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A Home Birth Story

I had the honor of attending this lovely, powerful, fast, intense but so so beautiful birth of Vella. Her Mom was so kind as to share her birth story:

On Tuesday morning, at 41 weeks pregnant, I woke up with contractions. As I’d had weeks of increasingly intense pre-labor this was not a huge warning sign. Although I’d warned my birth team several times over the weeks about changes in the contractions that seemed indicative of labor coming soon, I’d never actually called anyone over. That morning both of our older girls came and snuggled in bed with me, a bit of a rarity with Azalea, and a nice start to the day. When I got up to go to the bathroom, I stayed in there to maintain some space. Darren stayed home and I took some solo quiet time, showering and lying down alone hoping things would fully kick into gear, but they were widely spaced, often 15-20 minutes apart, and completely without pattern, so after awhile of timing them I gave up. The contractions felt stronger and sharper than the day before. The most intense ones had me gritting my teeth and cursing in my head, where the day before my intense contractions only stopped me and required breathing through them. Although I said to Darren several times that day, “If these aren’t labor contractions, then we’re in trouble” I did not feel like I was in labor at all. Between contractions I felt ridiculous that Darren was home from work yet again. I got dressed, ate normally, did laundry, and even seriously considered taking my children to the library. Then a contraction would hit and I’d wonder why on earth we hadn’t called the birth team yet.

I had a midwife appointment late that afternoon and figured I’d discuss it with her then, but at 2:40pm I called Sandra to give her a warning (yet again). She did all of our prenatal appointments at my house, and she had a pretty long drive. She said that at 41 weeks we didn’t want to risk this stalling out, and suggested I brew parsley tea, but not drink it until she was on the road. I certainly didn’t want to risk it stalling out yet again either. I contacted my doula Dorin and my photographer Nicki to give them a warning, since it sounded like Sandra thought things may progress quickly. Dorin was teaching a class at 7 and Nicki had a meeting from 6:30-8:30. I assured them both I didn’t need anything then, and I’d let them know if/when things changed.

The four of us pulled together and got in the van to get coffee, get Lyra down for her nap, and run into the grocery store for parsley and a few other things. Our plan was to have the appointment with Sandra while the kids had a short quiet time, then to do an early (for us) dinner, one last family walk as a family of 4, and to put the girls to bed. I was guessing that things would start to progress once the girls were asleep. I even talked to Nicki about taking pictures of us on our family walk after her meeting. During the drive Darren and I discussed support for the kids during the birth as my first person on call had just emailed that she was unexpectedly unavailable, but we had backups, and nothing felt too urgent.
We got home a bit after 4. Darren put down a sleeping Lyra. I read a book with Azalea. Darren put away groceries, started the parsley tea, and headed up to shower while I did some laundry and other housework. Sandra arrived around 5:30 and we sat down on the couch for a pre-natal visit. I sipped maybe half a cup of the parsley tea while we did the regular appointment discussions, blood pressure tests, etc. She suggested a cervical exam to see if the contractions had made any changes. At 6:30pm I was shocked to hear I was at 6cm with a low baby and bulging bag of waters. The contractions were still highly irregular and roughly 9 minutes apart.

We went back downstairs and sat down at the kitchen table with Darren and the girls to do “tea time”. Sandra suggested pulling in her birth supplies before she left in case things moved quickly. The girls excitedly helped. I texted Dorin and Nicki again, and took a few pictures of the kids helping set up birth supplies. Darren called Susan to give her a warning about supporting the girls during the birth. We were still planning to do dinner and a walk.

Somewhere in the 7-7:15 time frame I was in the bedroom with Darren while Sandra was in our bathroom, and I remember telling him that things couldn’t be moving too quickly because I was still fully dressed (jewelry, shoes, bra, and all). At a few minutes after 7 I was texting with Nicki. I told her to definitely come straight to our house after the meeting that ended at 8:30pm, we did a bit of chatting about timing and I told her not to worry about us, saying the right after the birth pictures were the ones I wanted most anyway. I couldn’t imagine she’d miss the actual birth, just some of the labor. I’d been nervous that as everyone showed up I’d stall out anyway, so I wasn’t feeling any huge rush to have everyone arrive.

Meanwhile I texted Darren that things were getting stronger and he should call Susan to come over (from about 25 minutes away) so he would have some time to show her around and settle the kids with her. Then I suggested Sandra stay. When he didn’t respond, I started calling for him. I was in the bathroom getting increasingly into labor land, and I think by then I’d mostly undressed, but I’d put everything neatly away where it belonged as I did so. He came back inside (apparently he’d gone outside with the kids to tell Sandra goodbye, though she planned to hang out in her car in our driveway), and went back out to get Sandra. He called Susan and Dorin.
At 7:30pm Dorin came up into the bathroom where I was laboring on the toilet, naked by then. I think I was starting to vocalize during contractions at this point. She said Nicki was with her, which totally shocked me because I figured it’d been at most 15 minutes since I was texting with Nicki in her meeting. Things were getting intense, and I was looking at the clock telling myself it would be over by midnight and her birthday really would be September 25th. Darren and Dorin were back and forth in the room with me. Darren was making/getting phone calls and the kids were with various people, and sometimes solo. At some point I suggested someone needed to be sure Lyra went to the bathroom because she’s been having lots of potty accidents lately. Darren took her, and I confirmed that she’d actually gone the next time he came in. I took all of that to mean I couldn’t really be moving too fast.

I was absolutely burning up, as with both of my previous labors. Dorin told me she had a fan in her bag. I envisioned a small electric box fan when she first said it which sounded like it might be too much, but it was a simple folding fan, which was perfect. She stood there fanning me, and put a wet wash cloth on my neck. There was a discussion about ice water for the wash cloth, but by the time they had ice cold water for it, I thought that would be too cold. I was on the toilet still. I considered moving onto the cold tile on my hands and knees, or into the cold empty tub, but it wasn’t worth actually moving. I was telling myself that I’d move to the bed after my water broke. I was sure it would break pretty soon. With Lyra my water broke on the toilet, which seemed pretty perfect.

At 7:56 my water broke (Sandra told me the next day that the water was perfect and clear). I confirmed the rupture with Dorin and finished the sentence saying “and I’m pushing.” Sandra was leaning against the wall beside the toilet at that point, and indicated that she suspected as much. Darren came back in shortly after that, and I was standing in front of the toilet. Maybe I stood up as my water broke. I held onto Darren as I was pushing. I don’t remember how I was standing at first (Darren says I was gripping his forearms), but I remember moving my arms up around his neck a little bit into it. Sandra told me the next day that Vella’s hand was up near her face, but that she was mostly able to hold it back because of the position I was in. I was vocalizing plenty and remember being reminded to use a low voice and to relax my shoulders. At some point I heard Lyra’s voice and realized that my girls were both in the room too. At 8:03 someone announced that I was crowning, and Vella was born at 8:05pm and placed in my arms. She was perfect. I wanted to move to the bed right away.

We snuggled in the bed together for awhile. She wasn’t too interested in nursing yet, and I was saying that Lyra was the same way. She was beautiful and alert. It seemed like forever before I pushed out the placenta. It was out at 8:26, and I was very relieved. Darren cut the cord, and Vella and I snuggled some more. I got pretty shaky for quite awhile, but I was otherwise doing well. There was a discussion about how little blood I’d lost, and Sandra asked about my back hurting several times, which it wasn’t at all. Somewhere in here Heather showed up to assist Sandra, and Susan showed up to help with the kids. In the end, I’m glad there were less people there for the birth itself, and I’m glad we had the extra hands afterwards. The kids went back and forth between upstairs with us and down with Susan, which worked out very well. Vella finally latched on and nursed around 9:30 or 9:35 while it was just the two of us on the bed. After awhile I asked Nicki if she’d gotten any pictures of Vella nursing and everyone got excited. I guess no one else had noted she’d been nursing. Susan fixed the dinner we’d expected to eat as a family of four, which I happily ate in bed. I was able to get up and pee without issues, and was shocked to learn that I had a few skid marks up (which I’d really felt during the birth) and a tiny tear on my perineum, none of which needed stitches.

Sandra did the newborn exam, and Vella was 7lbs 14oz, and 21in long with a 13in head circumference.

We did the herbal bath at around 10:25pm. Lyra was so excited, bouncing around and taking off her clothes. She loves the pictures of Azalea in the herbal bath with me and her after her own birth, and had been anxiously waiting her turn to be the big sister in the herbal bath. She climbed in with us, and Azalea sat on the edge of the tub putting her hands in. After awhile the big girls got to be too much, and I got some solo time in the bath with Vella.

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The cost of birth photography

Birth photography has been around forever but it has only become more mainstream here in the Woodlands and the Houston area in the last few years as it’s gained some press coverage and attention. Sometimes that means a potential client will contact a birth photographer with pricing questions and be totally shocked at the quoted cost. Why is birth photography so expensive??

Let’s talk about that today.

When you hired a wedding photographer, you expected to pay a lot. And you probably expected a lot. This was, after all, a moment in time that you hoped would be truly once in a lifetime. You were asking someone to take professional quality photos in a wide variety of light sources in a quickly moving, often unpredictably changing environment and over the course of many hours. You may have also expected the digital files or a lovely album keepsake or DVD slideshow from your photographer to be included in the price. So you expected to pay a lot.

In these ways, birth photography and wedding photography are similar.

In many other ways, birth photography is much more labor-intensive than wedding photography. Lexia Frank, a Portland birth & wedding photographer, recently said it best when speaking at WPPI:

“Shooting a birth is like getting an inquiry from a bride saying that she wants you to come photograph her wedding, but isn’t going to set a date. She’ll just call you whenever. and when you ask her how many hours of coverage she would like, s
he says she’s not sure, probably around 24, but maybe only 2.
And you ask her when she’d like for you to start coverage and she says she wont know, but probably around 2am. And also, that she doesn’t want any use of flash. So when you ask her if there will be bountiful natural light she says that she’ll be getting married in a dark closet with no light whatsoever. And, she’s going to want the image
s right away to send out announcements. AND you’re not going to be able to use them anywhere on your website or blog because she wants to keep her privacy intact. We’d all be quoting this bride $50,000.00.”

Of course we aren’t quoting our birth clients $50,000.

But birth photographers, while increasing in popularity, are still pretty rare finds. Part of that is because a real professional birth photographer is not just a pro photographer who shoots birth: she’s a birth professional. Like your doula or midwife. Those professional photographers who jump into this specialty ill-prepared quickly realize that this is no wedding!

Along with in depth knowledge of the birth process, it takes technical photography knowledge that you can’t learn in school, at a workshop or conference. And you can’t shadow another photographer at a woman’s birth – the most sacred of environments. The learning curve here is very very steep.

And we are on call. I was once told that the divorce rate is exceptionally high among birth professionals.

Being on call isn’t just stressful for the birth photographer but for her entire family. We often rely on our partners to provide care for our children that may interrupt their own careers with no notice at all. We expect them to carry the weight and our children to be understanding if we have to dash out of a family event or outing early or not attend at all due to an impending birth. We have to drive separately wherever we go, taking our equipment with us, and we can’t ever be unavailable. We have to keep our bags packed at all times. We can’t indulge in the occasional glass of wine while we are on call. We miss holidays, birthdays, recitals and milestones very important to us. We can’t, of course, go out of town. We also can’t expect the world to plan everything a year in advance but many of my clients book me 8 months ahead of their due dates. I missed my brother’s wedding when the date conflicted with two clients I had previously committed to.  It’s no wonder families bend under the stress of the on-call birth professional!

It will never pay the bills. I shoot births because I am driven by the love of birth, the emotional exchange between a couple as they become parents, the vulnerability of an otherwise strong man as he becomes a Dad, the look for pure love on the face of a woman as she meets her long-awaited child for the first time. I love the ebb and flow of the birth process. I love the challenge of the lighting conditions and technical aspects of shooting births. I love creating art that makes families cry. I love creating art that makes ME cry!

I charge what I charge because I value my expertise, my experience and my time but also believe families deserve professionally documenting birth photos at an affordable price. My prices have gone up over time and will continue to go up in the future. Am I the least expensive photographer in town? Heck no. To that, I say you get what you pay for. But I can’t offer deals or even apologies for charging a fraction of what folks would be willing to pay for a wedding photographer and expecting much much more in return. I hope to draw clients to me who value what I have to offer and I’m blessed to have accomplished exactly that so far. I have some of the best, most appreciative and wonderful clients!

So whether you are an expecting parent considering birth photography or a professional photographer considering breaking into this specialty please consider these factors. I happen to think birth photography is the greatest but toughest specialty in the industry, worth every penny, and those who choose to hire a birth photographer truly never regret it!

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Published!

Things have been quiet as I’ve taken a little time off over the winter to focus on my family and our recent move. I wish I could say we were all unpacked but there are still no photos gracing my walls! All in time…

Meanwhile things have been hoppin’ here at {Fresh}. Several of my images have made their way out into the world. I love the idea of birth being portrayed with beauty. So many women don’t even realize how beautiful and powerful they look in the throes of labor and we so instantly forget how much our babies changes from hour to hour, day to day during those first precious days I like to call the “babymoon”. Photography is such a powerful way to educate and inspire. And my clients are SO inspirational!

Back in 2011 one of my very favorite photos was featured as a full page spread in Issue 98 of Midwifery Today. While not technically my best work, what I love most about this photo is that it conveys the miracle of birth and the possibility of breech birth so very well. And I really really love that my client was so empowered by her birth. I rarely show the clients their photos from the camera preview but at this birth I couldn’t help it. It was so amazing! And the client said right there on the spot that she was willing to share it with the world. I checked with her again prior to publication and she was even more proud – even more willing. I have the most amazing clients, ever! So needless to say, when it was picked up I was overjoyed!


Fast forward a few months and I learned that this image would be chosen for another full page spread. As a retired La Leche League Leader, breastfeeding is near and dear to my heart. I even dedicated much of my time back in 2010 to my Breastfeeding Calendar project. I am so happy to see this beautiful image gracing the full page of Issue 101 in Midwifery Today. Don’t I have beautiful clients? Wow!

 

A birth team I worked with was recently interviewed by the local news and they used my images during the clip. It was fun to see my stuff on TV even if the spin wasn’t all I had hoped it would be. Still, my client and her midwife were amazing for their part.You can watch that clip here if you’re interested.

Whew! So that’s what’s been going on during these first few weeks in 2012. I’m excited to see what the rest of the year brings!

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My other passion: Announcing Red Thread Sessions!

I love photography but even before photography was a passion of mine, I was an adoption advocate. My youngest child came to our family through adoption and I learned so much through the process. I saw the pain and struggle that families went through to bring a child home and I have seen children suffer in orphanages or wait in limbo in the foster care system under a system that tries its best but is often fraught with problems and is ineffectual, at best. I have been an active advocate for adoption reform over the years, trying to do my small part to make sure that all children without families to care for them find their way into loving arms

Along the way, I always felt pulled to connect my love for photography and the gift of adoption. About a year ago I connected with another photographer/adoptive Mom – Nicole Renee – and we started the wheels in motion to make something awesome. Fast forward a year and add two more photographers touched by adoption to our team (Jenna from Songbird Photography and Amy Leigh from Captured Simplicity) and I am super excited to finally announce:

Red Thread Sessions

Red Thread Sessions is a non-profit association joining together members of the adoption triad with volunteer photographers. Photographers offer their time and talent to take photos of the very brief and special transition time in the life of an adopted child. We offer three types of sessions: a family portrait session during the first three months after adoption, a family homecoming session for international adoptions and a birth session for open domestic adoptions. Some of our volunteers also offer open adoption sessions featuring birth and adoptive parents with their child – a true treasure for the child to carry into the future!

Please help me spread the word and share this new resource. We have hundreds of volunteer photographers located throughout the United States already donating their time. Let your agency know, tell your church family and share with your friends. Every family touched by adoption deserves a Red Thread Session!

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A surprise birth!

It was several days before I was going on call for Tami’s birth when I got a surprise call from Brent to share the news that Tami’s water had broken. We had talked about the possibility of Tami going into labor early but I had not really considered it a serious likelihood.  I’m so glad they called me early in labor because it took me several hours to wrap my head around to the idea that we would all meet baby Hunter that day!

When I arrived in the evening, Tami was working hard through long-lasting contractions and resting in between while Brent supported her and stayed by her side. Quiet and peaceful, they worked together through contraction after contraction patiently waiting for baby Hunter to turn into a more optimal position. Intermittently Tami’s awesome birth team (three midwives, a friend acting as doula and a few other family members) came in to support her and Brent however they needed as they let things unfold.

When baby Hunter finally got into a more ideal position, labor was fast and furious. Tami shifted into the tub to give birth gently into the warm water. Brent stood near, fanning Tami and, later, supporting her in the water as they welcomed baby Hunter into their arms. I am not exactly sure what the time frame is but I would have to guess that Tami went from 4 to complete in probably around an hour! She was amazing!!!!

Watching Brent shift from supportive husband to completely smitten Daddy was a highlight of my year! He was instantly so comfortable and so great with Hunter. It was as if he had been preparing all his life to do exactly this and dove right in fearlessly (or fearless to my eyes, anyway!).

Tami and Brent just fell naturally into parenting together – Tami fed little Hunter easily and Brent dressed him and getting him ready for bed. Home births are so incredible for their very ordinary-ness! It is such a miracle to witness a woman give birth and a baby adjust to life on the outside but then…just an hour or two after giving birth eating, the family is laughing, baby is nursing and all are getting ready to sleep in their bed as if they are ending an otherwise typical day…just with an added bonus family member with hearts multiplied with love.

What a special birth to end my birth photography year! Hunter’s timing may have surprised us but his journey was just so gentle and special. He is born into so much love, it makes me tear up just to look over their photos.

Welcome to the world, Hunter and congrats Tami and Brent! I have a feeling Hunter has big things in store for the world – I can’t wait to learn about all the gifts he will bring to us all!

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