Our first experience with birth comes with so many emotions: excitement, anticipation, anxiety, joy, fear of the unknown.
I remember laying in bed wondering, “When will it happen? Will today be the day? Any time now!”
I remember the false-calls, the adrenaline of thinking you were about ready to rush to the hospital.. but no, labor had not yet come.
To be waiting, anxious, never knowing when that phone would ring…
Oh. Did I forget to mention? My first birth…. was not my own.
My first experience with birth was with a family who I barely knew (yet came to become close friends with). I was pursuing my photography more intensely then and had been contacted about doing prenatal portraits. After our initial meeting, the couple brought up the idea of birth photography. I had never done anything like that before, but pregnancy had always been something I felt drawn to. Not fully understanding what I was getting myself into, I happily agreed, and on-call I went! Phone numbers got added to my cell (with a special extra-loud ringtone) and that baby never left my side. I never realized how anticipatory a birth could be! I remember sitting with my husband on the couch when I heard that tell-tale ring, jumping up and running to the only place in our house with decent service, yelling “It’s them! It’s baby time!”. She was in the hospital – but not for the birth. Instead, she had fell down some stairs and broken her leg – 38 1/2 weeks pregnant.
But that call did come and in the most obvious way – at midnight. I thought babies were only that impatient in the movies.
“My water broke.”
I had no idea what that meant. Okay, I did – a little. But when would the baby be born? Did that mean he was coming like NOW, or did we have a while? The hospital was half an hour away, and I didn’t want to miss it! In my ignorance and excitement, I immediately got dressed and jumped in the car. (Sidenote: Also fielding another inquiry from an acquaintance who was in a different hospital wanting a photographer there to capture the birth – apparently this was THE night for babies!).
If I were writing about this experience five minutes after or five years later, I wouldn’t be able to adequately describe it from a birth professional’s description. It’s amazing how you view birth before you have birthed yourself, as opposed to after. Not only did I not understand what was happening from a medical perspective (well, besides the general version), I could not even begin to fathom the sensations my friend was experiencing (bonus points for a broken leg in a cast).
I do, however, remember the overall feeling of helplessness. Of watching her manage contractions without knowing how to give her any relief. Of having to sit outside the hospital room while she moaned in pain, while a demon who called himself an anesthesiologist attempted to administer an epidural – and calm the father who was fighting the urge to punch him in the face. Of hearing the doctor say, “If you don’t progress in the next ten minutes, we will have to do a C-section” and praying desperately that this mother could avoid such a surgery.
Praise God, this mother dilated faster in those ten minutes than I thought possible (nothing like a little pressure to motivate!). Before I knew what was happening, it was time to push!
I won’t lie: I didn’t want to be “down there”. I didn’t want to violate this mother’s privacy (another thing that changes after you birth!), but more selfishly, I didn’t know what to expect. What would it look like… would there be blood… would I pass out?! That would be so embarrassing!
The hospital room shrunk tenfold as all the medical professionals began to filter in. A doctor here. A nurse.. or two.. or three. A nurse for the mom, one for the baby? I lost count. Family got escorted out, while dad – and me! – stayed. What a feeling. To be allowed to witness such a thing!
Hospital policy originally attempted to bar a photographer from the birth at all – but after several conversations I was allowed to be there for labor. Now I was being told that I couldn’t photograph as the baby was being born – just after.
My shutter that sounds so loud in a church cathedral apparently didn’t warranty any attention in the midst of a birth.
While I stayed “head level” (perched precariously on an understuffed couch), mostly focusing on mom and dad, I was able to snap a photo of this baby boy taking his very first breath in the world… gore and all.
It was beautiful.
Ironically, that’s when the “action” started. Cleaning the baby, dad cutting the cord (that was already pre-cut, so more for show), weighing, I was there for it all. The nurses who weren’t quite sure about my presence now welcomed me to document this new life. The expression on mom’s face as she got to see her baby for the first time, to hold him in her arms.
I arrived at the hospital a little before 1:00 am. Mr. Monkey was born at 12:24 PM.
Looking back, I think that birth was what started me down this path, the path that lead me to becoming a birth doula. The mixture of excitement and anticipation, mingled with the helplessness of wanting to “do something”, and the niggling feeling of thinking that some things could have happened differently… this experience not only birthed a child, but also a desire within me, a desire to want to help, to educate, to empower, to connect. Of course, this path had just started, and there were several other pit stops I needed to make before arriving at my current destination – including my own birth.
All throughout labor, my friend (as you can’t have an experience like that without creating a lasting bond) kept saying “You need to have a baby! You’d be a great mom!”
Watching her, I thought to myself “Um.. maybe not.”
Little did I know, that journey was coming at lot sooner than I thought.
Eight months later, to be exact.
I saw my very own positive pregnancy test three days later.