Sitting in the hospital bed, staring at my new perfect baby boy, I really started to realize just how dramatic the last few hours had been…
“Well… that escalated quickly.”
When I woke up that morning, I just felt… off.
I don’t really know how else to explain it. Nothing in particular was wrong - I just felt run down and had no appetite.
I dropped my daughter (known here as Bug) off at school and decided to have a shamelessly lazy day with my toddler (a.k.a. Bubba). We stayed home all day and watched far more Daniel Tiger than I care to admit.
After school, I took advantage of the beautiful weather we were having that day and sat in my driveway while my kids played. My dad stopped by to see the kids for a little while and my husband came home from work shortly after. By that time, some of the other kids in our neighborhood were out playing too, so I left the men outside with the kids while I went in to try to rest.
As I was dozing on the couch wondering how I would possibly muster the energy to make dinner, I felt what I thought might be a contraction. It was definitely stronger than the Braxton Hicks I’d been having for weeks, but not exactly painful either. Another came several minutes later. Then a third…
During the third, I felt a painful pop in my pelvis. I don’t think I realized exactly what happened, but something in me started to think “GET OFF THE COUCH!”
As soon as I got up, my water gushed in true Hollywood fashion. I looked at the clock and it was about 5:30 PM.
I waddled to the front door and yelled out into the yard at my husband.
I told him I wasn’t in a hurry and that he could take a shower if he wanted.
Contractions started pretty much immediately and were 2-3 minutes apart right from the start.
I contacted my photographer to let her know what was happening and then put in a call to the after hours line at the OB’s office.
(And yes… I notified my photographer before the doctor because #priorities)
By the time my husband finished his quick shower, my contractions were already 1-2 minutes apart and I was groaning and really having to focus to breathe through them.
Even though I hadn’t heard back from the on-call OB yet, I decided we probably needed to go ahead and make our way to the hospital. Thankfully, my dad was still there, so we could leave the kids with him and my mom met us at the hospital.
We arrived at the hospital just a little before 7 pm, which is when shift change happens for the nurses. The current nurse hooked me up to the monitors to wait until they finished shift change. When the OB came in to check me, it was about 7:30 and I was 3 cm and 80% effaced.
I was moved to my delivery room. At this point, contractions were still 1-2 minutes apart and painful, but I was managing pretty well. Over the next hour, the contractions intensified and I was feeling more pressure in my pelvis. My husband suggested that I should ask to be checked again, but I really didn’t want that. If you’ve read either of my other children’s birth stories (here and here), you’ll know that my cervix has a history of not really cooperating in labor. I had a lot of anxiety about cervical checks. I was terrified of hearing that there was no change.
My husband kept reassuring me and I finally agreed. I was checked again just before 9:00 - 4 cm.
Not major progress, but progress nonetheless.
The photographer arrived around that time and things were really starting to ramp up.
I was struggling during contractions now. I was crying and when contractions peaked, I often said I couldn’t do it anymore. My husband just kept holding my hand and my mom wiped my face with a wet rag while they talked me through each one.
Between contractions, I was able to take a couple of deep breaths and calm myself. During contractions, I couldn’t think clearly through the pain, but in the short breaks between, I could recognize the signs of progress -
-The nurses kept having to move the monitors lower and lower on my belly to find baby’s heart rate because he was moving down.
-I was starting to feel nauseated at the peak of each contraction, which is a sign of approaching the transition stage of labor.
It had been less than an hour, but the OB asked if she could check me again. I declined at first because, again, I was scared. I was really struggling mentally with these contractions and I was afraid that if I heard there was no progress, I would completely lose it.
At this point my husband stepped in and told me he really wanted me to get checked. With my previous births, he was so anxious and seemed so unsure of everything. This time he was so calm and reassuring. He reminded me that he has seen me give birth before and he could tell that this time was different. He knew I was scared from my previous experiences and needed to hear that this wasn’t the same.
The OB checked me again a little before 10:00 and I was 7 cm and 90% effaced.
I was THRILLED! This was happening! I could do this!
My excitement didn’t last long. My labor pattern changed very suddenly. I was no longer getting any break at all between contractions. I wasn’t able to get that little break to catch my breath and calm myself anymore. I started to panic, which made my heart race.
At the same time, the baby’s heart rate started dropping really low during contractions. The nurses were struggling to differentiate between baby’s heart rate and mine on the monitors.
I ended up in a full-fledged panic attack then. I started screaming when contractions would peak and may or may not have told my husband that I was dying multiple times.
One nurse had me flip onto my side and put an oxygen mask on me while another was still frantically trying to find baby on the monitor. Although I was panicking, I still remember looking at my husband and realizing he was far too calm - smiling even. It’s the only thing that kept me sane.
I asked him later why he was so chill during that chaos, and he said there was another nurse in the room. The two nurses with me were so focused on their job - one finding baby’s heart and the other trying to get me to calm down and take deep breaths in the oxygen mask - that they weren’t taking in the whole picture. The third nurse was standing back watching everything and she apparently called the OB team back in. She told them that although they had just checked me, she was sure the baby was actually coming now.
Right about that time, my body started pushing. It’s called Fetal Ejection Reflex. I’ve heard about it. I’ve seen it happen to my birth clients. But absolutely nothing prepares you for the moment it happens to you. The pressure was unbelievable, and my body completely took over with no help whatsoever from me.
The nurse holding my oxygen mask was caught off guard by how abruptly I stopped screaming and realized I was bearing down instead. She quickly pushed my leg aside to look and said, “Well, mama… is this the position you want to push in? Because it looks like we’re there.”
It had only been about 15 minutes since I was checked at 7 cm and honestly, my brain couldn’t even process what was happening. The nurse asked me to take a few breaths and try to stop pushing so they could break down the bed, but I couldn’t. My body was pushing so hard, I couldn’t even catch my breath.
The OB then said she wasn’t worried about breaking down the bed and to just let my body do what it needed to do.
Just when I thought I would pass out from the pain and not being able to breathe, I finally got a break from the contractions. It only lasted a minute or so, but it was enough for me to take a few breaths and for the medical team to break down the bed.
After a short break, I started pushing again. Despite the fact that I could very clearly feel what was happening, my brain was still in panic mode. I was convinced this wasn’t really happening and that I wouldn’t be able to push the baby out. I kept saying I couldn’t do it and I needed someone to help me.
A nurse told me to reach down and feel the baby’s head crowning.
I finally managed to muster the strength and courage to push my baby the rest of the way out - only about 10 minutes of pushing altogether.
The baby was covered with a towel and placed on my chest. While I admired my precious new love, my mom ran out to the waiting room where my daughter was waiting. We had decided to let her be the first to peek and announce the sex of the baby.
We had a baby BOY!
A little while later, it was time to cut the cord, and I said I wanted to do it myself.
He was weighed at 8 lbs 11.4 oz - my biggest baby by almost a pound - and I had done it completely naturally!
My dad came in with the kids to meet our new little guy and they were totally smitten right from the start.
Once my parents left with the big kids, the chaos was over and I asked the nurse the official time of birth. I was shocked to hear 10:21 PM - just under 5 hours from when my water broke!
I looked down at my little Baby Bear, and said, “Well… that escalated quickly!”
A special thank you to Krista with Seed & Stem Photography for these beautiful birth photos!
The saying "April showers bring May flowers" didn't really apply here in Charleston, SC this year. May was mostly... showers.
Lots of trying to find ways to keep my kids entertained while maintaining my own sanity.
Photography inspiration doesn't always abound when the weather is dreary, but I think I found some pretty great moments.
So here you go - my Life in 52 challenge photos for the month of May:
You might recognize this photo from my Top Mom Photos blog post a few weeks ago. I'm making an effort to get in photos with my kids more often - and not just when my hair and makeup and clothes are perfect.
Once the weather started making us feel stir crazy, we decided to venture out of the house. One of our favorite spots is the South Carolina Aquarium. My mother-in-law gifts us a membership every year for Christmas, and we love being able to go spend a couple of hours with the fish now and then.
P.S. I just love how you can see his little reflection in the glass!
My sweet girl had her last day of Pre-K! I can't believe she'll be starting kindergarten so soon!
I actually almost forgot to take this photo altogether! I was headed to the hospital for a birth after dropping my daughter off at school. As we were leaving, I suddenly remembered the picture! I didn't want to get it at the end of the day because I had NO idea when I would be done with the birth (hazards of the job - but I love it). So I quickly grabbed the chalkboard and got her to pause for a picture. As I was snapping the photo, I said, "Wait... where are your glasses?"
She was a little mad at me for not retaking the photo with her glasses on, but we were going to be late if we tried to retake it. So this is what we're sticking with!
This is my favorite photo of the month. The rain had been pretty heavy for a couple of days. Since we were stuck inside anyway and my 2-year-old had been asking to use the potty, we decided to spend some time focusing on potty-training. He spent most days just running around the house in underwear (makes for less laundry when the accidents happen). One afternoon, the rain paused briefly and my husband went to take the dogs out for a quick walk. My son wanted to go along, but I told him that he needed to stay inside because he didn't have clothes on and it was wet outside.
He said, "It okay, Mommy. I have my rain boots."
Then he took off outside after his daddy. So I did what any self-respecting photographer mom would do and I grabbed my camera.
I hope you enjoyed another little peak at my life this month. For more from the Life in 52 challenge, click here. And check back at the end of this month for more!
I know what you're thinking...
You think I forgot about the Life in 52 challenge.
I haven't been posting my challenge photo each week like I have been doing all year.
Well, I actually have been participating in the challenge still. I just reached a point where I decided to group my photos into one blog post a month. That way you get 3-4 photos at a time instead of just one each week. This will also free up more time for me to write more blogs related to birth/maternity/motherhood awesomeness.
So without further ado, here are my Life in 52 lifestyle photography challenge photos from the last few weeks:
Okay... I have a small confession. I didn't exactly forget week 14, but I had other priorities. I had surgery that week, so I was focused on getting my family and household ready and then... ya know... having surgery. I hope I can appease you with this adorable picture of my kiddos on Easter.
The gorgeous, warm weather finally arrived here in Charleston, SC during week 15. One of Bug's favorite things to do on warm weather days is have a picnic lunch in the yard. This was our first official picnic of 2018.
If you know anything about my son at all, you know he's obsessed with "vrooms." In his little language a "vroom" is pretty much anything that goes: tractors, construction equipment, trucks, cars, etc. He often runs around and pretends to be some sort of "vroom."
I don't even really have an explanation for this one. Bug and I were being silly and this idea struck me suddenly. I didn't tell her what I was doing to her hair. I just told her she had to wait and see the picture when I was done. She has always had quite the expressive face...
You have no idea how long we wandered around the garden center to pick the perfect flowers. Bug is very particular about what she likes, and we had to make sure we looked at ALL of the options before she could decide. She had fun planting them with her daddy though - and really, that's all that matters anyway.
Want a quick guide to some of my favorite family-friendly events around the Lowcountry each month? Sign up for my VIP e-mail list!
Each April the International Cesarean Awareness Network sponsors Cesarean Awareness Month. According to their website, ICAN is "a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve maternal-child health by reducing preventable cesareans through education, supporting cesarean recovery, and advocating for vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC)."
As a birth photographer and a rockstar c-section mama myself, I know that cesarean births are just as beautiful and powerful and miraculous as any other birth. I also know that c-section moms have a unique struggle in the early postpartum weeks as they try to recover from major abdominal surgery while also adjusting to life with a newborn baby.
I was very fortunate to have a smooth c-section recovery after Bug's birth, and I attribute some of that to a few pieces of great advice from other mothers who had endured this surgery before me. I have compiled the top 3 recovery tips I found most helpful, and whether your c-section is scheduled or unplanned, I hope you find them useful as well.
1. Schedule Your Pain Meds
I am the queen of not taking medicine. I generally hate taking medicine of any kind but especially pain relievers. However, I learned very quickly after my c-section that all of my friends who told me to stay ahead of the pain knew what they were talking about. I still vividly remember one night when Bug was about 5 days old. I woke up in the middle of the night to feed and change her and realized it was time for another dose of my pain relievers. I had left my pill bottle in the kitchen and was feeling okay at the moment, so I decided to go back to sleep instead and take my dose later. It was only a few short hours later that I woke up screaming for my husband to bring me the medicine.
After an informal poll of my fellow c-section mom friends, the general consensus is to set an alarm and take your pain medication on a schedule for at least the first week. After that, you can slowly start stretching out some of the doses and start weaning yourself away from the meds. In my case, it took a full six weeks after Bug's birth before I was able to go a full day without any medication at all.
2. Embrace The Granny Panties
I know. I know. You are a young, amazing, sexy new mama. Granny panties are not your thing. Well, guess what? They're going to be your new best friend. Make sure they're soft and the waist band comes well above your incision site (you don't want to risk them rolling down onto your incision). For the first several days post c-section, I wore the mesh panties you get from the hospital. However, it eventually becomes unreasonable to wear those, but your incision will be tender for quite a while. I honestly can't tell you how long it was before I felt comfortable wearing panties with a lower cut waistband, but it was months. Honestly, even 5 years later, I sometimes find certain types of elastics irritating on my scar after wearing them for a long time. The good news is that high-waisted bikinis are totally in fashion right now, so at least bathing suit season will be one less thing you have to worry about!
3. Give Yourself Grace
Honestly, this one piece of advice could be applied to ALL new moms, but it's particularly important for c-section moms. You are recovering from MAJOR. ABDOMINAL. SURGERY.
You might see Jane NaturalBirth down the street taking her six-day-old baby out for a short walk, but you still can't even stand up straight and need help getting out of bed. That's okay though because...
MAJOR. ABDOMINAL. SURGERY.
It's so important to remember what your body has been through and not try to push yourself to do what you "think" you should be able to do at any point. So you actually have to take people up on those offers to help or clean or cook? That's great! After Bug was born, we had so many friends and family members bring us food that I swear I did not touch my kitchen for a solid month. That meant even more time for me to rest and recuperate and snuggle my perfect new baby girl. My mom usually helped out by cleaning up a little when she came over, and I had friends and cousins who folded loads of laundry while I sat nursing the baby. I give you full permission to pull the "I had major abdominal surgery" card whenever needed - diaper changes, dishes, anything. Honestly, I think we c-section moms should be able to use that card for the full first year - but maybe that's just me.
Now I know you may be struggling with a wide variety of feelings about having a c-section - I know I did - and that's okay! You are allowed to feel however you feel about your birth. I just want to remind you that no matter what happened in the events leading up to your cesarean, you are an amazing mom! You literally laid yourself out on an OR table and allowed yourself to be cut open for the sake of your baby. There's a special kind of beauty and strength in that.
I hope these tips are as helpful in your recovery as they were in mine! If you're a veteran cesarean mama too, share your best recovery tips in the comments!
It's confession time: I barely touched my camera outside of client sessions this week. I took a couple of iPhone shots of things my kids were doing, but the Life in 52 challenge was far from my mind most of the time. Not only have I been busy editing client sessions, I also found out this week that I'm going to be having surgery after Easter.
Something about the mom of the household having surgery and being out of commission for a little while seems to create a cloud of impending doom. I have an incredibly capable husband who is also a phenomenal dad and we have plenty of family and friends around who are going to help. It's just that there's so much every day minutiae that we moms handle unnoticed by others - can I get an amen?
I've been a flurry of domestic chaos trying to make sure everyone has plenty of clean laundry and planning one big grocery shopping trip to stock up on everyone's favorite snacks for a few weeks. Of course, I've also got to finish making my kids' Easter outfits and preparing their baskets.
Anyway, on Friday, all of my social media newsfeeds were bombarded with photos of everyone's adorable puppies. It seems it was "National Puppy Day." I'm not sure who made that holiday up, but as I glanced over at my snoozing dog, I thought, "Maybe it's time to feature a photo of something other than my children."
So meet Ellie Mae. We adopted her from the Charleston Animal Society in 2011, a little over 6 months after we got married. She's a mutt - most likely a mix of pit bull and some kind of terrier. She has a boisterous, scary-sounding bark, but I can assure you that she is the sweetest and most skittish dog you will ever meet. She had endless energy as a puppy, but now she mostly likes to lay around on this big stuffed giraffe pillow, dozing the day away.
Spring is just around the corner and for photographers of every kind, that means the business is picking up. I'm so excited for all of the newborns, babies, and families I'll be photographing in the coming months, and I'm sure you're all looking forward to reading about something other than my adventures with my kids! However, I must admit, I do enjoy the slower season that winter brings. I've enjoyed this time of turning my camera towards the beautiful, everyday moments in my own home.
This last week of calm has been so precious to me. I ended up submitting 3 different photos to the Life in 52 lifestyle photography challenge this week.
First, my husband decided to take Bug out for a special daddy-daughter dinner for some one on one time. She was SO EXCITED. She asked me to help her pick out the perfect dress and to style her hair in a bun. My heart could have exploded with love that day.
Later in the week, Bug wanted some arts and crafts time. She received a kit for Christmas to create and decorate stepping stones. She's been begging to make one and we finally had everything we needed to get it done this week. After it dried and we took it out of the mold, Bug got started painting the stone. When Bubba saw her, he came to me with his little, chubby toddler hands out saying, "Mommy, me paint too!"
I poured a few colors of washable paint onto a paper plate and gave him a small paint brush and a piece of paper. The house was blissfully peaceful for a solid half an hour while they created their masterpieces.
I'll admit we don't paint around here often. It's so cumbersome to cover the table and pull out all the supplies and, of course, clean up afterwards. However, every time we do something creative and messy, it brings such happiness and calm that I end up thinking to myself, "We really should do this more often."
Maybe my goal this spring will be to find the time to make more messes.
See more from the Life in 52 challenge here.
I love photos. I mean I know that sounds obvious because I'm a photographer, but I really do! I've hired photographers for many occasions - both big and small - in the past because it's a service that I value.
We've been in our new house for 6 months now, and I'm still struggling to decide what to hang on my living room walls. I have this one big blank wall that would be perfect for a gallery wall. The problem is I'm going through years of photos trying to decide which ones to display.
As I was sifting through photos, I came across a few from a breastfeeding session I had done when Bug was a little chubby baby. They are photos I cherish.
I had to wean Bug almost as soon as she turned 2 years old. She was only nursing once at night before bed by that point, but it was still bittersweet. My husband and I were ready for another baby, but in order to be treated by the fertility specialist and begin medications necessary for me to conceive, I had to stop breastfeeding. I ended that sweet part of my relationship with my precious girl so that we could add another little love to our family.
As I sat fondly looking through these photos, I realized I don't have any nursing photos with Bubba! I have one photo in the hospital from his first latch, but that's it. I really wanted to take a moment to document this time with him too.
He turned two in January, and he really only nurses maybe 3 times a day now. People who say that moms who nurse toddlers are only doing it for themselves have clearly never nursed a toddler. My son likes to point out and name my facial features while he nurses:
Let me tell you... little toddler fingers getting shoved in my eyes and nose are not exactly my idea of a good time.
There are days when I'm so over nursing him, and I just want to be done. There are days that he only wants me, but I'm so touched out, I could scream.
However... I love being the calm in his crazy. I honestly don't know how much longer we'll go on nursing. There's a chance he's my last baby, so I'm not going to rush him. I will sit and snuggle and nurse... and I will count it all joy.
See more of my photos from the Life in 52 photography challenge here.
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!
It's hard to believe that only weeks ago I was posting my first Life in 52 post about our record snow fall here in Charleston. Although it's technically still winter, we had beautiful sunny days with temperatures in the upper 70s all week.
It. Has. Been. Glorious.
You'll often hear people complaining about the heat and humidity here in Charleston, SC. I've been known to grumble and complain on occasion myself (mostly during the 2 summers when I was pregnant), but I wouldn't trade it to live anywhere else.
I've only experienced real snow that actually stuck to the ground 3 or 4 times in my life. Because it's such a rare occurrence, it's always so exciting and fun.... for about 2 days. After that, I'm OVER IT. Maybe if I lived somewhere where snow was more common, I wouldn't feel that way because we'd be better equipped to handle the snow. However, I just don't enjoy the cold weather. My already dry skin becomes downright painful, and all I want to do is stay inside and eat all the unhealthy comfort food I can find.
I guess it's a good thing the cold weather usually only lasts a short time around here. We usually have beach appropriate weather from February until November - and there's no such thing as too many beach days.
I took my kids to the beach for the first time in 2018 this week. It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision. We checked the forecast - 0% chance of rain. Perfect. I loaded the kids and our beach cart in my minivan and headed to Isle of Palms. When we arrived, it was raining. So much for that 0%.
Little pop-up rain storms are very common, so I knew to just wait it out. I had packed plenty of snacks for the kids, so I kept them satiated with food for about 10 or 15 minutes until the rain passed. After that, the sun was back and the weather was PERFECT.
The water was still a little too chilly to play in, but that didn't stop Bug. She repeatedly ran back and forth to the water filling buckets for the moat around her sand castle. Bubba excitedly ran towards the water once, but as soon as that cold water touched his toes, he cried and ran the other way. He was much happier sitting in the sand, digging holes, and burying his toys.
I didn't bring my "big girl camera" to the beach that day. I just wanted to enjoy the sand and the sun with my babies without always looking for that perfect shot. However, you can't NOT document the first beach day of the year! This week's lifestyle photography challenge photo is actually just an iPhone photo. Not my most professional or artistic work, but a photo I treasure just the same.
I had imagined photos of my little valentines making crafts for week 7 of the Life in 52 lifestyle photography challenge. I could already see their sweet faces celebrating the day of love. However, this week has been heavy - weighed down by sadness and worry.
A heartbreaking death in my husband's family.
A little girl close to my daughter's age was abducted after her mother was brutally beaten not all that far from where we live. Miraculously, she was found safe, but we all know those stories don't often end that way. Plus, the fear and trauma that family will struggle with for years to come is unimaginable.
Another school shooting not long after I registered my sweet girl for school next year.
My mama heart is weary. I'm anxious and unsure how to navigate this future where my babies will move farther and farther out into this frightening world and away from my bubble of protection. Do I prepare her for the darkness that exists in our fallen world? How do I do that without tarnishing her kind, tender spirit of which this world so desperately needs more? How do I find that balance?
I know I'm not the only mother lost in these worries. I can't decide if it's comforting or frustrating that no one else seems to know the answer to these questions either.
So I tiptoe in to watch her sleep, and find her resting peacefully with her hands clasped as if in prayer. My cup runneth over and for just a moment, my heart is at peace.