing part and it wouldn’t be pretty, so I was somewhat prepared for her reaction. Several times she apologized and I said, “Oh, you’re fine! This is just like an episode of Call the Midwife!”
But I wasn’t exactly prepared – not fully – for the screams of agony coming from someone I knew well. All those other people from Call the Midwife are actresses and they weren’t really in excruciating pain when filming those scenes. My friend Ashley was, though – and honestly, it was somewhat astonishing (and a little scary) to witness.
Thankfully, that part didn’t last very long and it led to the best part of all. At 6:28am, Ashley gave one more push and out came Man Cub, immediately cradled in his Daddy’s hands. I grabbed the shot and then that sweet baby boy was placed on his Mommy’s chest. The change in Ashley was immediate and almost more astonishing than the previous agonized screams – her face was now joyful and her eyes were smiling. “Hello, baby! I love you,” she softly cooed as she met her son. It was one of the most precious moments I’ve ever witnessed. I cried, of course, which was a little inconvenient when you’re also trying to snap pictures. 😉
I took a few more family shots and again wished the lighting were better. There’s just nothing like natural light for taking great pictures, but of course there was no window in the delivery room. And the sun was barely up anyway. I was glad I had read some tips beforehand: don’t use a flash (don’t want to get on a laboring mama’s nerves); do use a prime lens (I have this one: Nikon 50mm f/1.8G Auto Focus-S NIKKOR FX Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras – Fixed (which thankfully I already had and love) and do use a lower f-stop. Also, a blogger recommended converting the birth pictures to black and white, which was a great idea! The prime lens is able to effectively blur the hospital backgrounds, which aren’t so pretty, and focus on the most important subjects. And the black and white conversion (I use a set of actions installed in Photoshop Elements – Adobe Photoshop Elements 13 – to edit pics) allows for displays of emotion in their most basic form.
To end the story…I met up with Jeremy for a few minutes as I was leaving the hospital and he was arriving for work about 7:45am. Then I headed to the farmer’s market and Walmart on the way home. I’ve never been so productive before 9:00 on a Saturday morning! 😉 On the way home, I thanked God for a safe delivery and for an amazing experience for all of us. It was a blessed experience I’ll never forget! Thanks, Ashley, for inviting me to be there. It was crazy cool to see Linda and Hannah at work. They definitely were the Dream Team, as Ashley said!
It was a thrilling experience all the way around. How can anyone who witnesses a birth not believe in a Creator? A human being can grow another human being inside their body. A tiny little clump of cells turns into a heartbeat and then grows arms and legs, fingers and toes. A head, complete with a sweet little mouth and a cute little nose. A tiny personality. A miniature soul. God actually knits the baby together inside the mother’s womb. I love what Ashley mentioned in her post yesterday: He didn’t need a human being to create another human being, but He chose to collaborate with mothers in bringing new life into the world. It’s a mind-blowing plan, far better than anything we humans would have come up with!
P.S. All that being said, I don’t have a big plan to add “birth photography” to my list of things I regularly participate in. 😉 I would highly recommend my friend Stephanie Benge Pearson from Stephanie Benge Photography, though. She has lots of experience and looooves birth story photography – besides weddings, it’s her favorite! Give her a call, expectant moms. =)
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