My First Experience With Birth & Birth Photography
Birth has never scared me, or grossed me out. I think it's due to the fact that my mom was really open about what birth was, and how it worked, from a very young age. I can remember her showing me a birthing video when I was 10, or younger, and instead of being freaked out or disgusted, I was intrigued. In fact, I would pretend to be grossed out when other people were - because that was the 'expected' reaction.
So when I was approached to photograph the birth of Juliana & Joel's daughter, I didn't even have to think twice. I had worked with them once before to do newborn photos of their son.
Now - when I told people I'd be doing this, I would get mixed reactions and questions like "why", to friends who were over the moon with excitement and wanted to know all the details. After Juliana's due date rolled by, I had my family and friends asking me everyday "baby yet?" almost as if I was the one who was having a baby. I now understand why this question must be so annoying to expectant mothers, as I wasn't even the pregnant one and was starting to get irritated - lol.
Friday, March 22, 2019
I get a text from Juliana. "I think it's baby day!" Which is ironic, because the baby would end up being born at 7:53pm, almost EXACTLY twelve hours later. I call into work, letting them know I won't be able to make it that day.
Midwife does her first check. It's Juliana's favourite midwife which is a good sign - because birth is unpredictable, but at least you know you have your best supporting team on standby. Things are on and off. I sneak in a nap and am snacking all day, in preparation to be there for the long-haul. My bags are packed, including a book, change of clothes, tooth brush, 4-pack of RedBull, snacks, phone charger, etc.
The midwife has just done her second check, and will be returning in an hour to check Juliana again. She advises Juliana that I too, should arrive at that time. I quickly cook dinner and feed my cat as I'm not sure when I'll be home next.
I arrive at their home. The midwife greets me - her name is Elise. I start to unpack my gear; although I won't be switching back-and-forth between lenses and cameras, I bring everything in case something fails. In situations like these, you can never be too prepared.
Pacing around the house, Juliana is breathing through each contraction. She's rotating between walking and bouncing on the exercise ball. Music is playing throughout the house. At this point I'm expecting to be here into the wee hours of the morning, yet I never opened my overnight bag. In little over two hours, the baby will be here.
Everything is weirdly ordinary. Elise and Juliana are cracking jokes, Joel is tending to a meal in the oven. From what's been described, and the way labour is portrayed in movies - there should be a sense of tension in this room - but there's not. Actually, I feel a weird sense of calm.
At no point do I feel outside of my comfort zone; but I do have to resist the urge to direct people or rearrange items in the home. I keep reminding myself that I'm capturing a story, in it's exactitude. No creative direction is required, let the story tell itself.
As Juliana's contractions grow closer together, and more intense, her demeanour changes slightly. After labouring for 12 hours already it would take a toll on anyone, still, Juliana somehow makes it seem easy. She goes up and down the basement stairs a few times and it seems to get things moving more quickly than before. I keep frowning through every contraction as if in solidarity; I don't even realize I'm making a face until Joel looks over at me, worried.
The contractions get stronger, Juliana is both visually, and audibly in more pain than before. Despite this, I continued to feel a strange calmness in the air. Elise is reassuring her through each contraction and with some convincing, is given the go-ahead to break Juliana's water.
Now things really start to speed up. Juliana decides she wants to labour in the tub, but not deliver in the tub. As I'm getting shots of her in the water, several thoughts are swimming around in my head:
she does not want to deliver in the tub
...I have a feeling she might deliver in the tub
Jasmine, you need to mentally prepare to shoot this birth in a bathroom
there's so many people trying to cram into this bathroom - what if I miss the shot?!
Despite my internal panic of "am I going to miss the shot if she births in the tub?!" I am not about to tell this mama where she should be delivering. Her contractions are sounding quite a bit stronger, her stomach is changing shape; I've never experienced birth before but suddenly my instincts kick in and I realize she is going to have this baby any second now. It's weird how something you've never experienced before can feel so familiar, it was surreal.
Sure enough, Elise confirms that the baby's head has started to make it's way down. There are now two midwives, Joel, and myself all crammed into a tiny bathroom. Mom wants to move to the bed, but believes she won't be able to. I think to myself "yep, this is it. You will just have to find a way to get the shot with everything that's happening." I am trying to both be right in the action, but not in anyone's way.
The baby is making it's way down the birth canal and I realize that "Somewhere Over the Rainbow is Playing" and start to get a rush of emotions over me. Last minute, Juliana decides she can move to the bed - I have to admit I was a little relieved.
Within minutes of getting onto the bed - the head is coming out. Juliana pauses and breathes as she waits for direction from the midwives. Time is simultaneously moving so fast and so slow. Juliana lets out a battle-cry as the baby makes it's way out; I am in awe of her strength.
The baby has her arms crossed over her chest, making for a difficult exit. Elise & Joel catch the baby together, placing her onto Juliana's stomach. She isn't crying as much as I had expected, but not so little, as to cause concern.
I am so focused on getting all the shots and not missing the moment, that it takes me a minute to realize all the hairs on my arms are standing up, and I'm covered in goose-bumps that feel like they won't ever go away. I'm trying my best to pretend I'm not even in the room, but can't stop saying things like "that was amazing" or "that was the coolest thing I've ever seen".
Juliana & Joel cut the baby's chord together.
Mom and baby are both doing well, so she adjusts their positions and begins to breastfeed baby for the first time. I snap a few shots, and then follow Joel to the kitchen as he pours pink champagne for everyone.
I come back to the room and am included in the toast to the baby - Julianna, Joel, Elise and myself. Before I can 'clink' my glass I realize I should probably get into position as something important is about to happen, that Juliana had warned me about prior.
Juliana announces the baby's name. First name Charlotte, middle name Elise. Elise (the midwife) immediately erupts into tears. As someone who delivers babies all the time, I don't think Elise had expected to be so overwhelmed with emotion like that. For the second time tonight, I am covered in the most intense goose-bumps I've ever felt, so honoured to capture such touching moments. It's a sweet exchange between Juliana and Elise, as they hold hands and both wipe tears from their eyes.
Truly, I have the most rewarding job.
The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur - I'm running off a high of seeing the most incredible thing I've ever witnessed. I grab some shots of Juliana nursing her new baby, Elise weighing and measuring the baby, (20 & 1/4" long, 7 lbs 6 oz) and Joel & Juliana FaceTiming their parents to reveal both the gender & the name.
After everything is said and done, I pack up to head home. I've only been there for five hours. As I drive away from their house, I notice a gigantic golden moon over the city - a beautiful way to end a beautiful night.