13 weeks before these photos were taken, Eliza joined her family in the same sweet upper apartment on the west side of Grand Rapids where these photos are taken. You may even recognize the bedroom she currently shares with her folks from the photos I took during her birth. She's growing chunky and lovely, her eyes connect and her lips turn in a smile when she sees her people. She's a beloved daughter and sister, and these are some photos of what her life is like so far.
Chantal and Jason welcomed their amazing baby girl in a long but sacred homebirth, surrounded by both of their mothers and Jason's sister, making it truly a family affair. And about a week later I got to pop in on them and take some photos in the thick of their tender, reeling, emotional postpartum. That first week, guys. It's intense. It's everything. So much goes on in body and heart and mind; it's unlike anything else. Newborn haze is only a halfway decent description of it. But even in watching them during our session and chatting a bit between shots, I'm reminded yet again, of how much attention and TLC this so-called fourth trimester deserves. Families in these first weeks need the support of their village, and reassurance that their parental intuition is alive and well. If you know someone with a newborn, friends, offer your non-judgement presence and practical support. It matters so much.
But besides all that, it's also GORGEOUS. This new family is simply beautiful. They are awash in oxytocin, totally wrapped up in one another in all the best ways. They're off to a great start, and I know their future as a family is bright indeed.
Brothers are the best. And it was so fun to go see this pair again recently, about a year after our last session. It just keeps getting better, doesn't it? Through all the insane and mundane (the too-rough wrestling, the meltdowns and snot-wiping), photos like this help us to slow down and see how sacred and precious family life really is.
Here's a birth story (from September) with amazing beautiful elements: three generations of mothers and daughters, peaceful and unhindered birth, sisters tandem nursing, and the tenderness of many gentle hands.
I invite you to read the story first through photographs and then -- at the end of the photos -- in words penned with love by Lydia, Ayla's mama.
One detail to know upfront, however, because it will enhance your viewing: Lydia's mom is midwife Sarah LaGrand, CNM and she attended, along with her partner Breck Reinsma, CNM. The closeness of these relationships lent a really special flavor to the birth environment.
Ayla Grace - September 11, 2017
Alex and I always knew we wanted to have a second child but weren’t sure of the timing. Alex was halfway through his last year of residency and we would be moving across the state for his new job in June. Kaia was a spunky little toddler and though we thought we wanted our children to be close, we thought that it might be best to wait until after we moved to start trying for a baby. I had just spoken to a close friend about plans to push back trying for baby number two, and had just purchased a large bottle of wine to treat myself after a particularly difficult day with Kaia. As I counted down the hours until my twelve o’clock glass of wine, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I should take a pregnancy test. My breasts had been feeling unusually tender and Kaia had been fussy at the breast for a week or so. While getting Kaia ready for the day, I quickly peed on a pregnancy test and set it down to finish Kaia’s hair. I almost forgot to look at the results of the test before leaving the bathroom, so I ran back in to glance at the test before chasing after Kaia. There was an unmistakable second pink line. I was absolutely shocked. God had other plans for our family. He had probably knowingly smiled as I, just the day before, spoke of plans to put off having a second baby. Our baby was getting ready to make his or her debut in roughly nine months’ time.
It was amazing how the months absolutely flew by. Month one through three were not enjoyable. I was plagued by all day queasiness paired with several bouts of throwing up every single day. I was convinced that Kaia’s brain would turn to mush by the amount of television she watched. I just had no energy to do much of anything but lie on the couch during the day. Thankfully, by week fourteen the all day sickness had subsided. Week twenty came around and I went in for the anatomy ultrasound. The ultrasound showed a healthy baby and I breathed a small sigh of relief. Alex and I decided not to find out whether our baby was a boy or girl this time around. A few weeks after the anatomy ultrasound I began packing and getting things organized for the upcoming move. At the end of June, we moved from Ann Arbor to Holland, Michigan. Over the next several weeks, Alex and I worked hard putting our home together and get ready for the baby. I attempted to keep up with weekly belly bump pictures, but as it often happens during a second pregnancy, the first child takes much of the attention and energy away from those sorts of things. We did manage to set up a crib, take all infant items out of storage, and do several loads of laundry for the baby. We were as ready as we would ever be for the arrival of our newest family member.
On September 10, 2017, I was thirty-seven weeks and three days pregnant. I was exhausted and more than ready to hold my baby and not be pregnant any more. My parents had come to Holland for the day and took Kaia to the cottage for the afternoon. I had planned to join them but my body decided otherwise. I took a long, much needed nap instead. Upon waking, my nesting urge was incredibly strong and I was compelled to install the car seat even though I still had at least three weeks of pregnancy left. I also decided to move the baby items from the nursery to the main floor so everything would be in its place when we came home from the hospital. My parents and Kaia returned to the house in the evening and we spent the rest of the night talking and enjoying each other’s company. Before leaving my dad said, “We’ll see you soon, maybe very soon!” I thought he was crazy for even entertaining the thought that I might go into labor soon. Sometimes dad knows best…
I had a difficult time sleeping that night and felt extremely restless, my mind was racing. When would this baby finally arrive? How would my crazy toddler adjust to a new sibling? How would labor go this time around? Was the baby a boy or a girl? Would I be able to utilize the gentle birth techniques I had been practicing during actual labor? I was driving myself crazy and by this point it was midnight. Then suddenly, I was overcome with a sense of peace. I reigned in my thoughts and prayed. I asked God to calm my anxious heart, I surrendered to Him and His will, and knew that the baby would come when ready. I would try my best to enjoy these last weeks of pregnancy. Once again, God smiled knowingly as I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep in the still darkness.
I woke at two thirty in the morning to Kaia asking to be breastfed. As I lay on my side feeding Kaia, I felt a contraction. I knew what Braxton Hicks felt like and this was something more. I decided to wait it out and see if I continued to have contractions. I did. They were painful but spaced far apart and were inconsistent in duration. After having several more fairly painful contractions, I felt it was time to let Alex know. After letting Alex know what was happening, I called my mom to see what she thought I should do. She urged us to pack the car up and drive into Grand Rapids. We loaded up the car and attempted to transfer a sleeping Kaia from the bed to the car. We were unsuccessful in keeping her sleeping, but Kaia seemed to know that she needed to stay quiet and calm. During the drive to Grand Rapids my contractions continued to be painful but were still irregular. While laboring with Kaia, I had consistent contractions in time and in length getting more intense with time. I wondered if maybe I was experiencing false labor and would be soon returning home. Alex and I placed our final bets on whether the baby was a boy or girl. Alex said boy, I said girl. We would soon find out.
By the time we arrived at my parents’ house my contractions had become more spaced out, yet continued to be painful. My mom reassured me that this wasn’t unusual in second time moms. However, I still wasn’t convinced I was truly in labor. I was able to talk through each wave of contractions. I spent an hour or so cuddling with Kaia soaking up my last bit of time of just me and her while she watched Curious George. My mom gave me a much-needed foot massage and warmed up cloth bags of rice to place on my back as I was beginning to experience back labor. After a couple of hours, Alex and Kaia went upstairs to lay down to try and get some sleep. My adrenaline was pumping so I was not feeling tired though I desperately wanted to sleep. After some discussion with my mom about how we were going to proceed, I decided to have her sweep my membranes. I laid down on the floor of my childhood living room as my Mom checked me and swept my membranes. I was pleasantly surprised that the process didn’t hurt as I had imagined it would. I was four centimeters dilated and thinned out. I decided to head upstairs to Kaia and have her nurse in hopes of intensifying my contractions and it worked like a charm. Within a half an hour I was having consistent and painful contractions. The pain of back labor had also amped up and I was getting quite uncomfortable. We decided that it was time to call my birth photographer and let her know we were heading to triage.
The drive to the hospital was unpleasant and I was already ready for labor to be over, but knew I needed to be prepared for the long haul. I was breathing through contractions well and able to use gentle birth meditations to stay focused. I was monitored for twenty minutes in triage and during that time my birth photographer, Brooke, arrived. Followed closely by my midwife, Breck. She checked me and I had some a little more progress since I was last checked at my parents’ house. I was disappointed that I wasn’t further along. Things were getting more intense and the puke bucket had become a regular fixture next to me, which was miserable. I chose to use the low intervention room and was wheeled up to labor and delivery to room four. My mom drew a bath for me since I had loved being in the tub during my while laboring with Kaia. However, the bath was short lived as I could not find a position that was comfortable for me. It just wasn’t the same as the spacious, comfortable birth tub that the University of Michigan had in their birth rooms. Fortunately, my mom brought along my pregnancy pillow and I found a comfortable side lying position using the pillow. My contractions were becoming very regular at this point and I was getting even more uncomfortable. I kept waiting for my water to break, but it wasn’t happening and I was growing frustrated. I was able to keep my focus and breathe through my contractions and staying mentally in control. Breck, my mom, and the RN Ashley could tell that I was growing tired and frustrated so they suggested that I move positions. I was less than pleased to move from a relatively comfortable position, but I knew that they likely knew best in this instance. I moved to the floor and leaned over a birthing ball allowing my heavy belly to hang, moving the baby further down and into a better position for delivery. I continued to throw up with almost every contraction and was beginning to grow weary. I had been up for most of the night and had not slept well the night before, so I was exhausted and totally over the pain. To top it off, my water still hadn’t broken! It was at this moment that I wanted to throw in the towel. I decided it was time for an epidural. I asked for one—I no longer cared about my natural birth plans. Thankfully, Breck and my mom knew I could do it and was close to delivering. They suggested that we break my water, get an IV going with some pain meds, and see how things progressed. I was frustrated but knew I should give it a try.
I eventually made my way back onto the bed and readied myself to have my water broken. It was simple, quick, and almost immediately I felt the extreme pressure of the baby moving down the birth canal, engaging even further. I didn’t think it was possible, but I became even more uncomfortable as my back was in immense pain with each contraction, and the almost unbearable pressure pain grew more intense. My mom suggested that I try sitting on the toilet to see if that would help lower the baby even further. I begrudgingly waddled into the bathroom and sat on the toilet. Almost immediately I felt the urge to bare down. I let out a guttural groan that everyone in the room familiar with birth recognized as “the baby is coming soon” groan. I didn’t want to have the baby on the toilet so I decided to get back into bed. On my way to the bed I had a large contraction along with horrendous pressure. I held on to my nurse, Ashley, for dear life. She graciously supported my entire weight for the entire contraction as I bore down, moving my baby closer to the outside world. I eventually made it to the bed and resumed the side lying position I favored earlier. Unlike my first labor and delivery, I wanted Alex to not only emotionally support me, but also physically support me. I needed his hand. I needed to know that he was there right with me. I will always cherish the moment I looked up and saw two of my most loved people, my husband and my mom, supporting me together physically and emotionally.
I quickly transitioned to the very last stage of labor. We had arrived at the moment right before the baby was to come out and join us, at last. Alex held my hand, my mom held my leg and foot, and Breck sat on the end of the bed waiting and encouraging. I continued to repeat positive birth affirmations and tried to remember the pushing breathing I had practiced for several weeks prior. After using my breath to push the baby down, I felt the familiar burning sensation of the baby crowning. This was the only part of birth that scared me, but I was able to collect my thoughts and work with my body and the baby, rather than against it. I reached down and felt the baby’s head. I would soon know if I had a second daughter or my first son. I decided that I was going to have this contraction be the last contraction I would ever have. I breathed my baby out and reached down to pull the baby onto my chest. I was finally meeting my baby for the first-time earth side, face-to-face. She was so tiny and so loved. Kaia had a little sister. Kaia was a big sister! Alex and I looked at each other and looked together at the baby we created. We were so at peace and so happy. Ayla Grace completed our family perfectly. I was shaking uncontrollably from the adrenaline, but was able to get Ayla to latch on to my breast for the first time. She knew exactly what to do and we were bonded immediately.
Delivery of the placenta, and repair of my small tear soon followed. It was finally time to bring Kaia in to meet Ayla for the first time. Kaia was brought in and placed on the bed with me, Alex, and Ayla. She noticed Ayla immediately. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but Kaia gently explored Ayla’s tiny fingers, little nose, and silky soft hair. After taking her in, Kaia was ready to nurse. Our first tandem nursing session was held right then. The first of many more to come.
The joy, love, support, and serenity in room number four during the morning and afternoon of September 11, 2017 was palpable and overwhelming. I had the best labor support team comprised of my husband, mom, best friend, amazing midwife and nurse, and birth photographer. I could not have asked for a better experience and a more perfect baby. Ayla Grace Bouwhuis, we love you always and forever.
I'm currently booking birth stories for February, April, May and June of 2018. It's NOT too soon to book. Read more HERE. Then email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jovan was born through the water on a sunny but brisk October day, at almost the time of day his mama Bethany anticipated he would be. His daddy, brothers and grandma (and the family dog!) all circled the birth pool as he made his entrance.
Jordan (dad) created some amazing footage of his moment of birth. But after the initial burst of post-birth student midwife responsibilities, I picked up the camera to do the VERY fresh Fresh48 session I was asked to do. I couldn't help but begin shooting even during parts of his newborn exam because (a) I was already there and (b) I loooove homebirth newborn exams. :)
I was so glad that Bethany and Jordan wanted these photos to be extremely fresh and unscripted. He's only about an hour old in these pictures! You can still see how his nose is a bit squished and his head a bit moulded from his passage. And we got to capture the first time his big brothers and dad held him. So very special, indeed.
We're overdue for a birth story in here, aren't we?! Though I've have definitely not stopped photographing births, there's been a long string of private ones, so the one I'm about to share is the first one I've posted in quite a while. And it's a GOOD ONE, on that's definitely worth waiting for. I may be biased, but there are so many layers of personal reasons that this one is close to my own heart.
PLEASE be sure to read the written story at the end, written by the mama of this baby, Charis, who happens to be my most sisterish friend, and fellow student midwife.
[7.26.17] If I could’ve chosen, this is exactly how I would have chosen to give birth. It wasn’t without pain, but it was joyful, intentional, fear-free and surrounded by friends…and (spoiler alert) it ended with cookies a cocktail and a baby…I sincerely don’t know if I could’ve asked for anything more.
At 39 weeks and 6 days, I had been experiencing frequent cramping most mornings leading up to this day, those cramps being prodromal labor. But these contractions generally went away after I started moving around and had a large glass of water. This day started in the same way, but my usual glass of water didn’t ease the discomfort…this was my first flag to pay attention to. However, I was easily able to start my day, care for Lois, enjoy breakfast and send Jordan off to work without worry, just a simple “try not to be too far from your phone, please.”
Somewhere around lunchtime I decided that I wanted Jordan to be home because the cramping hadn’t gone away and since Lois’ birth was so fast (5 hours), I was nervous this one was going to go from 0-60 and I would be alone…which, oddly enough, it wasn’t that being alone to give birth scared me, it was just that I didn’t want to be alone…I wanted to share this with Jordan. So, I had him come home.
After a couple hours of more regular cramping, I downloaded a (stupid) contraction timer just to get a sense of how often they were happening…since keeping track of anything with a toddler running about can be a difficult task. This (stupid) app eventually told me (6 times) that I should pack up and go to the hospital and then eventually told me that I was either using the app incorrectly, or I was having inconsistent contractions…both of which were probably true, but I deleted the app at any rate deciding I knew my body and this process better than they did.
As soon as Jordan got home, the cramping paused for a while…which, after attending a fair amount of births over the last year, made me think this wasn’t the real thing after all if it could be interrupted so easily by my safest person. An hour later (around 1pm), however, our downstairs housemate, Gary, came upstairs to talk to Jordan…and this time the interruption did NOT pause my cramping…at that point, I knew, if Gary’s presence couldn’t stop what was happening in my body…nothing would.
So we had my sweet sister-in-law, Emilie, come to be with Lois and take her back to their place for the night. After Emilie arrived, the intensity of each contraction started to increase, but I still wanted Lois to be around for some of it, so we all walked over to the park around the corner to let Lois play and to help things along by moving around. It was so sweet to be with Emilie, who I love dearly, while I labored for this baby. She reminded me that she and kirk (my brother), would drop anything to help us if we needed it, including picking up a box of cookies if I asked…her presence was a joyful and encouraging one.
Now, for anyone that has had a baby or knows a little about labor flow, they say that “active labor” is when a mama turns emotionally inward and cannot go back to chatting after a contraction…
…not the case for me, apparently. Each contraction was requiring more and more focus, but as soon as it was done (never lasting for more than 45 seconds), I went right back to talking with my sister-in-law, playing with Lois, or laughing with Jordan. For this reason, I had no idea how far along I was.
Eventually, I decided it would be good for Emilie to take Lois back to their house and for Jordan and I to be alone while I labored. So, we said goodbye and headed back to our apartment where we continued to talk, laugh and even do the daily reading from the Book of Common Prayer.
I had been texting Sara, my friend, mentor and midwife, throughout the day to keep her updated on what was happening, basically ending each text with “but I don’t really think I’m very far along so you don’t need to come yet”. Finally, I just told her “well, I’m still feeling fine and normal between contractions, but if you want to just come and hang out and knit or something, that would be fine…its up to you.” Truthfully, the only reason I even said that was because I had been to enough births, seen and heard enough women in labor that I knew the sounds I was making during each contraction were sounds that would have caused me to call the midwife if I had been with another women. So, Sara told me she’d go home and change, make a couple stops on the way and then she’d be there.
But for now, it was just me and Jordan. Together we entered into this very sacred space of hard work and pain on behalf of one we love and will love so deeply. I looked around our room, my birth space, that I had slowly been preparing for weeks…it was filled with flowers, candles and birth affirmations from friends that said things like “I can do hard things”, “you are amazing…and a badass”, “Oh my heart, I would gladly suffer this pain and more to hold you in my arms at last” and “surrender opens the door to receiving.” We were together and exactly where we needed to be, in the place we felt most safe….and we would meet our baby today.
An interesting and beautiful thing to note is that before the boiler room bought the house we live in, it functioned as a neighborhood brothel…a place for women to be bought and sold for their bodies. On this day, it went from brothel to birth house…a place where women were disrespected, to a place where a little girl was born and loved so tenderly. This part of the story matters to me…its a part that screams of redemption and hope…and I pray our girls life will always scream of redemption and hope.
Around 3:45/4pm, my sister friend, neighbor, and birth photographer (fellow midwifery student, co-leader/elder in our church community, mama mentor, etc etc etc) came over, followed shortly by Sara, the midwife.
As soon as they each walked into the apartment, I greeted them from my bedroom with a cheery “hello!!”…at which, they both rolled their eyes a little and thought to themselves “we’re going to be here a while if she is that pleasant still”…however, moments later they heard me in the middle of a contraction and realized that the exact opposite was true…baby was on her way and we were real close to the end.
So, they set up their supplies and came in close…still chatting, laughing and enjoying our time together.
Soon, however, I came to a physical and emotional shift…I knew my baby would be here very soon, knew I was almost done and the weight of all that that meant hit me pretty hard and I started to freak out a little bit. Sara held my face while I cried, reminded me that I was strong enough and I wasn’t alone, and kissed me on the forehead. So, I took a deep breath, looked at the loving and supportive faces surrounding me, and dove into the last leg of this journey.
This last leg was intense. My water broke, popped like a balloon, around 4:30. Made such a loud noise that it startled jordan and I and made us laugh. As soon as it broke, Eliza’s head hit my pelvic bones, separated them and started to move through, bringing with it the most intense pain I have ever experienced.
I panicked. I called out for help. I tried to run from it and panicked even more knowing that I couldn’t escape. That lasted for 2 contractions that felt like 2 hours. The last two contractions were still intense, but I felt like I stopped running, came back into an awareness of my body and worked with it to birth her sweet head, followed shortly by her tiny body. 4:43pm.
I did it. It was over. My littlest girl was here and crying and perfectly pink and strong.
Eliza Dawn was home.
After Sara got everything cleaned up and had me sitting up in bed with my new baby, she walked into the room with a chocolate chip cookie the size of my face…my love language. Turns out, one of the stops she made on the way to my house was Nantucket Bakery for cookies. Gosh I love her. Then Jordan came in with a fresh gin & tonic, my postpartum drink of choice, for me to enjoy on this warm summer day. Quite literally, everything felt perfect…only Lois was missing from this picture.
About an hour after Eliza was born and Sara was finished stitching me, Emilie and Kirk brought Lois back for to meet her little sister…she walked into the room with a bit of a scowl on her face, confused as to why there was a baby nursing where she normally nurses. But soon, she was up on our bed, studying Eliza, saying her name, touching her face and nursing alongside her. I was all sorts of emotions. While I was pregnant, I had no idea how to prepare a 1 and a half year old for the birth of their sibling…I read her books, repeated “we’re going to have a baby” and “theres a baby in mamas belly” about 1000x’s…but I didn’t know if anything clicked for her. So, I prayed that the Father would make a space in Lois’ heart for her sister…that when Eliza was born, Lois could look at her and say “oh here you are…i’ve been waiting for you!” rather than feeling jealous and upset. And, truthfully, that has been what its like. Lois loves her little sister, repeats her name all day every day, and smiles at her even through tears. It has been such a joy and relief to see this relationship start so easily.
So now we have two little girls…two sweet gifts that we never could’ve imagined and barely know what to do with. We are taking it all one day, one moment, one need at a time and trying to be present in it all…which is really all we can do, right?