Tag Archives: birth

Not just another baby story

I thought it would be fun to share the story of my daughter’s birth from the photographer’s perspective.

 

I was sweating in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart when Tamika called me on a swampish July afternoon to ask me a question. She wanted to know if I would photograph her daughter’s birth. “I don’t know how you feel about that,” she laughed; I didn’t know how I felt about it either. There are several factors my mind quickly went to that could have kept me from saying yes, for instance, gratuitous pain or bodily fluid, both of which I’ve long assumed I have a low tolerance for. But Tamika has me wrapped around her finger and she makes everything in life feel beautiful and celebratory. I’ve known her for over three years now but only in the last year have we built a firm friendship and have become ingrained in each other’s lives. She’s taught me how to celebrate the mundane. She’s shared her family with me, her dreams, her precious tea. She laughs with me a lot and gives me a sassy look -a look I can’t help but imitate regularly. I trust my life with this woman. She is quiet, she is fierce, and she loves Jesus. She is also very intentional with her life and friendships. I didn’t understand fully why she wanted me there but when someone like that has loved you so well, a big question slowly turns into a simple answer: absolutely.

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Close to a week before the birth I dropped by the Fairmount House to talk through the details surrounding Tamika’s delivery. It should have been no surprise to hear the plan entailed being just as quiet and chill at seven centimeters dilated then when she’s sewing a peplum top sipping on some hot tea. She wanted a peaceful and subdued atmosphere but I doubted this projection. I was leaving for Atlanta for a conference a few days later and texted her to suck that baby in until I returned. Baby obliged and the family went to the hospital half an hour after I returned to the city. That’s what I call perfect timing.

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I joined them at 10:20 PM on a Saturday night, a weary traveler who hadn’t showered in two days and smelled like beef jerky (Let it be known, I erased this sentence twice before I resigned to full disclosure) I anxiously walked through the deserted halls of the hospital, finally forced to face my small anxieties I previously squelched of what would happen that evening. The nurse buzzed me into the maternity ward. I could hear a fresh baby crying in a room down the hall; I smiled and breathed deeply as we entered our room. It was dimly lit, smelling of lavender and peppermint. Tamika curled up on her side in the hospital bed, smiling between contractions, happy to see me.

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Labor was less stressful than I had braced for but I imagine Tamika could tell a different story there. There wasn’t any drama. There were minimal monitors and beeping. Husband wasn’t stressed. Nursing staff wasn’t rushing in mid-contraction to see if it was time to push. No one rushed anywhere. I’m not entirely sure why I was expecting these things. Too many episodes of Offspring, I suppose. Tamika labored quietly.

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Her friend, Louise, tended to her every need and encouraged her as she progressed in labor. I sat back quietly with her husband, my camera always close. I’m one of those sense-ers, the people who can walk in a room, lick my finger, hold it to the wind, and come back with pretty accurate readings on tension and drama in the situation. Being in labor and delivery was a constant sense check, especially when you’re capturing someone’s pain. An hour into that room I came to the definite conclusion that there will always be something inherently awkward about sitting on a couch with your legs crossed sipping on a cup of coffee while watching someone agonize a child out of their body, or even worse, taking pictures of them. There’s just no way around it.

That evening reminded me that, like most things I’ve experienced in life, is experienced individually, but is done best together. It’s good to lean in the uncomfortable circumstances of life and stay with loved ones even when you feel incapable of healing or helping. Sometimes our presence and our attention can be enough; not enough to change people or pain but just enough to remind each other that we don’t have to be alone when we hurt; that when we absorb the desperate squeezing of a hand our willingness to sit with the suffering produces the courage to keep on. Tamika has sat with me as I’ve cried over heartbreak or confessed sin in my life or probably more commonly, where I’ve been unwilling to see the next best step. Andy Crouch says that persons created in the image of the triune God do not flourish unless they are placed in community. As I’ve flourished, this past year I’ve learned a healing community looks a lot like a delivery room; waiting, anticipation, and continual prayer. And when the time comes, change happens.

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In the wee hour of Sunday morning, it was time. The doctor walked in followed by two nurses who stood in the back ground, waiting. The doctor asked me to help her tie her scrubs and she casually sat down on a roller chair and asked Tamika, “Are you ready to have a baby?” Husband, who appeared relaxed all evening, crossed his arms expectantly. As Tamika readied herself, we all rose to our feet, like a palace waiting for their queen. The room grew quiet, Tamika’s pain the only thing heard. When she bore down to push, I looked around the room at the seven of us. I thought about each generation before us, who labored out the next, and on and on, that brought us here, to a darkened hospital room to bear witness the birth of this little one. Tamika grabbed husband’s hand and I thought of my own mother’s soft tan hands gripping a cold hospital rail and my dad’s arm, as if it eased any sort of pain. It is crazy how humans can love each other that much without the slightest clue of who they’re bringing into the world and the heartache tethered to them. It’s crazy knowing my mom –like many others- would do it all over again if she had the chance. It’s even crazier to know paradoxically, that even that sort of love leaves the deepest part of me wanting, aching and lonely to be filled with an even holier, perfect love that only God himself can satisfy.

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It has always been mysterious to me why God came to us as a baby. I’ve wondered why didn’t he show his power by parting the sky when John was baptizing and instead a dove, drop a grown-up Jesus down then (or any other time and place, for that matter). But there, in that hospital room, I couldn’t help but think of Mary and how quietly the world changed when she gave birth and about how much the world that Jesus was born into desperately needed him as much then as we do now. Christ lived, died, and conquered death for that world and this one, with a promise to return. And so we’ve waited. At twenty-six, I’ve sat in front of enough television screens riddled with mass shootings, missing planes, abducted children, oil spills, and beheadings that at times life can feel so heavy that I’m sure it will split in two. Some days the goodness of life can be overwhelmed by the senseless viciousness of it. The earth has pretty much always been broken, as it has always been round. While Tamika labored to bring her little girl in the world, another friend’s days old daughter died that night in a NICU; the same night we stood in joyful anticipation of life, another room sat in grief. When I hear of these paradoxes, the wars and slavery, sometimes they just get called ‘life’, a pat answer for the worst kind of realities and confusion we live with. It has been difficult to look at the state of the world and not ask God what the heck is going on, what’s the plan here or ask ourselves, why can’t we just get it together for a second and stop killing each other? Over the years my trust in God has wandered in every direction–to his very existence to whether he’s even good to us. It’s inconceivable to me that God still wants me–the doubter, the naysayer of his love and kindness–and yet, I’ve felt his kindness in spite of my disbelief over the years. It’s wounded me in the best way; a wounding that has cut my pride down to size, picked me up, and loved me in spite of myself. There is so much in life I do not and will not understand but my prayer is that I, like Paul, will always say,

“How great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! Or who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever!”

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So when my dear friend cried out in pain as the child that she’s hoped and loved and labored for came, Jesus spoke to me in that room, in the still small voice recounted in Isaiah. He spoke the very words he spoke to his disciples in Matthew 24, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” And then he comes backFor good. And with one incredible push, a tiny Contessa Grace was welcomed into the world, quietly and wide-eyed on a dark Sunday morning. Her eyes moved about, as if she was taking in the new world and upon assessment, let out a pitiful grunt of approval. All seven of us chuckled quietly. It completely took my breath away. For the first time in my life, I understood pain and suffering in a whole new way. We can exist in a world of pain and still rejoice because we know hope is being born. It is all light and momentary affliction in view of the glory to come.

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Half an hour later, I sat on the couch holding Contessa in all her un-bathed curly-headed, slender fingered, baby-grunting glory, pushing back tears. Tamika looked over at me at one point and just raised her eyebrows and gave me a half-smile, like we’d both experienced something crazy. We had. I will always be grateful for Tamika and her husband inviting me into their sacred space and entrusting me with the honor of telling Contessa’s birth through my camera. I laugh thinking about the doctor looking at me before Tamika pushed and asking me, “Are you good?” –I can’t imagine what my face was saying. I can’t ever get it to shut up. Mostly, I’ve come away amazed at God’s design and how he is found at the start of every life, how he holds and tends to each one so carefully. I’ve seen his kindness and blessing in the face of suffering.

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I’ve thought a lot since then about what I would want Contessa to know about that night if she ever finds herself leafing through those photos. I would want to tell her that when she was born all the lights in the hospital shined brighter that night because that’s how it felt, as if her birth charged the earth’s battery by two hundred percent. I would tell her that her mama laid her on her chest and locked eyes with her and just smiled and said, “Well, hello there.” like they had met before and her daddy looked her over a thousand times like the Sistine Chapel. There was a small party with nurses who cooed and a doctor that smiled and Louise who giggled and Bri who took pictures. God smiled and the angels rejoiced.  And more than anything, I would want her to know that even though life is a struggle, we all count it a privilege to be here in a world with her, to live, to discover, to love, to yearn, to live life together, imitating the Creator.

 

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Conceived by love, received with joy, and born in peace.

Yep.  That pretty much explains the events surrounding the newest addition to our family.

It’s official!  Our little man is here.  He is too precious!

Abraham was born in November of 2011.  He weighed in at 7 lbs even and measured 19.5 inches long.

I love to hear birthing stories.  Back in the day I was a faithful watcher of TLC’s “A Baby Story”.  My friends would often find me singing the show’s title to them in an unforgettable soprano voice.  Lol!

The creation of life is nothing short of miraculous.

I was much more involved in this birth than I was with my first.  This sounds a little weird, but I can explain.  With “curly cutie” I had no clue what to expect.  I did some reading and talking to people, but nothing too intensive.  Fairly early on in my first pregnancy I was scheduled to be induced in the event she didn’t come on her due date.  I knew pretty much nothing about the induction process, but by the time I reached 39 weeks I didn’t care what they did to my body.  I wanted that baby out!  Such a sweet combo of excitement and fatigue going on inside of me.  She was wonderful in every way too.  Long story short, hospital at 6am, Pitocin at 8am, epidural around noon, baby at 3pm (after 3 pushes).  I was fortunate in that surgery was not a part of this story as is the case for many inductions.

This pregnancy was different.  I wanted it to be different.  I actually wanted my body to feel.  I wanted to know what my body was doing.  I didn’t want an epidural to have me “in the clouds” again.  I thought to myself, “This can’t be too hard.  My body was designed for this.”  I thought about what an ideal situation would look like for me, and I tried to capture that on paper in the form of a birth plan.  I know that things don’t always go as planned, but I still wanted to have one.  I did my reading.  Here are some highlights from my birth plan.  I wanted……

–  dimly lit room with soothing music (I brought my ipod and speakers)

–  to not be confined to the bed, but able to move around freely

–  to use the birthing pool  (I really wanted to just go ahead and give birth in the water)

–  baby placed on me immediately after birth

–  to exclusively breastfeed

–  ability to consume beverages and snacks of choice

If you desire to see my birth plan in its entirety just leave me a comment.  It was pretty short, yet detailed.  You can also do a search and pull up several examples of birth plans.  There is no one right format, just whatever works for your family.

And, can I just say that EVERYTHING on my birth plan came to pass!  Talk about blessed.  You don’t even know the half.  Lol.  I get overwhelmed just thinking about it.

The day I woke up at 3am was unlike any other early morning I had for the past 2 or 3 weeks.  The contractions I was having seemed to have been “kicked up a notch”, and they were coming every 5-7 minutes.  I thought to myself, “we could be onto something.”  I knew to pay attention when they started coming consistently.  At this point, they were still very bearable.  I was just concentrating on getting through that minute. This went on for several hours with the contractions increasing in intensity every hour it seemed like.

Around 7 or so I knew I would need some help.  I could not talk or do anything while I was having a contraction.  My husband called it my “quiet moment”.  He could tell when one was starting because I would get silent and bow my head.  He told our daughter I was having a quiet moment.  She got quiet too.  My eyes were  closed, but I could hear her little voice in the background praying for me.  She is sure to get the “big sister of the year award”.  She really has a kind heart.

I decided to get into the tub and turn on the jets.  Pure relaxation for the next 1.5 hours.  In between contractions that is.  During that time I called my doc to let her know how I was feeling.  I told her I would keep an eye on things and call her back in a little bit.  I didn’t know if it was time for me to go to the hospital or not.  So, I just continued to labor at home.  The last thing I wanted was a “falsie”.  The hospital is about 20min away and I did not want to be told to “go home”.  When I was ready to get out of the tub, I pretty much knew it was time to head to the hospital.  Bags were packed and at the door, “curly cutie” and I put on clothes.  I’m ready to walk out of the door and guess what my husband is doing……cleaning.  Now, I know I take pain “like a champ”, but when I say it’s time to go, IT’S TIME TO GO!  Lol!  Here he is with vacuum in hand, letting me know that things have to be in order.  He finally said, “Oh, I should get dressed, huh?”

At the hospital, we (me, husband, curly cutie, nurse) had to stop twice on our walk from registration to labor and delivery for me to “breathe and sway” through contractions.  It didn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would.  I really didn’t know how I thought it would feel.  I wanted to bear the pain without medication, but I wanted it close by just in case.  Don’t trip.  Lol.

After twenty minutes of monitoring, I went right into the birthing pool.  I absolutely did not want to be strapped down to a bed if it was not necessary.  My doc rocked!  She supported every decision.  I didn’t even get an i.v. in my arm.  I progressed very quickly from six to ten centimeters.  The two nurses caring for us were absolutely amazing.  One nurse had been helping deliver babies for 40 years.  It’s quite hard to believe, but she said our child’s birth was at the top of her list.  Before I knew it, my water broke and the “show was on”.  I didn’t know this then but my body wanted to push immediately with that next contraction.  I did not let it push for fear of “doing #2” in the tub.  Does anybody still call it that these days?  Lol.  I know….I was clownin’.  Was that TMI?  Well, I’m trying to give it to you straight.  I must have gotten over that pretty quick, because I had my husband go tell the nurse I was ready to push.  Curly Cutie was taken to a nearby room.  She stayed with mommy most of the time.  Such a big girl.  Those contractions were coming in such a beautiful rhythm…..right up until the doc and nurses came in to assist, scoop poop and catch baby.  No contraction for another 5 minutes.  I guess my body was getting ready for what was about to happen.  By this time, my hands and legs were numb.  I didn’t know if it was time to freak out or just remain calm.  Either way the baby was coming.  Now, the hospital doesn’t necessarily like for the babies to be born in the tub for some reason, but that didn’t stop my doc from making it her  business to allow me this experience (if all went well).  So, she’s standing there, and asks me, “Do you want to stay in here or go over to the bed?”  With numb legs I wasn’t going anywhere honey.  She then said, “Well, I guess you better turn over and push.”  I said, “ok”.  It was an “over and out” type of situation.  I turned over and the baby came out.  Lol!  One push folks!  I started to bear down and my body took over and pushed little Abraham right out.

And there it is!  On with our new family or 4.

Anybody else like baby stories?