by Ashley Weeks Cart
Hold a woman’s hand while she’s in labor.
This bucket list item has been at the top of my list ever since my own birthing experiences. And yesterday, I had the privilege of doing just that.
My role was to document. To photograph. To capture the story of this family’s beginning. I was to be a fly on the wall, observing and interfering as little as possible. She had her birth team, the people with whom she had prepared for this journey. That was not my place.
However, the opportunity did arise where the unbelievably brave, strong mama in labor was confronting a contraction while her husband and the midwife and nurses were out of the room. I came to her side and offered my hand. And she took it.
To hold someone while she is in the throes of a pain so very deep, so very visceral, so very vulnerable laid me bare. That she would trust me to be present in that space as a storyteller and as an occasional arm of support or voice of laughter and relief hit me in a way that I had not fully anticipated. I knew that I would be moved. I knew that I would shed tears. But I was not prepared for the ways that I would feel the experience in my core. The ways that I would see myself in that pain. And the ways I would see every single person on Earth in that pain. I’ve said it before, but childbirth is the human experience that connects us all. It’s a universal. A given for our very existence.
Every single person is here because some brave, strong woman confronted the task of bringing us here. And it is no small task. It is work. It is hard. It is labor. The name so appropriately describes the act, and yet there is still so little understanding or appreciation for just how very much time and work goes into the process of bringing life into this world.
I arrived home at 4 o’clock in the morning, after sixteen hours with the family (only one of which was with them as a united family in the “outside” world) in a mess of tears and gratitude. I have been brimming with images and language and knots in my gut that will one day soon take the shape of their story (I’ve got over 700 photographs to process, edit and thread together).
Or a piece of the story, as I can not possibly claim to own their personal language and images and feelings about that journey. And a journey it was. Long, and hard, and inspiring. Thank you, Bea and Lee and William, for the privilege of bearing witness to that.
Here are just a few of my immediate favorite captures from the experience.