birth :: eliza dawn

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?

life with a newborn :: roselyn grace

Sweet Roselyn. Her birth tested and stretched her parents in ways they couldn't have anticipated. I know because I was lucky enough to be present for much of it, and witnessed their strength and love in that space. The sacrifices of love they made for one another and for Roselyn in birth continue to shine in these early weeks of life together as a family of 3. They're a beautiful little family and they happen to have rad retro taste, too. I love these quite Sunday morning moments at their home, spent nursing and making baby footprints, preparing a large brunch feast while sipping coffee, and loving on each other. 

life with a newborn :: evie

Evie is six weeks old. Her papa, Ben, recently finished up his medical residency, and their whole family is settling into new normals in the wake of both her birth and the change in seasons for his vocation. But these four take it all in stride. This is a naturally-minded, plant-growing, espresso-loving, good-humored family that doesn't sweat the small stuff. And they did a great job of not showing off for me, which means the rawness element that I so cherish is really present and beautiful in these images. 

While I was at their home, Evie woke from a nap and got changed and nursed with her mama Alisha while Ben and Ginnie made coffee together. They all had a porch sit, did sidewalk chalking, and sampled herbs from the garden. In the backyard, we picked cherry tomatoes and gathered eggs from the henhouse, then moved to the back room for a breastfeeding break and some creative art time. Lastly, Ginnie showed me her cardboard airplane and got some rides in it before they all loaded up to walk to nearby Riverside Park as I waved them off. 

Wishing this family all the best as they continue to find their new normals and dig deeper into their life in Grand Rapids (they're from Australia)! 

family photojournalism :: tessa + claire

Tessa and Claire have a special connection, characterized by hope and joy. Together with Claire's "big sister" golden retrievers, they've got a lot good going on. I joined them at home for a couple of hours one day to simply capture their ordinary life together, mother and daughter. From play time on the floor, to a little laundry, picnicking in the yard, getting the mail, taking a walk with the dogs, diaper changes, feeding time, and going down for nap, it was sweet to see how in sync these two are. We ended our time together with a few snapshots of some of what Tessa does when Claire is napping! I loved including this, and I think it was a first.

Here's to mothers and daughters, and the sacred ordinary.

family photojournalism :: the marsalese family

This summer, Cherith and I did a session swap! What a gift to know another gifted family documentary photographer in the greater Grand Rapids area! I joked with Cherith that she is the town mouse and I am the city mouse, but though we live in different scenery, there's a great deal we have in common (including the fact that we are both birth photographers and had our babies at home with the same midwife). It felt familiar in some ways to go out to her home and photograph her with her little tribe. They live with intention and grace, quietly and simply, complete with homeschooling, chickens, and backyard bonfires. The boys have a tree fort and rope swing, and their littlest one loves eating the blackberries that grow on their property. I'll stop talking and let the photos speak for themselves. 

family photojournalism :: the deboni family

They inspire me to no end, this family. They are wild + free, engaged and invested in things that matter in our city, they adventure together, and they are crafting a life of intentionality, sowing into dreams. 

I got a little emotional looking back at the last session I did for them, back in 2015 because oh my goodness, how much these little people can grow over the course of two small years. It reminds me why being photographed over and over again across time makes such a meaningful story of a family's life together. 

Come along with this amazing little crew as they go for a walk around their neighborhood, enjoy strawberry shortcake on the deck, play in the garden and yard, examine bugs, and read together. 

I'm scheduling for October now. Reach out!