After ten days of frolicking among volcanoes and New Mexican desert storms with my camera, I returned to North Carolina for a day, only to receive a much-anticipated phone call at 2 a.m on July 13.
"We've headed to the hospital. Mary is in labor."
I didn't even have time to make a pot of coffee. I quickly put in my contacts, grabbed my camera gear, and sped to the N.C. Women's Hospital in Chapel Hill, twenty minutes from home.
Before leaving for New Mexico, my friend and colleague Crystal Street had hired me to be "on-call" for the birth of baby Noah. Crystal's sister was getting married ( a wedding my husband would be shooting), and Crystal needed me to be ready to go to the hospital in case Mary went into labor during the wedding weekend…which she did.
I was so excited when Crystal called me about this opportunity. I shot my first birth in 2010, and ever since then my friends have had to put up with me talking about "the miracle of life" and forcing them to watch documentaries like "The Business of Being Born" and "Orgasmic Birth" on Netflix with me. I even got in an argument with my roommate two years ago who told me she would never find birth beautiful, and could I please stop talking about it? (We made up---don't worry). :)
So, I was pretty excited about this opportunity. And after spending 12 hours at the hospital with Mary and Mike, my love of birth, my awe at what the human body is capable of, and my desire to be an active participant in women's birth experiences had only increased.
Mary labored naturally- with no drug intervention- until about 5:30 a.m. on Friday 13. She and Mike had prepared themselves for a wholly natural birth, but after hours of being in labor with no sleep, Mary's mind and body were beyond exhaustion. She received an epidural, a decision the she doesn't regret one bit, she says. The epidural allowed Mary to rest a bit---although she was so excited to meet her son that she couldn't stop talking to me and her doula, Sarah, as her husband snoozed on the couch!
Mary was fully dilated around 8:45 a.m., and after pushing like a champ for a little under an hour, beautiful baby Noah came into the world at 9:41 a.m. Mary's poor husband, Mike, had a hard time bearing with the intensity of the final hour. He supported Mary emotionally and gave her so much encouragement, but at several points he had to duck behind the bed to compose himself. He was such a trooper---I ended up shooting his reaction for awhile because it was more intense than Mary's groans and pushes!
My favorite time of shooting was Noah's first hour in this world. Nothing in the world can compare to the feeling of beholding this amazing, tiny, person as he takes his first breaths, cries, and is held by his joyful parents. Mary and Mike's faces went through a range of emotions those first few minutes----they were incredulous, blissful, laughing, crying, sharing emotions openly for the first time as a family of three. It was such a privilege to be there, photographing these first interactions as the three of them discovered each other. I must have shot a whole 8GB card of photos in just 45 minutes, in awe of all the life happening around me. The creative process takes on an entirely different form and meaning for me in moments like this.
Mary and Mike, thank you so much for trusting me enough to be a participant in your birth story. Your vulnerability and gratitude enabled me to open up to you, in return. Mary, you kept telling me in Noah's first hours of life what a blessing it was for me to be there, but I have to tell you the same thing now. It was truly a blessing for me to be a part of such a formative experience for you as a woman, wife, and mother. I am profoundly moved by each birth I witness---July 13 will be a special day for me. Thank you both for sharing it with me. It was pure joy.
I hope all three of you treasure these photos for years to come.