Kristen, who I told you about in this post a couple months or so ago… is a total beast. I just have to put that out there and make sure the world understands her power and strength. I witnessed her birth a 9 1/2 pound baby born in the caul (the bag of waters), on her hands and knees, on the loveseat in her living room, with no midwife present, into her husbands hands at about 4:30am.. with no drugs. (and she didn’t even wake up her sleeping 3 year old in the process) That’s right. 9 1/2 lbs & no drugs. No IV. No c-section. No instruction. No rules. No help from anyone but her husband and about 15 minutes of me verbally affirming that she was in fact, awesome.
I had to get that out there, but now I will oblige you and start at the beginning.. it was November 10th when Kristen texts me at 2:29 in the afternoon that she has lost her plug! something only midwives, doulas, mom friends and birth photographers would get a text about.. and also something many of you might not understand unless you have had a baby.. I am going to spare you and if you have to know.. google it. After hearing this news, I am SO excited. Kristen was about 5-6 days overdue and although we weren’t getting too worried about her exact due date, I knew that loosing her plug this late in the game probably meant labor was going to come pretty quick.
Around 5pm, I get a text “MIGHT be having a baby tonight… had some pretty painful contractions. Trying not to get my hopes up. could still be days away.” I want to jump through the phone and hug her because of her amazing patience. She wasn’t one of those moms who laments the final weeks of pregnancy, she was ready to meet her baby but not wallowing in self-pity. She was enjoying the last days as a family of 3 and trying to relax so her body would do its thing. I tell her she is an inspiration with her patience and that I am all set with sitters, if she needs me to come at any point in the night.
An hour later, another text.. he husband is nesting and is all excited. nothing is regular at this point and they are checking in with the midwife at 8. We both share our giddiness about him catching the baby, something he had talked about for weeks now.
8PM rolls around and I check in.. things have slowed down and i get the :/ face from Kristen. I say a little prayer for things to progress now and her spirits to stay up. Tell her to get some rest and if tonight is the night it will pick back up. I also tell her that maybe things will get really exciting and her water will break in a random place in the house.. something I never considered about homebirth, but could make for a funny story.
8:30 and the midwife had prescribed a half glass of wine and a warm bath. she says it is probably early labor, but if it is just an irritable uterus (yes i laughed too) then it will die down. In this moment, I know homebirth is for me, if we ever get pregnant again. I mean, honestly.. I don’t drink but this sounds like such a calm and relaxed approach to an impending labor. Don’t go getting all freaked out now, she didn’t tell her to get drunk.. but a half glass and a warm bath are going to put Kristen in the relaxed mindset she needs to go fully into labor. I think it sounds like the best idea ever. Kristen and I exchange texts and both bet that this little stubborn baby is a girl. (they did not find out the gender at all, and Kristen wants another girl! Michael wants a boy, but I totally think he is just a daughter daddy type. He is great with Marlee!)
9:30 and I am laying in bed trying to get some shut eye, I am convinced I will be called out around midnight to come. I text to tell her to call at this point, because I am going to sleep and don’t want to miss the text.
10:21 and I text again.. “i can’t sleep” and get back ” lol me either.” Delphine, the midwife, is coming to check her because the intensity was pretty strong and Kristen was starting to wonder if this was okay.. I am guessing that the first labor she experienced, being induced and having an epidural, left Kristen with very little to judge the intensity of labor by.. and that she is probably in solid labor, but is so darn level-headed that she is wondering if maybe she is just being a wimp.. I love her too much because of this whole ordeal. I ask if she wants me to come support her, or take any pics and she says to wait and see what Delphine says.. and I think.. put your camera stuff by the door because she is gonna wait too long, lol.
11:51 and I wake out of a little snooze to “2 cm, she says get some rest and i am to call if/when things pick up. She thinks we will have a baby by tomorrow! I’ll call you probably pretty soon so get some rest!”
The next time I hear from Kristen, it is a text at 3:50am that says “Ok you should come” and it wakes up out of complete slumber.. as soon as I read it, I hop up and the phone starts to ring. “Hello” I say excitedly.. but in my half asleep voice.. “Hey, She says you should come now” I hear pretty intense moaning in the background and urgency in Michael’s voice, so I make no small talk and simply say “be right over” and hang up. Immediately I sprint to the car, it is freezing.. I crank the heat and drive off, shivering the whole way. Not enough thought process in this moment to get my coat. I get the butterflies, I know that this homebirth is going to be fast and furious, I fear I will walk in to a dad holding a baby on the couch like the last homebirth I was invited to. I had joked with Kristen earlier that maybe she would be second in a string of fast homebirths, hoping that it would plant some urgency to have me come in her mind.. lol I wanted to remind her that I didn’t want to miss it! There is something about driving to a birth at night that is so exhilarating and completely nausea inducing. I don’t know if it is the way that you must wake up so quickly and GO immediately mixed with the cold, or nerves about all the things that might transpire.. I always pray on my way to events. I ask for God to be with us and for me to be whatever I need to be in whatever situation arises. With births, I pray for safety and comfort for mom and baby. I pray that the experience is everything they want it to be and that they feel God through it. It calms me, it gives me focus and it reminds me that all of this is a blessing on my life.
I sit at red lights at almost 4am and contemplate breaking the law. I didn’t but maybe I should have.. lol. I pull into the gravel driveway and take the camera out of the bag, grab it and sprint up the stairs, I let myself in quietly and they both look at me like “WOW, that was fast. Thank GOD you are here. and HOLY CRAP this is intense and we are a little freaked out” I look around and I am the only support person who has arrived. I wonder if Marlee, their 3 year old, has been up or if she is even there. I find out that she is in the bedroom asleep and I wonder if Kristen will wake her up, intentionally, or from the moans and groans she is making. She isn’t loud, but this isn’t a huge house and Marlee is just 15 feet away in her room.
Kristen looks at me “This was a terrible idea” she says. She is completely serious, but I know she has no intention of giving up, and that she knows this is exactly what she wants, even if in the moment it sucks… bad.
The contractions are coming fast and she is mainly on the couch with one knee in the cushion, one foot on the floor and leaning onto the arm. Michael is a little frantic looking, but supportive, and doing anything she needs. He wants the midwife to be there, but takes comfort in my presence, it seems. I think with dads, since they have never had a labor or birth, they are comforted when a woman who have been there is around. I feel like maybe I am as much an expert as they will need, seeing as Kristen is doing incredibly well and the midwife is on the way.. I think to myself.. this is awesome, I am her doula for now, until someone gets here.. I can totally do that (I am in doula certification)
Kristen is burning up and requests air conditioning, and Michael obliges, as we both laugh because it is chilly already. That is the mark of a good husband, taking one for the team.
I am there maybe 12 minutes when Kristen starts saying she thinks the baby is coming.. Michael gets a blue mess pad and lays it on the sofa while Kristen goes to the bathroom, and comes right back in, I believe she was unsuccessful. She labors back in the position she was already in, over the pad and I cannot help but think.. That is totally insufficient. I don’t know why I didn’t do anything to make it better, but Kristen was in total baby is COMING mode. I take a look and look at Michael with the “I don’t see a baby yet, do you?” and he, without speaking, affirms. Kristen isn’t really pushing, but says it again “Baby is coming!” I look again, and sure enough.. there is a hint of baby head and obviously this baby has no regard to the fact that we are still waiting on a midwife here… Wow. OH WOW. Michael is staring at the front door waiting for someone, anyone with baby catching experience to come through. I look at him again, thinking.. “you said you wanted to catch the baby, sir, well.. you are about to”
Without hesitation I spew out “I’m going to wash my hands, in case I need to help you.” and I run to the kitchen and do just that. I am staring at a calendar that still reads October and I pray again. “OH LORD! here we go.. be with us. Help us stay calm and be with the baby. Let her come out with no complication and let us have no drama.”
I rush back and I pick up my camera, snapping a few photos as Kristen is pushing. Michael is behind her with hands out.. still staring momentarily at the front door, then back to the baby, then to me, then to baby.. back to door.. he is so calm, but so freaked in this moment. He is just shocked that he is about to do this. I tell Kristen to keep the noise low and to use it, to push slowly and gently with the contractions, and that she is doing so amazing. I am snapping pictures and debating on if I should be taking pics or touching her. I feel like she is doing great with my hands off, so I don’t bother her. I keep speaking to her that she just needs to keep doing what she is doing, to stay in control and move the baby out. She gets loud for a few seconds and regains control, then just like that the water breaks.
I didn’t know the water wasn’t broken, but that was pretty awesome. Babies born in the caul are said to be blessed with good luck. Later on, the midwife tells us that is also is an irish wives tale that they can’t die from drowning if they were born in the caul. How awesome is that? The babies head is out within a few more pushes and Michael is beaming, Kristen is saying “my baby, my baby.” We are all elated, as she births the shoulders and this slippery little human is born gently into dad’s arms.
Kristen is immediate in her request to know the gender “what is it!?!” she asks. Michael admitted later that he completely forgot to look. “it’s a girl, it’s a girl!” he tells his wife and Kristen is a mushy mess. She is so elated, so high on hormones and adrenaline. Her face says it all.
We all stand there for a brief moment, staring at this baby “she is so beautiful”.. then I quickly realize, wrap her up.. it is cold in here! I snap a pic and then put down the camera and grab a towel out of the basket of labor and homebirth supplies they had prepared. I wrap the baby and realize I am the second person to touch her. I want to just die and go to heaven right then and there. I feel insanely trusted, insanely blessed and insanely blown away at what I just witnessed, without the presence of medical personnel, without anyone over the age of 26 in the house, without the midwife! I am just not sure how this is going to go from here.. I start to think we should pass the baby under Kristen’s legs and let them lie down on the couch.. and allow her to start to birth the placenta..
About this time, the door busts open to the scene of Kristen still on hands and knees, me with a blood stain on my shirt holding in a towel a 1 minute old baby that I am handing back to Michael, who is smiling ear to ear.
I don’t recall exactly what was said, but I know the midwife and her apprentice stepped calmly in, I picked my camera back up, and took some images of her checking on the perfect baby and getting her passed back to mom. It was like.. perfection. I look down and see the stain on my sweater and remove it so I don’t get it on the camera or anything else. I am on cloud 9, adrenaline and elation are coursing through me. I take a million pictures. Michael wakes up Marlee and she tiptoes out to meet baby, she is happy, but doesn’t want to cut the cord. She asks to go watch tv in the big bed. Michael sets her all up and comes back out to cut the cord that has now stopped pulsing.
Kristen births the placenta about 20ish minutes after having the baby (foggy brain at 4am) into a glass bowl and the apprentice takes care of getting it prepped to be encapsulated. It is coming into trend to have your placenta encapsulated for the mother to take post-partum. It is said to help with healing, energy, milk production, postpartum depression, etc. The benefits are many, but you can google that to read more. It sounds really strange at first but most mammals eat the placenta, and it is thought that at one time human generally did too. Every single birth I have photographed, the mom has had the placenta encapsulated. Holly Poulson, a local doula, does this if you are interested.
The midwife, Delphine gets Kristen all set up in her own bed, with her brand new baby and slowly gets all the paperwork and vital checks that need done over the next 3 hours complete. Things are just blissful. Delphine comments that they had the perfect birth for their family and is not at all upset that she wasn’t there sooner. Kristen was in charge of the entire situation and although, I am sure she will call a little sooner next time, things worked out beautifully. We do all joke about their poor couch, and she wonders just how messy it was.. hah
Delphine gives the baby some dropperfuls of something, I can’t recall the name, but it is a natural liquid to help regulate her respiration, because she is still breathing a little frantically (normal after birth, but Delphine wanted to get it under control a little better.) She gives Kristen something natural also for the pain of the cramps, I believe, we joke that it taste like old cheap liquor and then instead of another dropper of it, she gets up to see if maybe she is cramping because she needs to pass blood clots. Midwives are so dang smart about finding natural things that might be causing discomfort and they have no-nonsence ways to help the mom fix them. Common sense is ruling the entire post-partum experience right now and I am just smiling from ear to ear.
As I walked around looking for angles to shoot from, I again see Kristen’s birth affirmations on the wall, and snap a photo. She had been focusing on them for months, words to remember when she was in labor. Things like “You were made for this” and “BE PEACEFUL” adorned the bedroom wall.
The baby is nursing away, is really strong and when the baby goes to dad and little sister she roots and roots and fusses.. She just wants to nurse! What a great sign of a strong full-term newborn.
I loved talking with Delphine and her apprentice. Each step of the way there is paperwork and little things that must be done, and Delphine allows the apprentice to tell her what is next, and to show her how to do it. This is how good providers should be taught, with watchful eyes and guiding hands but the experience of doing it themselves and being made confident.
After a few hours, the midwife weighs the baby in a ring sling right at mom’s bed. The baby, who doesn’t yet have a name is 9 and a half pounds. YES. We are all as blown away as you are right now. That just happened! And to make it more impressive, and to dote on the awesome-ness that is a well-prepared mother who trusts her own body, she needed ONE tiny stitch that really wasn’t considered a “tear” the way most people think of it.After weighing in and checking the reflexes, Kristen gets baby back and we all get the pleasure of signing her “born at home” certificate and this makes me feel extra special since I was the only witness aside from Dad.
All the Sheppard Family is in the big bed, Michael and Kristen eat some vegetable soup they had prepared and just pour over this baby, that we have now decided will be called Olivia.
Around 7ish AM, the grandparents arrive and the support team takes off. The midwife will be checking in with them, and they are instructed to call if the need her. She gives them a list of instructions and reminds them to call the pediatrician.
I drive home and I am sure I am beaming, wearing my stained sweater that will immediately hit the washer, I feel as though this is some kind of badge of induction into the world of homebirth. I can’t believe this is the second natural birth I have photographed (that I was actually there when the baby came) and FIRST homebirth to witness. REALLY God? no learning curve? no slow and steady introduction? I feel like it was meant to be though, like the confidence the Lord has in me was being played out in this situation and I have been affirmed that I am on the right track in this exploration into the world of birth photography. I feel like the urge to study to be a doula was God-given and because I followed my gut and started studying, I have been blessed with experiences that will enrich my study and push me headlong into confident service to birthing moms. I can’t emphasize how grateful I am for my daughter, for being born and showing me this beautiful part of life that is motherhood. I always squeeze her and tell her I just saw a baby come into the world, I show her a photo of the baby and tell her about it.. I know she is only 20 months, but she seems attentive and smiles..
I drive to Columbus a few hours later, for my sister’s baby shower (she is due in January) I had told her I might miss it because I was waiting on a baby to be born, but we were going to make it. I tell her the story from the birth and she tells everyone I delivered a baby last night. I smile, and tell her I did nothing. I witnessed a mom BIRTH her baby. The world delivery, to me, indicated that someone else was doing the job, when in most circumstances, a mother is birthing a baby, and a doctor is catching it. Don’t get it twisted. =]
Kristen, you are a goddess.
Michael, good luck in a house full of women.
Olivia, you will forever hold a special place as my first homebirth, doula experience and for the incredible circumstances that lead to me being the only one there aside from mom and dad to watch you meet the world.. you rock.
To those of you interested in natural birth, homebirth or seeking independent prenatal education – check out Esali Birth (who hosts homebirth socials and breastfeeing cafes) Also, Bradley Method taught by Holly Poulson (doula), Gentle Beginnings (Crysta Bourdon, doula), Hypnobabies taught by Amy Elliot and more. Silvermoon Midwifery is the homebirth midwife pictured here. If you have trouble finding them, please send me an email and I will put you in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org