I arrived to a quiet space, a large room, with intentional energy. This was one of the most unique births I have attended, because I was not attending solely in my typical roles. I was there to document precious and difficult moments of breath and life and tears. I was there to support. But this time, I was also there as the only support.
Covid changed everything for so many families.
Especially for any families who were faced with low immune systems, immune compromised family members, or mental health struggles.
There had been so much conflicting information during this time, and this mama was not able to make a definite decision about her birth team until days before labor. One of her older children was immune compromised, but the child's doctors could not confirm or deny how covid would affect her if she was exposed. No one could tell how serious they should treat it. The case numbers and stats changed every day, many doctors were just as in the dark as the rest of us. We had to balance the information from the media with our own fears and choices, alongside the ever changing hospital restrictions, every day.
I have taken photos for this mama during 3 of her pregnancies. I have been next to her since she became a mom of two. Now, I was supporting her here in this space as she became a mother of four. This pregnancy is their last planned pregnancy, and thus the end of a beautiful chapter for her. She faced a lot of things that made it hard to focus on that peace and beauty.
She ultimately decided that the best way to protect her peace of mind, was to keep her older children with her husband in their home, and to have me attend her birth as the sole support partner.
This choice would ensure that her husband didn't bring anything unwanted home from the hospital with him, ensure the comfort and safety knowing her older children were in his care; it would remove the stress of trying to find a baby sitter for however long the birth would be, and overall would help her manage her needs and fears the best during this birth.
She also faced during this pregnancy- storms of Perinatal OCD and Anxiety, very common conditions that can arise during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. She worked closely with a mental health professional, an OB, and with me to ensure she was supported as fully as she could be while she managed these conditions.
We were both looking forward to the unique circumstance of having an all female birth team. I absolutely cherish various forms of birth support, but there is seriously a unique energy when that feminine presence is so concentrated. It is quieter, more fueled by instinct and intuition. There is less need for filling silences, or entertaining. Women have a way of settling in with one another, this was amplified because it was only the two of us.
Serving in this birth space was both most challenging, and most rewarding.
It taught me how to expand, and move through various emotions and limits, while still protecting my own energy and spirit.
The first half of the birth was filled with music and silence, rest and soft conversation. We bonded much like we had at her last birth, and these soft comfortable moments have become some of our favorites to look back on.
In regards to the OCD and anxiety, we created a birth space and plan that was extremely intentional. Every surface and space was cleaned, every transfer of items or hands was carefully monitored and protected. We wore masks, and touch was extremely limited. It was such a different time, serving in birth spaces in the midst of a pandemic, something unique that changed us all in so many ways.
Around midnight, the contractions had grown in frequency and mama began to stop during each one. With low vocalization and deep breathes, she paused. Her original plan at the start of pregnancy was to try for a med free labor. However as the circumstances changed- an induction due to preeclampsia, the pandemic, and her fatigue from managing mental illness- mama decided to give herself the grace and permission to get an epidural. She had epidurals with all her last babies, and they had always worked flawlessly for her. It would hopefully allow her to get some much needed rest before the transition of her labor.
There was a bit of hesitation and fear, when we were told that due to the pandemic, they no longer "allowed" a support person to be in the room with the mother during the epidural placement. Her husband had supported and held her through each of her last, and she felt very nervous about doing it alone. It was extremely hard for me to leave her during this moment, she sat on the edge of a bed clutching a pillow and I wanted nothing more than to wrap the whole warmth of the world around her small frame. I was so grateful to the nurse who stepped up, and compassionately served and supported her during my absence. Those first moments of contact are some of my favorite moments in the photos below.
When I returned, Mama was expressing to us that her mouth felt numb. It was a strange sensation that she had never experienced before. We chatted with the nurses and asked for extra support. Soon after these moments of confusion, mama began to feel very sick. Her heart rate and bp dipped, and as hers did, so did baby's. The dip was brief, and was accompanied by a small rush of activity, and a dizzy sick spell. Nurses calmly searched for babies heartbeat, and we all held our breath in that silence. It was the longest moment for all of us, before they realized that the doppler was simply out of batteries. A replacement showed babies heart right where it should be and we all exhaled, though we were still unsure how much had been reaction and how much had been machine malfunction. Mamas bp remained a little high after the stress of those moments, and her epidural wore off temporarily due to the rush of adreniline, but soon she was able to get some rest. I laid out on a couch and got some much needed sleep as well.
During our rest mama used the peanut ball, breathed, and struggled to find a comfortable position- the epidural was not working as well as it had with her last babies.
Still, she did find sleep. She also found extreme comfort by the unique blue light option in her birthing suite. During these quiet moments I captured a few artistic and abstract photographs, an attempt to express the out of control feeling and surrender it is to birth in such a time, and under such as Anxiety and OCD.
We woke up around 5 in the morning, and mama had the labor shakes. We learned a fun bit of information from the nurses. If you have the labor shakes, stick out your tongue. If they are caused by medication, the shakes will continue. If they are caused by hormones of labor, they will pause. Sure enough when she stuck out her tongue the shakes would stop! It was a light hearted and humorous few moments.
At this point, mama was feeling energetic and optimistic. For a few short hours, everything was going smoothly, and we were simply waiting on baby to make their grand arrival. Unfortunately, that calm did not last indefinitely. Mama's contractions started to become unbearable, the Pitocin was making her contractions too strong, too fast, and she barely got a breath in between them. The epidural was no longer working, mama could move and feel everything. We requested it be fixed. When it was, again, mama felt her mouth go numb. We learned that this was her bodies way of telling us something was not right, a precursor event. Again, her BP dropped, and her heart rate dropped, she became temporarily lethargic. There was a rush of activity as mama came back around, and we saw how babies heart rate was not tollerating the activity. It seems something had gone astray with the epidural, I did not understand it completely but it was something with the placement, her nerves in her spine, and the medication. It effected her bp and body as it never had before. With true care, and respect for absolute consent- her team prepped her for an emergency cesarean birth. They were so calm, and level headed. There was only compassion, and quiet kindness as they worked.
To my surprise and delight, they allowed me to accompany her into the OR- an access I have only rarely been granted in this area of North Carolina. Being her only support person, it was vital to me that I see her through this moment. I dressed as they took her back, and waited a short time in the hallway of the OR suites. It was a nerve-racking waiting time. I can remember these moments most vividly. I spent them in prayer, and tried to send her every good thought and vibe through those walls.
When I was granted access to her OR, I immediately met her gaze. She was crying, calling out to me with her spirit, though her mouth remained silent. I joined her and grasped her hand and held on. There was tension, and fear, and deep deep emotion in the room. The staff worked quickly, and informed mama all along the way. Their care was stellar, and so was their bedside manner. I couldn't have asked for a better team.
Mama faded in and out of consciousness, she was exhausted, she surrendered to the situation and let it unfold while she rested. I followed baby to the warming bed, immediately documented a photo and brought it to mama to see. Mama smiled, as soon as she knew her baby was okay she let go of that last bit of tension and found rest. She asked me to stay with baby.
I did. I documented every little detail. Baby was so pink, so bright, and so curious. She was looking around everywhere. She would respond to mamas voice anytime she heard it. When mama was ready, they helped her clean her hands and then baby was placed in her arms. They stared at eachother and didn't look away until we reached the recovery room.
There was a calm buzz in the air, as baby and mama were checked over and all the stats were taken. When all was clearly well, they were moved to thier room and left to get to know one another.
Mama was nervous about recovery and how it would be different this time around, after a cesarean birth. We spent all day, all night, and the next morning caring for baby and processing her birth story together. She felt really good about the care she received, and noted how much of a difference that had made on her impression of the events while still recognizing the depth of what she had gone through and the time that was going to take to heal from.
We sorted out some breastfeeding curves, and mama found a bit of a routine. We ordered food, but hers was left untouched for a long while as she awed over and cuddled her new baby girl. She was hungry, but her instincts to nurture her baby were so strong in those fresh moments. Only after baby was completely settled did she accept her own meal time. Such a theme in motherhood. Even when we have the resources and support, we tend to put our children first. It is powerful and instinctual and part of why a good birth support team is so important. So that mama will be taken care of and put first by others while she cares for baby.
Family was called, plans were made, and baby's first bath was given. It was a rare and precious time to spend so long with a client after birth. It was an honor to document so many moments, so much of a story.
When I prepared to leave the next morning, reaching my limits of energy, I cleaned the area again, checked in on every possible need. We dressed baby and mama in their matching outfits and I documented a few final moments for her. I left with all of my peace and prayer lingering. Mama was chatting with her husband on the phone, and was in the care of a very kind nurse. She was feeling more confident about her ability to move baby from bed to bed, and was settling into her new motherhood so beautifully. She got to go home within the next couple days and I was so happy to receive the updates and photos she sent me of their time.
I slept for an entire day when I returned home, and spent the next few days and week re-living moments and tears as I edited and curated this gallery. It helped me process the birth immensely. I learned so much, and took so many mental notes on the experience- ways I could have worked differently, lessons I would carry with me into future births, what my favorite moments were, and how mama was reflecting on the birth as well. It was a birth I will never forget, this feeling of connection was rare and fragile, challenging and sacred, and absolutely beautiful.
I have had the honor of keeping in touch as well, as mama continues to process her birth, send me baby photos, and connect within our own developed friendship. It has been a blessing to continue to be a part of their journey in spirit and story.