The birth of Tobias will forever be engrained in my memory. I can’t look at these photos without feeling the emotion and exhaustion all over again. I remember the silence in the middle of the night that was only interrupted by the primal groans of labor pains, the radio blasting as she worked through hours of labor, and the camaraderie between everyone involved during these three long days. If this birth taught me anything, it is the importance of a solid birth team who are all on the same page and working towards the same goal: a healthy baby and safe delivery.
Ashley had a plan (if you know her, she always has a plan that is clearly laid out and well-researched). After the birth of her twins via c-section two years ago and the complication that came with a major surgery, she was determined to have a different experience than the last time. She wanted a VBAC so desperately and had done everything in her power to make sure it happened. She hired a doula (love ya, Hillary), a midwife at a birthing center (Michele you are amazing and so is Melissa one of the student midwives), had an amazingly supportive husband, Brad, and best friend who both wanted to do EVERYTHING they could to help her achieve her goal, and then me to photograph it all.
I was first called in late Thursday evening. Hillary told me that Ashley was having strong, intense contractions only a few minutes apart. When I arrived I heard labor sounds that made me think she was already in transition and things were moving along, but when she asked to be checked she was hardly dilated at all. She tried to rest between the contractions, but was in so much pain. After a few hours I went home and told Hillary to call me if anything happened. The next morning I found out she was still laboring at home, with contractions slowing down and then picking up again over and over like a terrible roller coaster that just wouldn’t stop.
Late Friday evening, Hillary called and said they were heading back to the birthing center and contractions were VERY close together and much more intense. We all arrived once again only to have the same news given to us. She was only dilated a little bit more than the previous night and hadn’t progressed like she had hoped. At this point most women would’ve given up. They would’ve said, “Let’s just go to the hospital and get the epidural.” Ashley is not most women – she is more determined than ever and labors on. With each contraction she searches for someone’s hand to get through the pain. Eventually, after several hours, we all went home once again to rest (at least those of us who could rest).
Very early Sunday morning I get a call from Hillary saying Ashley’s water had broken, she was nearly 10cm, and almost ready to push. I couldn’t believe that after all this time I was going to miss the birth! Luckily, I arrived to see Ashley still.
The mood was visibly different. Everyone was clearly exhausted. Her body was so tired from lack of sleep, worn out from all the labor, and in so much pain. They tried different positions on the bed, getting into the tub, even a crazy deep squat while standing on the midwife’s legs, but Tobias refused to come down. Finally, Ashley decided to call it quits and head to the hospital for additional help.
Once she arrived at the hospital, the midwife was able to relieve her pain and allow her body to rest. As Ashley rested, the birth team ate in the cafeteria and stayed in waiting rooms until she was ready for labor again.
In the evening, after some much-needed rest, Ashley was ready to push again only for the baby’s heart rate to start dropping and with visible meconium every time she pushed. My heart broke to see someone work so hard for so many days only to have the one outcome come to fruition she was trying to avoid all along.
It was an exhausting 3 days, but Tobias was here and he was healthy. As a birth team we cried together as she was wheeled back for surgery, we laughed together in our sleep deprivation, and we rejoiced together at seeing Ashley finally holding and nursing her sweet boy.
As a birth photographer my job is to document the day, but as a mother who has experienced a traumatic birth, I had a pretty good idea what Ashley was feeling as she lay on the operating table alone in the moments following the delivery. Brad had gone with the baby to get some tests done, so I put my camera down, sat by Ashley’s head as they finished the surgery, and held her hand. She had seen her baby for a just a few seconds and had not held him yet. I stroked her hair and told her everything was going to be okay, then listened as she drifted off to sleep.
My clients are never JUST clients, they each hold a special place in my heart.