birth :: raela jane

This was Jessica's second home birth and I got to be with her for both (Here is Will's story). It's been SUCH an honor and gift to watch their family grow. 

Also, I brought my newborn along to her birth at her invitation, since she knew I was a bit nervous about photographing a birth so soon after my own. So that explains the other baby you'll see in the photos below. 

Jessica's written birth story follows the images. Please take a moment to comment to encourage and congratulate her! 

I was nervous. Really nervous. I didn’t want to go for the non-stress test (NST). At 42 weeks and 2 days, I didn’t want to hear that everything was fine with the baby and to just keep waiting patiently for labor to start. But I also didn’t want to find out my baby wasn’t doing well and that I needed to be induced or have a cesarean. In my mind, it was basically a lose-lose scenario I was facing. No matter what the result, I wasn’t going to be happy.

I had tried almost everything to get this baby out – eating spicy food, fresh pineapple, six dates a day from 38 weeks, walking, bouncing on my birth ball, stairs, sex, drinking really strong red raspberry leaf tea, massaging pressure points with essential oils, chiropractic adjustments, pleading and bargaining with God, and at 41 weeks and 3 days, I had my midwife sweep my membranes. You could say I was getting desperate. I felt like I had been pregnant forever and would be pregnant forever. The excitement over meeting my baby girl had dwindled because I had lost hope that she was ever going to come. It didn’t help that I started having prodromal/practice labor at 38 weeks. Or that there had been at least three times where I was convinced it was baby day, so we shipped our three-year old son Will off to my mom’s. Andy was getting really good at setting up the room where I was planning to give birth to our daughter… and then having to put it all away when my contractions would peter out.

The boredom. I was so bored. My “to do before baby” list had been done for weeks. I was sick of take-out food and wanted to eat the freezer meals I had prepped for postpartum. I was hormonal and crying every day. I was short-tempered with Will. I was just over it. And I was incredibly sick of people telling me their stories of how long they were pregnant or telling me to “enjoy these last days with Will” or “enjoy the last baby kicks”. Clearly none of them had gone past their due dates. I was so over my pregnancy.

I was also sure my birth team was about to fire me. I had sent so many texts so many different times to give them the “heads up” that I was afraid they wouldn’t take me seriously when (if??) the day actually came. Or more likely, I would hold off on calling them when I actually was in labor and end up giving birth alone.

Our midwife, Jennifer knew I was at the end of my rope. On Sunday (February 5), she dropped off some homeopathics for me to use to try to kick-start labor. “Just remember, if your body isn’t ready, they won’t do anything,” she told me. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d heard that already. I just wanted to try it. I was running out of things to try.

The next morning (February 6), I woke up with a lower back ache and what felt like period cramps. I thought, “Okay, great. Here we go again.” I didn’t really put much thought into it, sent Andy off to work, and proceeded with a typical Monday: breakfast for me and Will, playing with Will as best I could at 42 weeks pregnant, etc. I was supposed to go for my NST that afternoon, but hadn’t yet heard what time. We had been living one day at a time, not knowing when I might go into labor, so I hadn’t showered the night before or really had a plan for how to get ready for my appointment while wrangling my energetic three-year old. I ended up calling my mom and asking if she could come for an hour so I could shower and get ready. My plan was to actually “get ready” for my appointment – do my hair and put on make-up (what?!) so I didn’t look like the worn down, 42-weeks pregnant lady that I certainly was and felt like. I had been having some contractions that morning, but since I’d been having them for weeks, I again ignored it.

When I was in the shower, I noticed that a couple of the contractions were getting stronger than the ones earlier that morning. I decided to start keeping an eye on the clock to see if there was any consistency to them. I noticed after my shower that I had a missed call from the hospital regarding scheduling my NST, so after getting dressed, I called back. As I sat on hold, I had another stronger contraction… 10 minutes after the previous one. By the end of the call, I knew what time my NST was scheduled for (1:30 that afternoon), and was on my knees in front of the couch after another stronger contraction… 8 minutes after the previous one. Maybe I wouldn’t be going for the NST? I could only hope.

At 10:00, I sent Andy a text putting him on alert that I’d been having contractions every 8-10 minutes consistently, and suggested he work from home that afternoon. When he didn’t reply after a few minutes, I called. He hadn’t seen my text. I told him my contractions were 8-10 minutes apart. He said he had some work to finish up but would then head home. He listened as I breathed through a contraction. He said he could leave work in about an hour and we said goodbye. I thought, “Okay, that’s fine. This will probably peter out anyway.” My mom had come upstairs while I was finishing up my call with Andy and another contraction started. I told her she should probably take Will to her house, and I helped to pack up his things. Will asked me if his baby sister was coming today, and I told him “maybe”. My mom wasn’t 100% comfortable leaving me by myself, but I assured her that even if I was in labor, I wouldn’t be having the baby in the next hour.

Soon after my mom and Will left, I called my midwife to let her know what time the NST was scheduled for (she was planning to meet me at the hospital) and to let her know about my contractions. She told me to keep her posted. Lucky for me, my midwife’s birth assistant lives next door to us and was my doula for Will’s birth. I sent her a text asking if she could come over until Andy got home from work in about an hour. I sent my doula, Emily, a text apologizing for the short notice and asking if she could come as soon as possible. I also sent our photographer a text and let her know what was going on as well. I was pretty sure this was it, but was still hesitant. I hated putting everyone on alert, but thought I’d better just in case.

Less than an hour after my first call to him, I called Andy again to see what his status was – was he still at work or on his way home? At this point, my contractions had really picked up and were 3-4 minutes apart. He had just left work, which meant it would be about 20 minutes until he was home. Our neighbor and birth assistant arrived shortly after that call and found me sitting on my birth ball leaning on the bed with my laptop playing my birth playlist. Our doula arrived soon after, and then Andy was home.

After being at our house for about an hour, our neighbor/birth assistant left to go pick up her babysitter. I was about to ask her if she thought I would be having the baby today, then realized if she was getting her babysitter, it meant I most likely was. This was real. Our doula reheated some macaroni and cheese for me to eat and I had some fresh pineapple – all between contractions that were getting increasingly more intense. Around 12:30 our neighbor/birth assistant returned, and our midwife arrived shortly thereafter.

I spent the next hour and a half laboring on my birth ball, on hands and knees, on the toilet, and standing/leaning on Andy. As a doula myself, I realized I was silently “doula-ing” myself after each contraction, recognizing where I was tensing up and telling myself during the next contraction to try to relax more. At one point, while in the bathroom, I picked up on discussions happening outside the bathroom about getting the pool set-up. At 2:00, I asked if I could get into the pool and was told I could. Immediately, I felt the baby moving around, trying to get into the ideal position to be born. Our photographer arrived and had her 8 week old baby girl with her. I had told her she could bring her along and hearing her daughter’s coos and cries I think helped with getting my oxytocin flowing for birthing my own baby girl. A second midwife arrived around 2:00 as well. I continued laboring in the pool. My contractions were so strong, and I kept reminding myself to breathe and to try and relax through each one. Andy was on one side of me holding my hand, and our doula was on the other side holding my hand and giving me drinks of water between contractions. Each contraction felt stronger than the one before it and it was getting harder and harder to relax. The words, “I can’t do this” left my mouth several times.

I felt nauseated. I was shaking. I felt like I needed to push, but how could that be? It was too soon. I didn’t want to push if my cervix wasn’t dilated all the way, if my body wasn’t ready. How could it be ready already? Our midwife told me that if I felt like I needed to push, I could push. Pushing hurt. Pushing was scary. I didn’t want to tear like I did with Will’s birth. Our midwife knew this and reminded me to push gently and to blow through my contractions. It was so hard. At one point, I lost my rhythm and breath. I screamed. I wanted to stand up and run away from my labor. But I couldn’t. My labor was me – my body – doing the work to birth my daughter. I kept at it.

I never got to feel Will’s head as he was being born due to the position in which I was pushing. But when my midwife told me my daughter’s head was out and that I could reach down and feel her, I did. She told me that when I felt ready, I could push the rest of her body out. One push. One more push. And there she was! “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus,” was all I could say after such an intense labor. I wasn’t pregnant anymore! My baby was here! Raela Jane was here. Finally! Hallelujah!

(I had hoped for my baby to be born en caul (in the bag of waters) and she almost was! Somewhere between birthing her head and shoulders, the bag broke. I had been unaware of it, but Andy saw it happen.)

Although it had felt like I had been pushing for an hour, it had only been 15 minutes! And after delivering the placenta and getting checked out, I was told I didn’t have any tears and didn’t need any stitches! Praise the Lord!

Raela had a great latch and nursed right away. Andy took her while I used the bathroom, got dressed, and settled in on our bed. Our midwife did the newborn exam right there on our bed. Everyone guessed at how much she would weigh – my guess being the highest at 9 lbs 1 oz. When our midwife weighed Raela, she exclaimed, “Oh, Jessica!” and I thought my guess had been right on the mark. Then she said, “She’s 9 lbs 12 oz!” Oh my goodness! I seriously had just pushed an almost 10 lb baby out my vagina and didn’t tear?!?! I was beyond thankful!

Raela was perfect. A little extra wrinkly and dry from being 16 days past her estimated due date, but everything else was perfect. A six hour labor and 15 minutes of pushing, and she was here. Our doula had made my requested tatertot breakfast casserole for us to eat that night, and our birth team started heading their own separate ways after Andy, Raela and I were settled in. My mom and Will came for a short visit and to bring a birthday cake for Raela. Upon meeting his sister, Will exclaimed, “I waited a long time for baby sister to get here!” So did we, buddy. So did we.

birth :: laelia lore

In the past I've written out my brief account of each birth I attend as a photographer. But as I'm learning more about birth work, I'm learning that it's important to use caution when adding one's own version of a mother's birth as a layer over their own perception and experience. It is better to let them find their own words to tell it and meaning for it first, only adding one's own when invited to do so. So this year you'll notice a difference in how I blog birth stories. Birth Story posts will either include the birth story written by the mama herself OR some bare bones facts from me, but not a narrative by me. In doing this, I hope to leave each family the space to own their stories fully, while letting the photos speak for themselves. 

Below, the photos are posted first. For those interested (which I hope is everyone!) in reading Iona's beautifully written account of her daughter's birth, it's at the END of this post. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read it!

From my perspective, I only want to say this: that developing a trusting relationship with Iona during our pregnancies, holding space for her during her birth and witnessing how beautifully she brought her daughter earth-side was truly such a fortifying gift to receive just days before my own labor and birth. I'm forever grateful. (Laelia was born 12.11 and my Maeve was born 12.16)



I was told while pregnant with my first, that every birth is different.  My first born's birth was very difficult, I suffered from back labor, my water was broken for at least a week before I even went into labor (which we did not find out until I was pushing), then after hours and hours and hours of pushing, he finally arrived, only to have his shoulder stuck with his cord around his neck!  After the delivery I had extreme bleeding where I needed to have a shot of pitocin, which thankfully slowed the bleeding down.  I thought after his birth, that maybe I would only have one.  However as he began to grow, so did my desire to have another, which brings us to the birth story of Laelia Lore.

As soon as we found out we were expecting again, I immediately text my midwife Sara to let her know, and set up our first appointment.  A few weeks later I scheduled our birth photographer Brooke.  She was a available for the photography, but we needed a backup just in case because we were only due 12 days apart!

My estimated due date came and went, which wasn't much of a surprise because I did not go into labor with my first until almost two weeks past.  As luck would have it  I came down with a cold a day before my estimated date, that would not end!  It did however help my eagerness to go into labor subside, because I just wanted to get better before the baby arrived.  Finally at 6 days "overdue" the cold was gone.  I was told by multiple people that when sickness struck the household around their due date, they went into labor within 2 days.  Of course babies decide when they want to come, and on day 8 of being "overdue", I went  into I don't care/nesting mode.  I shoveled my entire driveway, sidewalk, and porch.  Hauled my heavy vacuum up three flights of stairs to vacuum, then hauled it back down.  Cleaned the bathrooms, kitchen, dusted, etc. I then made some peppermint brownies, hoping maybe that would finally do the trick, but again no.  The next day came, and again there was nothing.  When I went to bed that night, I started to get that feeling of "is this baby ever going to come out?" It also started to drive me crazy that we didn't know the gender.  I just wanted to meet this little baby that had been growing inside me, and I hated that I didn't even know what the sex was, it didn't bother me the entire pregnancy, but it was definitely starting to.  

At around 3:15am on Sunday, December 11 I woke up to use the bathroom, and noticed I was feeling something that maybe could be contractions!  I decided to get something to eat just in case it indeed was and in case is progressed fast.  I ended up not eating at all the day I went into labor with my son, and I was so out of energy by the time I had to push.  I did not want to make that mistake again.  I ended up eating a half a cold burger that was left over from dinner and a brownie (I know funny combo), then I went back upstairs to get more sleep.  I awoke again at around 5:30am, I was still having contractions, but they didn't seem any stronger then the ones I felt only hours before.  I didn't want to wake my husband or son, and was still unsure if this was indeed labor, so I decided to take a bath and start timing them.  I could barely feel anything while I was taking a bath, but I still did have a tightening feeling.  The feeling was coming regularly, so I decided to text Sara and Brooke to let them both know to be on alert because I was in labor!  Sara told me to get more rest and something to eat, she was finishing up with a birth at that moment.  Brooke then text and said to stop timing them as well and just take it easy, and yay I went into labor before her so she would be able to do the photography!  I am so happy she told me to stop timing them because I was so full of adrenaline knowing I'd finally meet my baby soon, timing the contractions only made it worse! My husband Chris text around that time asking if everything was ok.  I responded that I was in early labor, he should get some more rest, and I'd wake him if it picked up.  I went downstairs and napped on our rug in the living room, I was worried about my water breaking on our couch.  There, I slept for another 2 hours.  I was in such a deep state of sleep, it was as if I was not in labor.  I never woke to any contractions.  When I finally did wake, I started stand up, and had a huge surge that paralyzed my body.  My legs were so stiff, I was frozen in a hands and knees position.  It was as if my baby and my body were wanting me to get that rest, and all of the contractions that would've been, went into that one huge contraction.  When the contraction was over, I got up waiting for the next one.  When it came, it again was very mild and gentle like the earlier ones.  

At about 8:30am my husband and son were finally awake, and we started to make breakfast.  My mom was also now on her way to help out with our son throughout the labor.  Sara text around then asking how things were progressing.  I told her that there was a lot of love in the house, we were about to eat breakfast, and that I thought this would be a long labor because everything was still so mild. She then told me that she had to head off to Greenville now, because someone else went into labor before I did!  I told her not to worry, this baby has a plan, and that everything was going to work out.  That made her feel a bit more at ease with having to attend birth number two in 12 hours, and being 30-45 minutes away from birth number three!  We then ate our last breakfast as a family of three, and my mom arrived.  I decided after breakfast I was going to take a shower.  I still felt as though my labor was not progressing, but wow did that shower feel amazing!  I did not want to get out!  Chris came up to check on me, I told him I was enjoying this time alone, so he let me be.  I then exited the shower, dried my hair, and got dressed.  

I had not been contacting Sara because of her being at another birth, and because of my slow progressing labor.  Brooke and I were keeping in contact, she offered earlier to come by because of my not being able to have Sara there.  The fact this was not a textbook labor had me very confused, but I declined because I was enjoying my time alone, and was worried about wasting anyone's time by being here. 

Since I felt that this labor was going to last days because of the mild contractions, I decided I was going to lie down for yet another nap!  This time it was a little harder to relax throughout the contractions, but I was still able to fall into a half sleep.  At around 12:30pm I got up from my third nap, and text Brooke again shortly after.  She asked me questions about the contractions, then told me to tell her to come before I felt she needed me to.  I asked her if she was saying that because of the weather (I failed to mention earlier the fact we were in the midst of a serious stow storm for the past 12 hours) or if it was because of my being further along then I realized.  She responded back with both, then elaborated with just because the contractions were inconsistent, did not mean they were not doing anything.  I decided after that conversation that I would try and eat again (remember I thought this would be a marathon labor) so I grabbed some almonds and sat on a birth ball.  I started asking Chris what he thought, how far along did he think I was?  He told me I seem to be in control of it all, and what did I think.  I also asked my mom, she was beginning to get a little worried because she said that I had been in labor now for over nine hours, which was how long my first labor was, and this was my second. 

About an hour after that text, still trying to figure out how far along I was, I broke down and started crying.  I was again asking Chris for his opinion, when I felt the anxiety fill me, then fear of no one being here to attend.  I knew at that moment that I needed someone there.  Thanks to the Bradley Method classes I took when pregnant with my son, I knew that I must be in transition!  I immediately text both Becky (student midwife with Sara) and Brooke, I told them I was crying and I needed someone with me now!  I still had it in the back of my head that this would be the longest labor ever, and was worried I'd be wasting their time, but I was crying.  Sara was still in Greenville at that time, but Brooke was on her way!  She first had to pick up Sara's mom, Anni, who is also a midwife, just in case Sara and Becky would not make it in time. They were just finishing up with the birth in Greenville when I text. As soon as I knew Brooke was on her way the contractions seemed to pick up.  They were growing in strength, and the time inbetween was decreasing, I was growing extremely anxious. I practiced my deep breathing, and moaning instead of screaming (again something I learned from my previous labor) I read my birth affirmations aloud through each contraction, why could I still speak during these!?

Sometime just after 2:00pm Brooke and Anni arrived!  They walked into the house while I was in the middle of a contraction, Anni asked where I'd like to have the baby.  What? I had to think of a place!? I had just been letting everything happened however it was, I hadn't put any thought into it!  I decided upstairs in our bedroom seemed fitting, so off Anni and Chris went to get the bed and room ready.  I sent my mom and son downstairs, and Brooke stayed with me.  I had to use the bathroom, I pulled down my skirt and underwear and there it was, my bloody show.  I stood up on the toilet and walked into the kitchen where I all of a sudden felt the urge to push.  There was so much pressure!  We then went upstairs to my bedroom where I had another contraction at the side of my bed.  I had had a dream weeks before of this pain free labor, standing by my fireplace letting my baby push its way out.  That was almost exactly what was happening!  I was having a love hate relationship with the pushing while standing, but continued to stand for a couple more pushes.   Anni told me I was strong enough, and that I could do it, but to me it did not feel right.  I squatted at the side of the bed, and that's when my water broke.  I also did not like the feeling of squatting, so back to standing I went.  Then there was another contraction, the head was almost to the surface.  I fell forward onto my bed, yes that was the postion I wanted! Chris grabbed the ball downstairs for me to lean on, it was perfect! At about that same time Sara and Becky also arrived, Brooke went downstairs to let them in.  They came upstairs, I was continuing to push.  Oxytocin then filled the room, I thanked the beautiful life inside me for being so patient and kind, and for waiting to make sure everyone was there. Tears filled the room.  They had me lift my right leg because the baby's hand was by it's face,  and the baby was starting to bruise.  Anni came up towards my face and told me to close my mouth and use that energy and push down and out.  I started to feel that ring of fire, and thought in my head, why did I decide to do this again?  After a few more good pushes the head was out, one push later came the body.  I saw my beautiful baby lying on my bed then looked down and saw it was a GIRL!!!  The most beautiful baby girl I had ever seen, I again felt the surge of oxytocin. Our beautiful daughter Laelia Lore was born at 3:07pm.  Only about an hour after Anni and Brooke arrived, and only 10 minutes after Sara and Becky arrived.  My mom and son decided to sneak upstairs, they couldn't hear a thing downstairs, and wanted to listen for any signs of anything.  I am so grateful the snuck up when the did because they heard Laelia's first cry.  "The baby sounds like a tiger" my son told my mom. The placenta came shortly after (again another surprise, my sons took forever to deliver).  Becky showed the placenta to me, then scooped it away to make me a delicious (I'm not kidding) smoothie.  They checked to see how I was bleeding, and they said everything was great.  No shot of pitocin this time! 

The saying every birth is different could not be more true, I seriously went from one extreme, to the other.  My baby and body were the perfect team, and I could not be more grateful for how that entire day went, it was magical.

birth :: maeve december

So many brave mamas allow me to share bits of their birth stories and tons of their birth photos in this space on a regular basis. I'm so grateful for their offerings of love to the community of childbearing women who need to hear one another's stories so desperately. Today I offer up my own most recent birth story and birth photographs. May it nourish and encourage you, mamas!

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I’d been saying all along that I would be “late” with this baby. There were so many loose ends to wrap up, and I could tell she wasn’t huge, and therefore I suspected she’d probably hang out a little past her EDD, packing on a bit more weight. I was cool with it, relieved even.

Until the last BIG thing on my “list of things that must be done before I can have a baby” was checked off, just a few days before my EDD. I attended the most beautiful, soulful, gratitude-filled home birth in the middle of a snow storm, present with my whole heart and my cameras to help this amazing mama tell her birth story. I went home happy and satisfied and expecting on some level that I’d immediately go into labor. I did not.

So for the next few days I was firmly positioned in that awful in-between space that one almost inevitably falls into when pregnant with a full term baby. The irritability, the suspense, the weariness and the bodily discomfort, the hormonally enhanced emotionality swinging to and fro.. something is about to happen, and soon, but soon is so darn RELATIVE.

I spent a day weeping, another day raging, all while trying to keep a schedule inclusive of both rest and activities to look forward to with people I enjoy, activities which might also include labor (going out for greasy food with my SIL, walking the skywalks downtown with two friends from my church family, a date night at home with Tim *wink*). I also engaged in some house-cleaning, both literal and figurative. I dug deep to tend to any emotional, psychological or relational hang-ups that I could clear out of the way. Whether or not doing this work is what ultimately summoned Maeve to be born, I cannot say, but all the same, it was a good cleansing process that set the stage to welcome her.

Throughout much of this pregnancy, whenever I’ve tried to imagine what her birth would be like, I kept coming back to this picture of myself, kneeling on the floor, alone at night, and birthing her in complete solitude. An interesting recurrent image, since the actual plan involved a small army of birth workers, most significantly Sara, with whom I’ve done all of my births!, but each cherished and safe people whose presence has a lot of meaning for me, as well as at least two of our kids and a birth photographer. I had a lot of tension around these two contradictory pictures of my birth, and I felt unable to choose one over the other, so I told myself just to watch and see how things unfolded, to make the call about how truly alone I would be only after labor had actually commenced. When one of my midwives said, simply, “this birth will be perfect in every way,” it made me cry when I repeated it aloud. That helped me to let go of control and concern over the details and just trust that whatever it ended up looking like, it would indeed be perfect. God knows.

On Friday (Dec 16), the day I had woken up determined to use reverse psychology by telling myself often and with confidence that I wasn’t ever going into labor and that’s just fine because I don’t even want to (so there!), I was having a pretty good day. My mom took the kids for the morning, so Tim and I got to putz around our quiet light-filled house, doing little nesting tasks, drinking coffee slowly, and switching into a more relaxed mode of being. I even ran out to the public library to pick out a few books to pass the time, and came home with titles such as “I heart my little a-holes,” “after birth (a novel)” and a collection of Anne Lamott’s essays (I find her to be the most pleasant postpartum companion).

The kids went off to school for the afternoon, and I took a nap while Walter was napping. My friend Whitney — who is a dairy farmer — texted me with wishes/predictions that my labor may begin that night as a cold front was moving in. She explained that cold fronts seem to bring on labor in their cows, to which I responded, “well then, in this regard, may I be like a cow!” and laughed. After all the kids were back home and/or up from nap at 4:30, Tim went out for a drink with his friend and mentor across town, and had plans to stop to pick up my favorite burger from The Cottage Bar on his way back around 6 pm. While he was gone, the snow started to fall and I started having contractions. But they weren’t bad and I could keep doing all the usual activities. I felt so irritable though. After the kids’ dinner (chicken nuggets and frozen veggies that they didn’t really eat), I lost my cool so badly with Hazel and Gus due to an unfortunate incident with watered down laundry detergent in the wood burning stove and on the living room floor, for which neither would admit responsibility. I found myself acting like my ugliest, raging version of myself and then had to lock myself in the bathroom for a time out until everything could diffuse a bit. More contractions.

Tim finally got home at about 6:30 and I was HANGRY. I ate that burger so fast. More contractions. I initiated bedtimes with the kids. Part of my brain knew that this might be the night, so I put each child to bed individually, to make it special, one last one-on-one time with each before their sister would be born, I reasoned and hoped. Walter was down, then Gus, then finally Hazel. And in between Walter and Gus’ bedtime routines, I found bloody mucous on the toilet paper when I went to the bathroom. I told the kids that it meant their sister would be coming soon, probably tonight.

By 7:30 they were all in bed, nice and early. I texted Sara (midwife) to tell her I thought I was in real labor, but early labor, and that I’d keep her posted. We wondered if contractions would pick up now that the kids were in bed. I timed them for a bit. They were 30-45 seconds long and 5-6 minutes apart. Nothing to write home about. So I grabbed my Anne Lamott book, went downstairs and paced from one end of our long house to the other, reading he soulful, funny words and gently contracting from time to time. Tim was wrapping up some of his own loose ends at the dining room table, writing important emails, and was largely unaware of what my body was doing. I was still hesitant to “call it” as labor because it was so erratic and not that intense. But at the same time, I could feel more pressure, I could feel my hips widen and my gait change to accommodate that. I had a few contractions that made me draw in my breath more sharply, but I was still walking, still reading.

So I went upstairs to sit on the yoga ball and timed contractions for a bit, from 8:35 to 8:50 pm. They were only 30 seconds long (and one minute-long one) and 2-3 minutes apart. Still nothing to write home about, in fact, those are lame early labor numbers right there! But I texted Tim (who was downstairs), “I’m for sure in labor. It’d be good if you could come make up the bed with the plastic sheet and the ‘don’t care if they get bloody’ sheets.” As he did that, I kept chatting with people on Facebook in between contractions, I cleaned the bathtub, I listened to Tim talk about the things he was writing emails about (until I couldn’t focus). The contractions seemed productive, but it also seemed like labor was puttering out, as the surges were so erratic still. I decided to put myself to bed, thinking maybe it had been a false start afterall (as I had had a few of these in the previous week and a half). So I texted Sara and Amy (birth photographer) to tell them that, then Tim left the room and I put on my pajamas and laid down in bed in the dark. This was at about 9:50 pm I think. By 10:02, I was texting Tim to come back, as I could tell things were picking up. So much for going to bed!

10:12 pm I’m texting Sara again — “hmmm. I don’t think sleep is going to be possible. They’re more intense and I can feel her descending. Maybe you should come now”. I texted Amy something similar. Then I laid there on my side, feeling the surges, breathing through them, feeling her move lower and lower… until I couldn’t lay down anymore and I got up on my hands and knees. Tim rubbed some labor blend EOs on my lower back, and massaged my back through the surges. We discussed whether or not to wake the kids to come watch, as they had wanted, but we weren’t sure there was time and we had no one there to tend to them, so we decided to let them sleep.

My legs were shaking. My water broke. Still I was personally texting Sara with these developments and updates between contractions. Still I wouldn’t call it pain, just mounting intensity. Yet I knew baby was coming very soon, cos I could feel her moving down. I kept saying affirmations aloud: “These surges aren’t stronger than me, they are me!” and “My baby is coming” and “I can do this.” At a certain moment I knew that I didn’t want to be alone, I wanted Sara! She was en route, but I wasn’t sure she’d make it in time. The next two contractions my body started to involuntarily push, but I didn’t start pushing with it just yet.

10:27 (?) pm, Sara appeared at my bedroom door, put on her gloves, and took her place beside Tim at the end of the bed. Becky (Sara’s senior midwife student) also slipped in very shortly after Sara. Now I began pushing with my body. The baby was moving down fast, squeezing everything out of my bowels along the way, like they were a tube of poop toothpaste (you’re welcome). I could feel her head hit my perineum, then crown. I was aware of every bit, and at one point moaned, “Remind me why I wanted to do this again?!” That was the only point it truly hurt and I was sure I was tearing. Sara announced that she had a compound hand, her arm was crossed over her lower face and that hand resting on the opposite cheek, so Sara reached in and pulled that hand out in front of her head, at which point, the rest of her head was easily born. The surges blurred together with no apparent breaks between, so it was just one long, mighty push — voluntary effort combined with involuntary reflex — before the rest of her was also born (10:32 pm). There was the instant relief of being emptied, of incredible pressure being released… followed nearly immediately by a cry from her tiny lungs, strong and healthy. “My baby! My baby!” I said through emotion, though I couldn’t see her yet. I momentarily rested my head on the pillows in front of me, filled with relief, just taking a moment before turning to meet her. “Did you catch her?!” I asked Tim, and he replied that he had, and that she was so slippery! I awkwardly maneuvered around to face her, with Becky helping me maneuver my leg over the attached cord, and gathered Maeve from Tim’s hands and into my arms and against my chest. She was here at last. We had done it!

And then Charis came in, looking joyfully shocked, followed quickly thereafter by Amy, holding a camera and looking full of disbelief that she had missed the grand entrance.

For the next hour and a half, I laid back on the bed, holding and nursing Maeve and chatting happily with my birth team. I was surrounded by strong, wise women and a supportive and engaged husband now, in these sweet moments after her birth. We laughed as we pieced together the progression of my labor and the timeline of how I’d communicated with each of them, and exclaimed how crazy it was that it nearly ended up being the unassisted birth I had envisioned. And because Sara has been my midwife with all four of my children, we got to reminisce and compare the births and features of all of them.

My placentas have ALWAYS taken about 2 hours to detach. This time was no exception. But we knew this in advance, so we didn’t even do much to try to deliver it until the hour and a half mark, at which point Becky took  me to the bathroom to squat on the toilet with a chux pad beneath the seat until it decided to detach. She sat on the floor and talked with me and coached me through the tiny pushes and coughs until at last, there it was. Fully in tact, no excessive bleeding accompanying it, and I was finally done with the birth process.

I hobbled back to the bedroom where Tim had been doing skin-to-skin time with Maeve, and hopped back up on the bed to personally do her newborn exam, while Sara and Becky coached me through it! This was a first for me. But since the dream of becoming a midwife was birthed in me during my pregnancy with her, I thought that practicing this little skill set on my very own baby would be a fun little nod to that process of becoming. A few days before her birth, Sara’s mom, Anni, a midwife of 30 years and a mentor to me, had given me and Charis and Becky a little class on doing the newborn exam, so here I got to put it into practice right away. Using my own hands, I intentionally explored her from head to toe, checking sutures and fontenelles, palpating her abdomen, measuring her head (14″ and not at all moulded), chest (14″), belly (13″), and length (20.5″), rotating her hips, running a finger down her spine and looking for placement of eyes and alignment of leg lengths, feeling her reflexes respond to my touches. What a fun and intimate way to get to know my new baby. This was really special for me! And then when it was time to weigh her in the fish scale sling, Tim took the reigns. She weighed in at 8lbs, 2 oz. Becky checked heart tones and respirations. Everything checked out perfectly.

And now I see how the two seemingly contradictory visions of her birth that I had had in my heart — one including a huge team and the other of me being all alone — were reconciled in the same story. I had labored alone in body and spirit, and then with only Tim beside me, we came to very brink of birth unassisted… but then just in the final moments, my beloved Sara was with me, and soon after the rest of them trickled in. Their company through those first few hours with Maeve is really precious to me. So, it looks like I got both of my dreams.

Before leaving, I was tucked into bed with a placenta smoothie (Becky makes awesome ones!), a groaning cake muffin (I had baked them in advance), and a bowl of Charis’ homemade ice cream (she makes amazing ice cream). Adrenaline was still coursing through my veins, so it was quite a while before I was able to do anything resembling sleeping, and even then it was the light, hyper-vigilant sleep of a new mama holding her brand new baby across her body.

We let the older kids just keep sleeping until morning, but Tim went in to wake them up just a bit before they normally would, so that he could tell them that Maeve arrived in the night and sort of explain why they hadn’t been woken to witness it. Hazel and Walter came in right away, excited as they could possibly be. Gus needed a minute (and some breakfast) before he wanted to come in to meet her. But each one greeted Maeve that still-dark morning with joy and tenderness. Made my mama heart melt into a puddle.

All photos by the amazing Amy Carroll

family photojournalism :: the (other) kuchan family

Sometimes people I love photographing refer people they love to also have me photograph their families. That's pretty much the highest honor, delivering a lot of warm fuzzies to this heart of mine. Such is the case here! The Kuchan family I first met, whose TWO births I've photographed, sent their brother and sister-in-law my way this fall. This second Kuchan family is every bit as wonderful as the first one, with their own unique flavor. 

A vintage flavor! :) Their sweet midcentury modern home features amazing decorating elements that haven't been touched since the 70s (and they like it that way), and is filled with all of Cat's vintage thrift store finds, which fit in perfectly. But best of all is the little love named Meris who entered their lives four months ago and captured their hearts. 

Cat and Daniel and Meris were awesome at just going about their usual rituals and routines whilst I was there. Because of that, we captured so many tiny ordinary details and activities, the kind of stuff my documentary heart delights in. 

Side note: You'll see in some of these photos that Meris is being held naked over the bathroom sink. Why? Elimination communication! It's a method of toilet learning that starts in early infancy and sometimes results in diaper-free kiddos by age 1! It was fun to see this in action and I'm feeling a bit tempted to try it out with my new arrival, too. 

family photojournalism :: the kranzo family

Somewhere outside Lansing, MI a family of 5 resides in an artful midcentury modern home. Their days are spent almost entirely together, as Kyle works from home as an independent designer and Melissa parents full time and whole-heartedly their three small children. The amount of thought and love invested in every detail of their home and family rhythms is hard to miss, from the daily walk to the eldest daughter's bus stop, to the regular playing of Chopped at snack time, the gallery walls of kids' art, the annual photo albums spread on the coffee table, the dance parties, and the good coffee always ready at a moment's notice. They live deep and close, this family. So to spend an afternoon in their company, observing and documenting it all unfolding was such a treat. SUCH a treat. 

It's December now, and that means I'm on maternity leave. My baby is "due" in about 2 weeks! So though I won't be shooting again until probably March, it's absolutely okay to reach out between now and then to book your 2017 birth, fresh48, family photojournalism, or life with a newborn session. Be patient with me, as my response time might be a bit slower, but I'm here and booking for Spring onward.

family photojournalism :: the focos

Life with BOYS! One of my longest-standing friends, Kristin, has this beautiful family she's building with her husband Jeremy. And it's composed of 2 little boys and one more due to arrive this winter. They've very recently moved into their first HOUSE, a new construction that they commissioned and helped design. Though Kristin says it isn't as unpacked or decorated yet as she would like, it already feels like home. Behind their house is a huge expanse of meadow, undeveloped and wild, and they're positioned in a quiet neighborhood that's definitely the sort of place one would want to imagine raising a family. In this short story (yes, only an hour!) there was time for pumpkin bowling, bike riding, wrestling and dancing, blowing bubbles, making popcorn and general shenanigans. Never a dull moment with small and high-energy kiddos, am I right?!