Being a birth photographer means I get to celebrate birthdays a lot. It's obvious that each new life that enters this world will have a major impact on the family he or she is born into; however, we don't often stop to think about the ripple effect this baby will have on the future. The person he will grow up to be; the career she will one day choose; the friendships and relationships formed.
Today, we're throwing it back to a birth that happened four and a half years before I was even born, but it changed the trajectory of my life forever. This week we celebrated my husband's birthday. When we got married, I started the tradition of baking a cake for him on his birthday every year. Some years, he requested a specific type of cake (German chocolate cake). Other years, I found a recipe I thought he would love (cookies and cream cheesecake).
When my daughter was two years old, she started joining the fun. She has been helping me pick the cake and icing colors ever since.
This year we made a chocolate chip cookie cake with blue icing and heart sprinkles.
In this week's Life in 52 photo, Bug is explaining that she chose heart sprinkles because "hearts mean love" and she loves him so much!
See more from the Life in 52 challenge here.
Photographers will often tell you that their most difficult subjects are their own children. I am no exception. My daughter loves having her photo taken; however, she doesn't want to listen to my directions and posing suggestions. She has her own ideas that don't always photograph well.
My son is difficult in a different way altogether. His 2nd birthday was this week, and I wanted to have a little photo session with him as I do with my children every year. Toddlers can be challenging to photograph anyway, but at least with clients, they are curious about the silly lady with the black box in front of her face. Getting them to look at me and my camera isn't too difficult. My own son is so accustomed to my camera being out that he probably views it as an extension of my arm. He doesn't care to look at the camera because he's just not that curious about it.
I knew I needed to go with a more lifestyle photography type of session. There's no way I was going to get him to sit still for more traditional portraits. He absolutely loves tractors and trucks and anything with wheels, so I really wanted to find a place in Charleston, SC that fit that theme. I originally planned to take him to where my husband works for his family's business because they have tractors and a backhoe. The timing and weather just never worked out for that though. I then remembered that the company where my husband's work buys their tractors is only minutes from my house. I asked my husband if he thought they would let me take our son's portraits there. He was confident they would and recommended a few employees to seek out when I got there.
The next day, after dropping my daughter off at school, we headed over to see the tractors. Not only did this wonderful company allow me to take Bubba's portraits there, but they also gifted him with a little toy tractor. He was in HEAVEN. He made this face and said, "WOW!" more times than I can count.
We wandered around for quite a while just letting him explore to his heart's content. I occasionally posed him a little or said something silly to get his attention and make him laugh. For the most part though, I just followed him around and captured his adventures.
These photos also worked out perfectly for Week 3 in the Life in 52 challenge. I edited this photo in both black and white and color but couldn't decide which I liked more. I posted both on my Facebook page and asked for opinions. The response was overwhelmingly in favor of COLOR.
See more of my photos from the Life in 52 challenge here.
This is the story of my son's VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) birth. Photos shared in this post are not examples of my professional work. They were taken by family and friends present at the birth.
At the end of Part 1 of this birth story, my support team was packing up and heading to the hospital.
I continued to have contractions all the way to the hospital and during the long walk up to labor and delivery. I was hooked up to a monitor and relieved to find that my baby boy was handling all the chaos perfectly.
Because it was a Saturday, I was assigned to whatever resident was on call that weekend. A medical student was sent in to question me and check my cervix - almost fully effaced, but only 1 cm dilated. It felt like a punch in the gut to hear that after all I had been through in the last day and a half, but then I remembered what my doctor had told me. I mentioned my concerns about cervical scarring to my nurse. She quickly browsed my medical history and said, “You know what. I think you might be right.”
We sat in a small room for a while waiting for the on-call resident to arrive. During that time, Bubba was moving and dancing in my belly. At one point, he rolled so drastically that everyone in the room saw my belly shift and the monitor dropped his heartbeat for a moment. He was back on the monitor pretty quickly and we continued to wait.
The resident arrived and almost immediately launched into her plans to admit me and start a pitocin drip. I stopped her and told her I wasn’t sure I wanted to be admitted yet. I simply wanted to discuss my options if I were to choose to stay.
I expressed my concerns from my first birth where pitocin was unable to make the necessary changes to my cervix. The nurse relayed my thoughts about cervical scarring in relation to my medical history. The resident simply waved away our concerns and continued to push pitocin. I finally had to tell her that I would not consent to jumping straight to pitocin because I didn’t believe it would address the actual problem. I told her I would rather go home. This turn of events did not sit well with her. It was clear she was used to women who came in and blindly did as they were told. She didn’t know how to handle someone who actually expected her to answer questions and explain her reasons for the choices she made.
She resorted to scare tactics at this point. She pointed out that my blood pressure had been slightly elevated when I arrived and tried to tell me I might be in the early stages of pre-eclampsia. It took all my strength not to laugh at her. She had clearly not looked at my chart at all or she would have known that I had experience with that particular condition. I simply smiled and told her that I had no swelling, no headaches, no dizziness, no prisms in my vision, and my blood pressure had been perfect throughout my entire pregnancy. I believed my blood pressure was more likely due to the fact that I had been awake for almost 36 hours laboring, and I was anxious about being in the hospital. I also reminded her that I had already given a urine sample when I arrived, and she was welcome to test it for protein. Of course, my urine sample was perfectly healthy.
I had gotten under her skin and she went for the low blow. She looked at the heart rate strip coming from the monitor. She said, “The good news is it looks like your baby is handling all of this well… except there’s one reading back here that concerns me. He could be showing signs of distress.”
The nurse in the room turned and looked at her like she had three heads. She said, “The baby rolled over. We all watched her belly shift. The monitor just dropped him for a second. The whole rest of the strip is perfect.”
The resident replied, “Maybe. But what if it’s not? What if he’s in distress and you go home and something happens to him? You’ll never forgive yourself and we don’t want that to happen.”
I just stared, incredulous. I imagine my mouth was probably hanging open. I had heard stories of doctors preying on the most vulnerable part of a woman’s spirit - implying that she was endangering the life of her baby in order to coerce her to follow orders, but I thought these stories were rare. I never imagined it would happen to me, yet there I sat. I wondered what would happen if I had been a frightened first time mom who automatically trusted anyone with a medical background. To what would I have consented? What would I have allowed that resident to do to me had she convinced me that I was putting my baby's life on the line? However, this was not my first rodeo, and I was furious.
At this point, the resident stepped out to speak with her attending. I talked with my husband, mom, and doula about everything that had just transpired. I probably should have fired that resident on the spot and demanded another doctor, but I didn’t. I stood up to her instead.
When she returned, I informed her I would only consider staying and being admitted if I were given an opportunity to eat and if we used a foley bulb instead of pitocin. A foley is a catheter with a balloon at the end. It’s inserted into the cervix and the balloon is filled with a saline solution. The balloon puts pressure on the cervix, forcing it to open. I was hoping it would break up any scar tissue present.
The resident, of course, tried to argue, but I held my ground. I also informed her I wanted to speak to her attending myself. The attending was wonderful. She thought the foley was a great solution, but she just wanted to make sure I knew we might have to revisit the pitocin discussion if my contractions didn’t progress after the bulb was out. I was fine with that.
My husband ran downstairs to find some food; I was admitted, and the foley bulb was placed. My doula went home to rest, and my best friend came in to be an extra support person. Thankfully, another resident took over after that. She was younger and seemed a little anxious, but she was, at least, kind. The nurses absolutely saved my birth experience. They were all lovely and supportive. I felt like I had my own personal cheering squad.
I was not anticipating the blinding pain the foley added to my contractions. Ripping through scar tissue is every bit as painful as it sounds. I think I could have handled it if I hadn't been so exhausted, but I was starting to lose control. My sweet husband did a great job talking me through contractions. He was trying to talk me out of an epidural because he knew how much I wanted to do this naturally even though it was killing him to see me like that.
In a calm moment between contractions, I told him I appreciated what he was trying to do, but it wasn't even about the pain anymore. I needed sleep. There was no way I was going to make it through this birth without some sleep. The anesthesiologist had just gone into surgery though, so I had about 2 hours of coping with the foley contractions before he came in. After a total of 38 hours of natural labor, I got an epidural and was able to take a nap.
An hour after the epi was placed, the foley bulb came out and I was dilated to 5 cm! The epidural had slowed my contractions though, so I consented to a low dose of pitocin to get them moving again.
I stalled a little at 5 cm, but the baby continued to descend. My doula came back, and I let my epidural wear off some. I could still move my legs; they were just heavy. With the help of my support team, I was able to get into some more upright positions to help labor along and then the doctor nicked my bag of waters to get it started trickling. After trying some different positions, I told everyone to get some sleep. I pushed the button to give my epidural a boost, and I went to sleep a little after midnight. My mom and doula later told me they don't think the epidural did much because I continued to groan through contractions in my sleep, but apparently exhaustion just took over.
The second resident woke me up at 3 am to tell me that I was at 10 cm and +3 station. It took a few seconds to register what they had said and when it hit, I began to cry. I was actually going to get to push!
Little did I know, I still had a ways to go. The horrible resident returned for the pushing phase much to my chagrin. The first hour of pushing was mostly trying to get me into different positions to move the baby down. The epidural was wearing off again, but at first, I couldn’t feel enough to push effectively.
The second hour of pushing, I was delirious. I was so tired I kept drifting off between contractions. God only knows what kind of weird stuff I said. I vaguely remember something about a horse and a bikini. I’m hoping I didn’t say anything out loud. If I did, no one told me.
In hour three, I could finally see his head and that gave me renewed energy to keep going. It was about this time that I was informed I was developing a low grade fever. I knew I needed to get my little guy out so I pushed with all the energy I could muster.
Fifty hours after those contractions woke me up at 4 am, three of those hours spent pushing, my sweet baby boy was born on January 17th. Despite reminding the resident that I didn’t want to cut his cord right away, the first thing she did once he was out was grab a clamp for his cord. My doula and I were both yelling at her not to clamp it. She rolled her eyes before putting the clamp down.
I immediately started yelling, "GIVE HIM TO ME! LET ME HOLD HIM!"
My mom and husband both later told me that was the moment when they realized just how much anxiety and brokenness I had been holding onto from Bug’s birth. It wasn't the joyful cry of a new mother wanting to see her baby, but one of desperation. I needed to hold him first. I needed to have him placed on my chest still slimy and fresh. I needed to be the first to welcome him to the world.
A nurse grabbed him from the resident and plopped him onto my chest. I was the first to see his beautiful face and announce to the room that he looked just like his big sister. I could never put into words the emotions running through my body in that moment. I felt victorious. I had conquered my own anxiety, my damaged body, and that terrible bully of a resident. I stood up to someone trying to abuse their power. I stood my ground and refused to allow my voice to be drowned out. I kept going when I wanted to give up.
My precious, perfect Bubba was worth every single second of that 50 hours. Despite all of the struggles, I think back on his birth with a sense of accomplishment.
He has been a whirlwind in our lives from the moment he was born. He is wild, stubborn, loud, smart, funny, and sweet. He tears through our house at full speed, only occasionally braking to climb in my lap and steal my food.
Happy birthday to my beautiful, blonde-haired, blue eyed boy, who adds grey to my hair and joy to my soul.
I must be the luckiest photographer in Charleston, SC. Maybe even the luckiest photographer ever. Would you like to know why? It's because my clients have THE. MOST. ADORABLE. BABIES.
Little miss Annalisa is no exception. With a sweet little face and big brown eyes, I knew her cake smash session was going to produce some beautiful photos.
I love cake smash photography sessions because, for the most part, I put a cake in front of a little one and sit back and capture all of the fun. I love posed, formal photographs and they have their place in our lives, but my absolute favorites as a photographer are those which capture personalities and natural moments. It's one of the biggest reasons I specialize in birth photography. I am simply an honored observer who finds and captures beauty as it unfolds. Cake smash sessions are a slightly more controlled form of lifestyle photography. I control some of the variables like decorations, props, and lighting, but as for the subject itself, the birthday girl, I just have to wait and watch for those photo-worthy moments.
Prior to the session, I spent some time talking with her mother about different color schemes and props I have available to use. We discussed the cake and Annalisa's outfit (you can never go wrong with a tutu), and mom gave me some pointers on some different ways to get her little one to smile.
December in Charleston is often mild as far as weather goes and thankfully that held true for our session. I set up in an outdoor covered shelter in a local neighborhood.
Annalisa was PERFECT during her cake smash session. As soon as her dad sat her in front of the cake, she slowly stuck her hands in. Once she had a little taste, it wasn't long before she was cramming her hands AND feet into the cake. I think it's safe to say that everyone involved had fun with this little one.
Happy Birthday and enjoy this sneak peek!