This is a birth story.
But this is NOT a story about giving birth.
We’ve all read a million blogs telling first hand accounts of their birth story’s. Contractions. Water breaks. Contractions. Pushing. Pushing. Contractions. Fart. Hemorrhoid. Baby. Tears.
This is not one of THOSE birth story’s.
I mean, yes, all of that did happen……technically. But this story is a first hand account of birth from the other side (which I found much more enjoyable to be honest).
It all started the day before Katherine went into labor. We squeezed a short maternity shoot into our hectic schedules. We laughed through the whole shoot, and even harder and longer at the “unusables“. We laughed for over an hour.
I still maintain that Katty laughed herself into labor because she went into active labor the next day.
I met her at her house around three where she was laboring at home for as long as she could. She kept saying “I don’t think this is really it. You should go home”
But I knew. I knew from the way she breathed, the white knuckled grip, the arching back; I wouldn’t be going home.
So I meandered around her house for the next seven hours, we ate beef stew and played dominoes. (I told her in a few hours she would be enjoying the stew again via vomit).
I encouraged Katty to walk around her house, to enjoy the quiet, the tidiness, the peace. Because her house would never again feel so empty.
She disappeared for a while, likely overwhelmed by the rush of emotions. There is always a moment when it feels like your world is crumbling around you. You know your whole life is about to be different. You know it’s too late to go back. It’s scary. And it’s overwhelming. But it’s also necessary. And when she needed a moment alone, to wrap herself in the realization that THIS was actually it, we left her alone.
Let’s fast forward to 10:00pm when Katherine decided it was time to head to the hospital. I got lost on the way. I do that. When I showed up Katty was dilated to a 5.
There is such a different atmosphere in birthing rooms, such a stark difference to the aura of sadness and anxiety that envelopes the rest of the hospital. Birthing rooms buzz with excitement and promise. I walked into Katherine’s room and a flood of memories washed through me. This was familiar. I’d done this before (Three times), and this time I didn’t have to be in pain. Can I get a Hallelujah?!
Still, as familiar as I was with the whole process, I had never experienced it from the other side before. I wasn’t prepared to be knocked on my ass by humility. I wasn’t prepared to feel frightened and inspired by Katherine’s pain. I wasn’t prepared to discover a whole new definition for “Awe”. But indeed I did.
It was almost like a car accident. You want to turn away but you don’t want to miss anything.
It was hard to watch. We all breathed with her during contractions and, in fact, I clenched with her as rode out the waves of pain. I started getting cramps before I realized what I was doing and mentally kicked myself in the shin.
Katherine rode the Pain Train for hour after hour. Andrew alternated between rubbing her back and letting her hang on him for support. Such a lovely team.
Although, we all kept wondering how Andrew could look so damn perfect and be so damn chipper.
He was practically vibrating with excitement.
Katherine….not so much.
At this point we were all exhausted (except for Andrew who couldn’t sit still). It’s actually extremely hard to watch someone go through so much pain and not be able to do anything about it. Katherine’s mom, my aunt Teresa, had a grimace of pain in every picture. It made me wonder if I would be the same way if I were in her position and it was MY daughter giving birth. Teresa was there when I was born, helping my mother the same way she helped Katherine. I’d never seen my Auntie so quiet, offering the comfort and assistance that she couldn’t verbally. It was beautiful to watch; A night of action, not words.
Things went from 0-60 real quick after the nurse told us that Katherine was fully dilated. Suddenly our weary bones perked up, the exhaustion left and it was time to rock and roll.
Thinking back to my own births, I didn’t remember being such a bad-ass. I mean, I’m sure I was, but I wasn’t concentrating on anything else but getting the damn parasite out of me. Looking at Katherine, gathering her remaining strength to push over and over and over, made me realize the strength of us women. We are awesome! We were built for this purpose, our bodies know how to take us through to the end.
As Spock would say “Fascinating”.
I wasn’t silent for the whole thing. My mantra for the night was “Katty stop holding your breath”. I may have said that 52 times that night. And then I shut up. Because she didn’t need me anymore, or Andrew or her Mom. I watched Katherine’s instincts take over, watched her body flow through the moves that billions of women had done before her. She had this.
There were a lot of firsts that night, and I stood there humbled as we all experienced them together, in our own way. My plan was to take a picture of the clock on the wall, the minute Prestyn was born. But as I panned over I caught Andrews first moment seeing his daughter’s face.
I often told Katty that there is no pain like the pain of pushing out your baby…..
……and there is no moment quite like the moment you first see your baby. You only get to experience it once. The moment of awe.
And the “We did it” moment.
And all of a sudden, our family was a little bigger. 6lbs 11 ounces bigger. And Prestyn was just there, like she’d always been there. She wailed a hearty cry, covered in goo and sporting fiery red hair. And she was perfect.
In some ways it was kind of terrible being the photographer in this particular scenario. I was the silent observer, trying with all my might to melt into the shadows, to keep my shutter clicks from bothering Katty. I didn’t help her rough through her contractions even though I wanted to. I could’t cry when Prestyn came out because then I wouldn’t be able to see through my lens. I feel like I missed out a little bit on the whole experience.
BUT (and this is a huge but), I got something priceless in return. Not only did I get to watch this beautiful little girl take her first breath, I got to photograph it.
This little human who was brand new to the world had never EVER had her picture taken before. I was the first. That’s special. I will always have that.
As a photographer there is no greater honor.
How quickly you forget how tiny they can be, how precious. And just how different your world feels afterward.
I went home to my own children with renewed vigor and the memory of what I went through to bring them into this world. I never knew how bad ass I was. I did this three times! and yet I didn’t fully appreciate it until I watched it from the other side.
I learned so much about Katherine and myself and life that night. But out of all the things I learned and forgot about my own births, I remembered THIS moment clearly: