Blog a la Cart

Category: Birth Photography

Lila

On Friday, I had the absolute privilege of helping welcome Baby Lila into the world. Kaki’s FGM was a rockstar: amazing, inspiring, *insert cheesy but apt adjective here.*

Welcome, Little One. We already love you so.

Here are my favorite snaps from the experience while James pieces the story together more fully. How special that I’ve been able to be with both of my daughters’ Fairy Godmothers while they themselves welcome new life.

WelcomingLila-40

WelcomingLila-26

WelcomingLila-27

WelcomingLila-61

WelcomingLila-70

WelcomingLila-144

WelcomingLila-90

WelcomingLila-97

WelcomingLila-110

WelcomingLila-116

WelcomingLila-137

WelcomingLila-152

WelcomingLila-157

WelcomingLila-162

WelcomingLila-146

WelcomingLila-167

WelcomingLila-182

WelcomingLila-202

WelcomingLila-213

WelcomingLila-222

WelcomingLila-235

WelcomingLila-233

WelcomingLila-253

WelcomingLila-244

WelcomingLila-261

WelcomingLila-262

WelcomingLila-272

WelcomingLila-278

WelcomingLila-290

WelcomingLila-280

WelcomingLila-297

WelcomingLila-306

WelcomingLila-303

WelcomingLila-250

Welcoming Elias

James has done it again, my friends. The man sure knows how to marry image and song.

What an honor to bear witness to such an event and be trusted to capture, tell, and share the story of the start of a family.

I love watching this day unfold. Such wonderful, happy memories. I feel so lucky to have played even a marginal role in the experience.

Elias

These past two weeks have been a wonderful, intense whirlwind. Celebrations, vacations, time with family, new life, new perspective… I’m still processing and making sense of it all. I came home last night, thrilled to be home with my family, and yet totally overwhelmed. I had a sleepless night, followed by a much needed and forced lazy morning at home with a feverish Courtland. That was exactly what I needed to ground myself back into life on the farm.

So many stories to tell… these images and this experience are at the fore of it all. What a privilege to capture the beginning of new life… James will help me tell the story much better with song and a sense of timing that is truly magical. For now, a few of my favorite stills from the day that Elias arrived. So much love and gratitude to Sunny’s FGPs for including me in this incredible time.

xPlm9VR-W6bzDqH5SnE9vssVqTHf6MOy1aBHdBXV-Yg

r5q1tLTz-aOyQcUNbiEnaqpc2a9o2g3wWIWO7G0Cb7U

vyH7P7wJ_hb53PlzR2-wtytxJIeWTn3OmLm8wtD9iCw

74IpuuehvG9DTA7hF_dEIQ7U3y9F-jSU0O1RGIu7PrA

2IcbrA2Y3a7O2XppZAkRdt8kgc9DWwk3RYoxakktU20

tGxIR2pUCiHqB0kTXgafoiwEKIJHzKJdKiWvubbYmyM

Ua_P5RiIMmCoSgS0eH71Jr7H2c97-zg3vXRb08AzCGU

 

wsdv2cst7q30U6Xm-Q41yT3MwBOQErZ0cEPKtJ5eMNo

XiKj90lzwnwZ6xpRnlQ8Freq8LphsYzu5mrhmOVByMw
A-qk0CMCncOpit0SgGWqBAtVntt_SJEgPJzCJ_gtKGU

7xbj4ne5gv1CR6XdvS8Uc109XeWNBCqbMfXUt74Jnng

zfarR27qQo18RbdE2G427WZt-Vi5A0YnLnMdeJwR_5Y

AgjVMgFW5lKNj-DiliJkFQ55eJhlcb8ArgGMds4V5pY

Dl0kegbii4iESnZ4ddvKjRnCURg_129RE9-Jt__-5eg

ZeiSEPHel_FkXLUB6VWdpz9oFbtvUIw4RE7x6sqEM4g

Birth Photography

When I informed my family and friends that a birth photographer would be among the group of people present for Addison’s birth, I received more than a few wayward glances and eye rolls.

You honestly want pictures of THAT? You’re going to look a wreck. It’s all blood and guts and pain! Why would you want that documented for all of time? Are they going to, ya know, take pictures of your… ya know?

Ah, how birth is so very misunderstood.

I had been doubtful when my doula had offered up the idea. But then she showed me the portfolio of the woman who then captured Sunny’s arrival, and my vision of what “birth photography” implied forever changed.

There was nothing gory, or gross, or inappropriate about those images. They were images of love. And strength. And fear. And triumph. And pain. And care. And tenderness. And bravery. And oh the love. The love love love love emanating from the family and friends supporting the woman in labor… from the woman to her child and back again. Those images were the stuff of miracles.

I was fascinated. And also unbelievably fortunate to live in a city that would not surprisingly be on the front lines of this new trend and thus have photographers willing and available for the task. Brianna of Shoots and Giggles was just breaking out on her own and into the world of birth photography. She was looking to shoot an unmedicated birth (i.e. a woman actively moving around and in motion during labor. If you have an epidural, you are restrained to the bed, and thus there is only so much photographing of that process to be done before baby arrives.) Her services and photographs were free in exchange for their use in her business. Sunny’s arrival is still prominently displayed on her site. I have my doula to thank for Brianna’s presence at her birth.

(Brianna was featured in the New York Times article about birth photography last June. It’s clear reading that article, and the follow up articles and responses to it, that birth photography, much like birth, is greatly misunderstood. Not surprisingly, I would like to have a hand in correcting that – thus The Beauty of Being Born.)

Looking back, I would readily and gladly pay for a birth photographer’s services three times over, for the gift that Brianna gave to our family that day is indescribable. To watch myself triumph through that pain… to watch my sister grasp my hand, her eyes tense with worry and care… to see James’ face of pride and love and tenderness as I battled through that process… to bear witness time and again to the first words I utter to my newborn child… to have captured that moment when I become a mother, when I make that transition, when James makes that transition to father… there are not words for having such raw, beautiful, powerful imagery as a reminder of the most important moment of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen photographs more filled with the true essence of what it means to love, really love, another human being… unconditionally, unabashedly, unfalteringly. I can’t tell you how many times James and I have sat down together and watched these images unfold before our eyes, taking in that love, that process, that moment, that unfiltered, raw, vulnerable emotion and interaction that is so readily apparent during labor and birth. It is incredibly powerful. Restorative. Affirming.

THAT is what birth photography is about. We document weddings, and graduations, and first birthdays… why wouldn’t we want to document the arrival of new life?

So with all that being said, I’ve become a bit of a birth photography junkie. I was disappointed that no one in our area was available to document Courtland’s birth – and so James and my sister did what they could while simultaneously supporting me through labor. As I’ve spent more time learning my way around the camera and my interest in maternity and childbirth has intensified, birth photography has seemed like an ideal outlet for these two burgeoning passions. And it’s something lacking in my community. Granted, the demand in Western Massachusetts slash Southern Vermont pales in comparison to Los Angeles or New York, but why not fill that gap if it’s something I find deeply valuable and enjoyable?

And so, two weeks ago, I had the honor of photographing my first birth. And it is with great pleasure that I share that story here.

I want to thank James, as always, for his unbelievable ability to marry music and image. I selected down the photographs, edited, picked songs and slapped it all together, but it wasn’t until James took the time to painstakingly pace and transition each image through the music that the true emotion of the journey came through. Since the birth resulted in a C-section, I wasn’t able to be present for the surgery and was struggling with how to move from that moment when they headed into the OR to the arrival of sweet baby. As you’ll see, James absolutely nailed it. I didn’t expect to cry and cry when I watched his final cut, and yet the tears flowed. As my partner in The Beauty of Being Born said, “The whole thing really captured the waiting and waiting and waiting that is labour. The foreverness of it all followed by the sudden motion of now.” So beautifully put. Thank you, Libbie.

And most especially, thank you to Bea and Lee and Baby William for the privilege of being present. And for reinforcing in me why this is exactly the kind of work I want to be doing.

Baby William

Hold a woman’s hand while she’s in labor.

Check.

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.

Y86A1967

Y86A1780

Y86A2010

Y86A2167

Y86A2258

Y86A2394

Y86A2336

Y86A2380

Y86A2469

william3

Y86A2505

WilliamStrobridge

Welcoming Addison – 05.18.09

It’s a funny thing, thinking back on the birth of Addison. I never sat down and properly wrote her birth story in the weeks following her arrival. I had images that strung the tale together from the perspective of the photographer that stood watch. Throughout the years, snippets of my experience have surfaced in my writing, especially as I approached my due date with Courtland. But in going back and looking at the early stages of my blog, it dawned on me that I had never fully written through that journey three and a half years ago.

And while I realize that time, distance, experience and perspective will undoubtedly influence my attempt to do it now, I’m going to do it anyway. Because the memory of that day is just as important, if not more important, than the day itself.

This was a surprisingly cathartic exercise. James and I shared a good cry together as I read these words aloud last night.

sunnybirth

The day that I awoke to my abdomen constricting in the rhythmic, consistent way that all expecting women anticipate began with such eagerness and excitement.

I remember sinking into the tub, belly floating above the water like a bleached watermelon, relaxing into what I presumed would be the final moment to myself in quite some time.

I remember the sand between my toes and the way the ocean breeze rushed through my hair as I paused every few minutes to breath through the beginnings of a pain that I had no basis for comparison. Thinking it wasn’t so bad. Thinking I could do this. No problem. Having no understanding how much more my body would endure before I’d be able to breath a sigh of relief and completion. Realizing now, that nothing could have prepared me for what I was to confront only hours later.

I remember filling that round, full belly with my father’s carbonara, carbo-loading for the intensity ahead. Sitting around the table with my sister and husband, with my dog at my feet. My favorite beings all around me, as we prepared to welcome a new one to those ranks.

I remember the anxiety creeping in as the hours passed, and the pain increased, and yet the time between the pain remained constant.

I remember the earth shaking under my feet as I sat perched on the toilet, willing my body to get going, to do what it was supposed to do. My propensity for instant gratification trumped by biology.

I remember rocking on all fours atop our bed as Kimmy shuttled hot water bottles between the microwave and our room to try to ease the increasing pain in my back. The panic taking hold as I realized I had no real preparation for the road ahead.

Despite all my reading. All my knowledge. Nothing could have prepared me. There is no comparison for the pain and intensity of childbirth. I did my best to recall the words of my doula, the images of other mothers in labor from the videos we’d watched together, and yet none of it eased the growing uncertainty I felt toward my own body. About my own ability to do what billions of women had done before me.

_______________________

If I knew then what I know now I would never have left for the hospital in the middle of the night, hugging my furry beast, my “first born,” to my chest as I headed out the door, knowing that our relationship would never be the same after this day. I would never have driven to that fancy hospital all those miles away. Had insurance allowed, I would have stayed exactly where I was, at home, surrounded by the familiarity and comfort that that word implies. And if insurance had not allowed a home birth, I would have stayed where I was, for as long as possible, before going around the corner from our home to a tiny, modest hospital. There, I may have been the only laboring woman in the hospital. There, I may have gotten the attention, respect, and patience that all laboring women deserve. There, my experience may have been different. I still would have had the same outcome, and yet my feelings about my first born’s birth, about the medical industry, about labor and delivery, may have been 180 degrees different. I am grateful everyday for the experience I had with my second born. She redeemed something that I feared might be irredeemable on that day three and a half years ago.

_______________________

I remember the devastating disappointment and frustration I felt when I learned upon checking in to the hospital that I was only 2 cm dilated. And the confusion I felt when my doctor and the nurses all strongly urged me to start pitocin to move things along.

Everything I had read had told me to trust my body to do what it was supposed to do. And yet here was the medical industry telling me otherwise. I remember nervous phone calls to my doula, my parents, my doctor, and around again in an attempt to decide the best course of action. I ultimately caved under the weight of my doctor’s opinion. I rarely talk about that moment. I’ve blocked that moment of weakness from the story I tell when I talk about Addison’s birth. And yet, there I was, hooked up to an IV of pitocin, angry, confused, disappointed and uncertain, in a room the size of a closet, at the start of my birthing experience.

Not a very great place to begin.

_______________________

Fortunately, quite quickly, the pitocin did indeed dilate me to 4, the magic number needed to admit me to a proper birthing suite, a gorgeous, sunlit room overlooking Beverly Hills. I demanded the pitocin be stopped as soon as I arrived to the room where I was to meet my daughter. The nurse refused, concerned that labor would stop or slow if she removed the drip. I angrily called my doctor and she spoke to the nurse, instructing her to do as I’d asked. The pitocin was removed, my doula, sister and birth photographer arrived (now that there was room for their presence), and I began laboring as I’d envisioned: Slow dancing with James, rocking on the birthing ball, showering.

The nurse was negative and confrontational throughout the experience. She didn’t want me in the shower. She wanted to monitor every contraction, despite my request to be monitored as minimally as possible. She continually mumbled, “It doesn’t have to be this hard,” and “Most women don’t do it this way.” She routinely suggested an epidural despite my clearly stated disinterest.

As the hours passed, the pain increased, and I tired, my mental and emotional outlook grew dimmer and dimmer. Thank god for my amazing doula, sister, and husband that kept the nurse at bay and kept me going despite my growing fears and doubts. While I am still resentful of how I was treated by that nurse, it only enhances my appreciation and respect for the rest of my birthing team.

_______________________

The pain reached its zenith when I stopped being able to move around the room and insisted on lying on my side in bed. I hummed and buzzed my way through each contraction, and decried my ability to survive it during periods of rest. After six hours stuck at 6cm, I was ready to give up. I wanted an epidural. And I wanted my doctor to cut me open and remove the baby from my belly so that this would end. So that this nightmare would be over.

After a screaming fit of “I can’t do this. I hate this. My body is failing. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I want it over. I need this to be over!” My doula quietly pulled her face to mine and softly urged me to ask for an IV of fluids to provide some much needed hydration. I hadn’t been drinking water at all, and she reasoned that after such a long period of hard labor, I was severely dehydrated and that that was only adding to the delay. She also suggested that since my membranes had not yet ruptured, I might want to reconsider my request to not have my water broken. Better have a doctor break the bag than have the unwanted epidural, she reasoned.

I listened to this calm, reassuring older woman, a woman who had been down this road personally four times and had held the hands of women in my shoes over 300 times prior. She knew what I wanted from my birth experience, and was there, still fighting for it, adapting to the way the situation was playing out, with my best interests at heart.

_______________________

What happened after I was hydrated and the bag was ruptured moved at lightening speed. Suddenly I was at 10cm, my doctor had arrived, as had a team of other nurses, and there was great cheering and urgings and words of encouragement that the end was near, and yet so much was about to begin.

I was taken aback by the pain of pushing. By the physical screaming and burning of my body and the immense, gut-wrenching effort I had to throw behind that pain. Between pushes, when the contractions would relent, I remember laying my head back and the room falling silent, as though in prayer-like repose, awaiting my next move. I felt as though everyone around me was holding their breath in quiet respect, while I attempted to catch my own. Those 30 seconds of rest felt like hours. I fell into a peaceful slumber, convinced that the work was behind me, that I could finally relax and breath. But then biology would surge from the depths of that quiet, throwing me headlong back into the ring of fire.

I am grateful that pushing was short, relatively speaking, and before I knew it, I felt my daughter exit my body, and the pain ceased, and I lay back, eyes closed, taking in that moment of relief before opening my eyes to meet my first born child.

_______________________

I distinctly remember my doctor asking me if I’d do an unmedicated birth again before she left the room that day, and I meant it, with every fiber of my being, when I told her that I would never EVER EVER put myself through that kind of pain ever again. I believed those words vehemently. Despite that beautiful, healthy baby on my chest, despite my ability to walk around the room mere minutes after her birth, despite ultimately having accomplished what I’d wanted, I felt completely beaten down and disempowered by so much of the process. I never wanted to feel that kind of disappointment and uncertainty with my body ever again. And so in that moment, I truly believed that I would never go through birth again. I loved that newborn body pressed against my own more than anything I had ever loved in this world, but I absolutely could not suppress the feelings of anxiety, and fear, and doubt that had been so much a part of the process of her arrival.

_______________________

Thank goodness that we forget. That while in the throes of labor with my second born I was reminded, but ultimately cannot recall, the exact sensation of what it feels like to be in the process of bringing life into this world. Thank goodness I got the chance to do it again. And in such a way that I felt completely invigorated, and proud, and empowered by the entire process. In such a way that reinforces why it is not just having a child that is life-changing, but that the very act and process of having that child makes all the difference.

_______________________

I could not know what I know now. And looking back, I am in awe of that woman that fought through all that incertitude and achieved what she’d dreamed was possible despite less than ideal conditions. I admire that woman I was three and a half years ago and am inspired by a strength she doubted and a body she questioned. I know that I am more sure of myself today having been tested by that birth. And I am more grateful for that experience than any other in my life.

Courtland’s Birth

Thank you to James for ensuring that our second born has documentation of her birth day just like her big sister. He never ceases to amaze me.