Since I first started studying in preparation for my first birth, I have been completely drawn to and fascinated by pregnancy, labor, and delivery. My friend Sara and I had bonded over natural labor techniques and the importance of labor being an empowering experience for women as she prepared during her own first pregnancy. I was incredibly honored when she asked me if I could photograph her birth for her. I had never attended someone else’s birth nor photographed an event like this so I was just overwhelmingly excited.
When the night came, I got a call at about 8pm saying that Sara had already been in labor since the previous night and it was finally looking like it was go time so they had just arrived at the birthcenter. I headed straight over hoping I’d make it in time. The *moment* I crossed the threshold into that room, I was blown away by the amazing energy and overwhelming spirit there. It was a place of calm, of peace, of support, of empowerment, and of LIFE. Honestly, the spirit of womanhood was just so thick in that room that I felt horrible for interrupting the silence with my subtle shutter clicks.
Sara was amazing; truly astounding. She was working through each contraction with low moans or focused breathing. She was in her zone every moment. Every single moment. Though I knew she could feel the support of her husband, friends, doula, and midwife… it was like she was on a boat in an ocean and we were all on the shore just witnessing her. I’ve had 3 natural births and I can tell you that I was NOT this peaceful for my first one. I was primal and loud (and there’s nothing wrong with that). I hadn’t yet found my focus in birth; not until my subsequent births. Sara though? She had found her inner peace already and I was blown away.
From 8:30 until 11:30, I witnessed her try every single position possible. She worked through each contraction with great focus and pushed with so much effort; and yet it would seem that not much progress was being made. There were moments of great hope, but they were only followed with further pauses of regression. In between contractions, she introspectively rested. I could not believe how strong she was. She never once gave in, cried, screamed out, or even lost her focus from what I could see. Every new suggestion from the midwife or her doula for a position to try or a technique to introduce, she was compliant and willing. No matter how many times something new was asked of her, she never let the hard work of labor break her down.
Finally around 11:30 pm, it had become obvious that her baby was presenting in such a way that the head was pressing against her pelvis and simply wasn’t at an angle that would allow him to descend. Either forceps, a vacuum, or a c-section would be necessary to see this delivery through. With the advice and support of her midwife, Sara agreed with the need for a hospital transfer. The rest of the story is below…
Here are my favorite photos from the experience. I think I am more proud of these photos than any others I have taken to date simply because they are not staged in any way and they depict the most important and amazing life event in this world. They are true, beautiful, unaltered reality captured in time. I am also proud because it was very hard to shoot in such low light conditions while trying to be unobtrusive and not interfere or draw attention to myself in any way. At the hospital I was shooting with only a sliver of light to work with. I guess that’s tooting my own horn but seriously, births are hard to photograph, lol. I’m just so glad that the pictures turned out and that this experience was documented; it was just so lovely in every way. The pictures do depict active labor, but they are discreet in scope (some side of the body profiles are included), and are publically shared with the birth parents’ consent.
So after over 3 hours of pushing at the birthcenter, the transfer to the hospital was made. I met them there about a half hour later and though the staff was incredibly gentle and respectful, EVERYTHING about the environment and energy had changed. The spirit of the room was just so strikingly different than what it had been at the birthcenter. Sara’s demeanor was completely introverted and I could tell she was struggling though she was handling it all amazingly well. Ultimately, it became clear to Sara and also the midwives that C-section was going to be the best course at this point in time. I ached for her because I desperately hoped that she would always know that she ROCKED this birth. A birth that ends in a C-section is not a defeat. It was very hard on everyone in the room as we wished her the best as she left for surgery. Any and all worry or anxiety left 45 minutes later though when that sweet baby came wheeled back into the room on his mom’s chest. Sara’s face was so serene and sweet as she looked down on him. After 27 hours total of labor and over 3 hours of pushing, Soren finally arrived. Oh man, this was just one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed and I will treasure it always!
In the next post to follow, I will include the at home session of this new family at their apartment a week later!
This whole session was beautiful and sacred and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it. What a gift for the family.
I really loved your post! Pictures were amazing. So glad you were able to experience this from a different persepctive.
Such beautiful pictures. You captured so much beauty! I have three sisters, and I am the only one who hasn't had a c-section for at least one birth. For kids who saw my mom have natural births, including home births and births in a birth home, it has been heartbreaking, in different ways, that all of us have needed significant birth interventions. (While not needing a c-section, I tend to get pre-eclampsia, and have needed labor to be induced early, or in the case of my twins, to spend over a month trying to let them grow as much as they could while keeping the pre-eclampsia in the "pre" category.)
I think it is great that you were able to share in, and beautifully capture, the reality of a birth that doesn't go as planned. I know many women who have been so committed to a natural home birth, that having a c-section leads to severe depression. I'm currently letting a friend use me as her designated person to vent to. She is working through so much pain and anger. I sent this link to her, and I hope it will help other women too. I keep reminding her that part of why mother and infant mortality is down, is *because* women who would have died before, now have access to medical interventions, including c-sections.
I understand the frustrations that some people have, with women who seem to choose a scheduled c-section for convenience reasons, but I have a hard time with the way that those frustrations come out sometimes. Without distinguishing between the types of c-sections they oppose, a lot of women who desperately wanted a home birth, or as few interventions as possible, can feel like failures. In my friend's case, she feels condemned by her own words, believing that since her mother, mother-in-law and sister all had natural births, and that women who have c-sections are simply lazy and unwilling to be in labor for as ling as they need to. Women who are lucky enough to be able to deliver without medical complications, should understand that vilifying women who are not that lucky, only makes those women feel worse, and grieve harder, for a circumstance that is outside their control.
I truly believe that your beautiful photographs, and the narrative that goes with them, stand as a testimony that "doing it right," is any birth with a healthy baby and mama at the end! Thank you!
Lori - these pictures are amazing! They are both powerful and beautiful at the same time. You make me want to have a third so that you can capture the journey for me!
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