Funny how life happens sometimes. I wasn't intended to shoot this birth. I was called in as a back up for a fellow birth photographer friend of mine in town. I had a client of mine walking around 5cm dilated ready to go any minute as well. I told my friend I would move heaven and earth to make sure Joanna was covered should she not be able to be there. Little did I know how difficult it was for me to get out there, or that my other client would go into labor later that evening. My wallet had be stolen the week before, in it my driver's license. I got the call from Joanna, that her water had broken and realized she was delivering on Post at Ft. Benning. Like a 10 pound hammer I realized I had no driver's license to get on Post! But I did have my passport. A long hour passed as I waited for my sitter to arrive. She was my silver lining to a hectic morning. We loaded my kids up, and she drove my mini-van on Post, and dropped me off at the hospital. That ladies and gentleman is what my amazing sitters and helpers do so I can be there for my clients! Thank you Lisa, for all the crazy calls you answer and for always stepping up for me and the kids! Upon arriving to photograph Joanna's delivery, I truly felt under prepared. We had never sat down for a consult as I usually do with my clients. I had no idea what her medical history was, how she wanted to labor, etc. Her water had broken at home, and like the rock-star she is she drove herself to the hospital. So in between contractions at the hospital, we're having quick conversations about her desired labor. I'm getting briefed on her medical history... and without too much personal detail (as Joanna discusses in her own words below), I learn of the pain this amazing woman had endured. A previous botched procedure on her cervix had left her needing a cerclage, had her in immense pain, and left her with scar tissue on her cervix. The thought of pushing, and the pain that would follow were too much for her to bear and too much for me to as well. Not to mention her husband is currently deployed overseas. I wanted to crawl in the bed with her, wrap my arms around her and make it all go away.
Joanna was shaking, she was cold, her body was failing her, and the fear of the pain was nearly too much. It was just me and her in the room for a good hour, nurses would quietly come and go, but for the most part is was just us. In awe, I watched her and her body go into auto-pilot. She laid there nearly silent, breathing, and focused.... for an hour. It was the most amazing, inspiring thing I've yet to witness as a birth photographer. Her body fully relaxed, and did what it needed to do. The midwife came in, checked her and told her it was time. I don't think Joanna could believe it. There was relief, the finish line of this painful journey was almost here. But for a quick moment the fear of pushing crept back in, I'm talking like for a nan0second. Then Joanna was right back into "beast mode", 9 minutes of pushing, and sweet, perfect, precious Wren came roaring into this world. And in a another nanosecond, it was all worth it.
I am beyond grateful I was called to backup for this birth. I an beyond blessed in witnessing a strength that I think will be hard to beat, and I am beyond thankful for the friendship of Joanna. She will never fully understand what an inspiration her history, her delivery, and her beauty in weakness have been to me.
In her own words, here is Joanna's story of her delivery:
"Love. That's what is going to happen." Those were the words my friend wrote to me after I messaged her to say I was pregnant and I had no idea what was going to happen. Those were the words I clung to daily, sometimes hourly, as I navigated through the complicated, emotional, painful and unexpected pregnancy of my fifth child. Through exposure to medication that almost always causes birth defects and worse, antibodies that can cause fetal heart defects and worse, countless doctors appointments, weekly ultrasounds, consultations with specialists, fear, uncertainty and worry, I held onto those words: "Love. Thats what is going to happen." That was my faith, my glimmer of hope.
My body had already failed me so many times before, I could not let it fail me this time. And then my body started to fail me. I couldn't walk without the arthritis in my hips burning deep in my pelvis. My autoimmune disorders flared in full force. Migraines, fatigue, high blood pressure, extreme food allergies, the list goes on. My hormone levels were too low, my cervix was too weak. Three and a half years prior I had a surgery to remove pre-cancerous cells from my cervix; a surgery that, due to a medical mistake, would leave me with 3rd degree internal chemical burns, and the inability to ever sustain a pregnancy without the placement of a cerclage. A cerclage was placed at 19 weeks in order to save the sweet life inside of me.
I was in pain, constantly. And constantly clinging to the hope, trying desperately to have faith, that Love was going to happen. And Love did happen. On a chilly day in January, Love came in a little 6 pound, 11 ounce form of perfection. It wasn't easy. Her labor was, by far, the most intense and painful I had experienced. There was a long, seemingly endless, moment where the pain was more than I could bear. The cerclage that had kept my sweet baby safe inside of me and allowed me to carry her to term, had also left me with thick scar tissue, which had to be broken for her to be born. I have lived in pain for five straight years, I birthed twins naturally, but nothing could have prepared me for what it would feel like when that barrier was released. The physical pain, emotional stress, uncertainty, fear, my previous experiences and traumas all came bubbling up at once, in full force. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't move. I couldn't feel my arms or legs. Yet, in that moment, I felt Love. Love from perfect strangers, people I had never met, who held me and listened as I poured my heart out, trying to process and cope all at the same time.
Perfect strangers who stayed by my side and supported me through the intensity, and allowed me to slip deep inside myself, to ride out the rest of the labor. I don't remember much after that long moment. What seemed like 5 minutes ended up being over an hour, and I awoke to my angel in the form of a midwife telling me it was time for my sweet baby to be born. I may have cussed and yelled, I don't know, but soon my baby girl entered the world, face up, fierce, feisty, and perfect.
As I cut her cord, separating her body from mine, I cut away all of that worry and fear. She was here. She was ok. I was ok. We did it. Not only did that moment symbolize the end of this pregnancy, but it was also a symbol on a much larger scale. One of strength, independence, new life, and a restart. This baby is my reset button and has saved me in so many ways. I am at peace. I feel Love. So much Love. She has changed me. I'm broken in the best way. Filled with a newfound strength and Love for my little family. Wanting more. Stopping and just being. I was terrified to have her, but now I can't imagine life any other way. Love. That is what happened."
I hope you find courage, and strength in her story. I am forever grateful for the bravery of my clients to be so transparent with their journeys, with their willingness to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. As well as the blessing of sharing their triumphs and miracles. I pray this finds you well, and lifts your spirits in just the right way!
Apparently Joanna's children only know how to make dramatic entrances into this world, read about her amazing vaginal delivery of her twins in the operating room, just avoiding a c-section. You can find her story over at Birth Without Fear, by clicking HERE.
(p.s. This is also the first time I've really delved into incorporating video into my birth stories, so forgive my infancy of skill level... I'm in love with video and most definitely intend on honing this new craft).