I am coming up on shooting my 60th birth. I have really been thinking about this lately and about how very blessed I am to be able to do what I love. Every single birth I have ever shot, has been different from all of the others in some way. With each one, I learn something new that hopefully makes me a better photographer, and person, than I was when I shot the one before it. Each and every one has a first of some sort. Recently, I had another first. It isn't a first I ever wanted to have, but it happened. I shot my first birth with a "code blue" called during delivery. Now, before you worry, Let me go ahead and tell you, Mom AND baby are completely fine. It is a story that needs to be told and definitely needs to be heard by anyone who thinks they want to get into birth photography. Everything was going well. Mom pushed on though she was so very tired. I am honestly not even sure how long she pushed. I would have to go back and look to tell you for certain. What I do know is she pushed for a long time, and she pushed as hard as she could with everything she had. She fought so very hard for her baby. Even when she felt like giving up, she did not. I am not quite sure she could have had a better person in her corner than her husband. He cheered her on like nothing I have ever seen before. To say I am proud of these two is definitely an understatement. When it became time to call the doctor in, there were tears of joy, and relief. Mom was able to push out her precious baby girl's head but she was not facing down like we always hope. Instead, she was facing to the side. This can make it harder for Mom to push and deliver. After her sweet baby girl's head pushed through, her shoulders became stuck requiring a little more assistance. At this time, the doctor asks for assistance from the nurses. One nurse is trying to explain to dad that he needs to step back. He immediately begins to worry and into protective mode he goes. He isn't sure where he needs to go. All he wants to know is everything okay. At first, I was focused on watching for baby and did not realize what was going on. It only took a matter of seconds. Seconds. That is how quickly things changed. I got dad's attention and we stepped back. I had him sit down out of the way so the doctor and now room full of nurses who came running in to help could do what they needed to do to help his wife and baby. I will never forget the sound of his voice filled with cracks as he asked over and over, "but is everything alright?" I will never forget the look on his face. I just talked to him. I reassured him that she had the best doctor and nurses and they were both in the very best of hands. This particular obstetrician, I have attended many births where he delivered. I had already seen him work under situations similar in difficulty before. I had seen the love he has for his patients many times.
It is at this time, you are not a photographer. The camera is put aside. You are a friend. You are not there to take pictures in this moment. You are there to hold hands, to wipe tears, to help in any way that you can, for anyone who may need it. That is all I could think in that moment. Shortly after, the room of nurses parted just a little and we see baby through the crowd! Followed of course by a low cry and, more tears of joy and relief. This time not just by mom, but Dad (and me) as well. She has the most beautiful face. She has a head full of brown hair and by far the longest lashes I have ever seen on a newborn. She is absolutely perfect in every single way.
Please remember, as a birth photographer, our job is not always taking pictures. Our job is not always glamorous. Our job IS always raw, emotional and full of love. THAT is how we should capture each and every birth story. There are going to be times that we witness things that will forever change us as a person. There will be moments that send us home to hug our own families a little tighter. I have had several of those over the last few years. You can never fully prepare yourself for those moments. However, we must always be ready to be that extra support person if they do. We should know how to tell the birth story with traumatic experiences, without focusing on the trauma.
"We have a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong." ~Laura Stavoe Harm All images © Heather Holbrook Photography