Six years ago I had a friend reach out to me to see if I could be her support during the delivery of her baby and also photograph it. She was a senior in high school, the baby’s dad wasn’t necessarily around, and her relationship with her father was strained (at that time). OF COURSE I’d be there for her, and thankfully my college professors were understanding and let me skip my classes.
Watching this baby being born was magical. In fact, when someone asks me what is the coolest experience I’ve ever had, I say “The Peace Corps was amazing… but I have no words to describe the way I felt after witnessing a baby being born.” It was at that moment I knew I wanted to be around the birth of babies but at that moment I was SO tired of school the last thing I wanted to do was start all over. I mean, the classes I take to be a French Language major are pretty different than the classes I’d need to take to be in the medical field. So, I put the thought behind me and was comfortable with the fact that this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity until I have my own kids, but even then, it’s different.
Then (on my birthday!) I received a message from a friend of mine. “We are trying to get pregnant again, that sounds so weird, and I am going to most likely have a home birth, if not at a birthing center. Would you be interested in capturing the special moments of it? If not, I totally understand, it’s not like you get asked this everyday.”
All I responded with was “YES!” (And congrats, because that’s definitely worth congratulating”). And then I forgot all about it.
Fast forward and I’m photographing an extended family. After I deliver the photos to the family, the sister asks me if she can use one of them for her profile photo on her new doula website. It wasn’t until a few months ago I looked up her website. After all, I was curious as to what exactly a “doula” is. Mind. Blown. THIS! THIS IS WHAT I NEED TO DO! If I were to become a doula I would be present at births, helping couples, and I’d even get the opportunity to photograph them. How MAGICAL is that?! Right around the time I was discovering this dream career I had no idea existed, I received another message from my trying-to-get-pregnant friend of mine (8 months after the first message). “I know you are on vaca! But, we are FINALLY pregnant! I’m only 6 weeks, so I haven’t announced it yet, but I am due February, so if you are still up for it, I would love to have you photo our home birth! Obviously I won’t know exactly when I’m going to go into labor, but it will be a water birth and I want very classy candid moments to cherish the experience!” Yes, yes, YES! I will be there!
The excitement of the “I have to find out more about doulas” thought hasn’t worn off but the craziness of the end of last year made me put the research and the studying and the communication with doulas and midwifes on hold. We had tons of events with The Photo Bus, fall portrait sessions, weddings, oh, and our own wedding to focus on. But I still had the opportunity to photograph a birth coming up and I was so excited to be there and I had absolutely no idea what to expect (except for a baby being born, but that’s a given).
On Friday night my friend (Mama) reached out to me. She said contractions had started, so I didn’t need to do anything yet except take my phone off silent mode. Saturday morning she text me and said they were picking up and getting stronger so we could have a baby this week, but again, I didn’t need to get ready to go yet (but I was JUMPING OUT OF MY SKIN just waiting to go!). But then the contractions stopped. Sunday morning they were back and 7 minutes apart. It had been raining all day so the streets were wet and the temperature was supposed to drastically drop over night and snow was on the way. Because of this, I didn’t want to take any chances and we decided if things hadn’t picked up too much by 8pm I was going to head over anyways. I arrived at their home right about the time their midwife said she was in active labor.
Mama went right to bed so I took some photos and decided to get some sleep, too. After all, baby was coming! Dad called their firstborn, who was staying with family members, to tell him goodnight and he hung out with the dogs for a bit before putting them downstairs.
Before I went to bed, though, I’d asked the parents if it was ok if I sort of live-documented the birth on Instagram. They said it was fine as long as I didn’t mention their names, show their faces, or tag them in it since they weren’t telling some family members they were in labor quite yet. I shared this photo and I had no idea just how this story was going to unfold- in person or online. So, I posted this:
At 1am things started stirring around the house. Mama’s contractions were getting stronger and we all knew we were done sleeping for the night. And thus, the documentation process began. When things would slow down I’d transfer the photos to my computer, edit my favorites to tell the story, email them to myself so I could access them on my phone, download them from my email, and then post them on Instagram. At that time I had no idea how this story was going to unfold (except there was going to be a baby!), how long it was going to be, or that people would start following me to follow the story.
There were moments of excitement, pain, fear, worry… and then it would repeat. She was eating to make sure here body was getting energy and fuel and baby was getting food, too. But every time she ate, the contractions kicked in again. She went from the bed, to the toilet (because it was comfy, not because she had to use the restroom), to the birthing pool, to the couch… and, again, repeated this where she was most comfortable. The first night turned in to morning, and I crossed my fingers hoping baby was coming. Then it was afternoon. And then another night. In short, by 9am on Tuesday morning, Mama hadn’t slept for 5 days. She was exhausted and there wasn’t much progress happening in terms of getting the cervix to drop. They made the very tough (emotional) decision to go to the hospital. By this time they had OK’d photos of their faces but they asked I wait to post that they were at the hospital for a little while. I started receiving messages asking if everything was OK… how’s Mama… how’s Dad… ANY BABY YET?! Around 10pm Mama was feeling “crummy” so she had the doctor come in. She asked her to push just once to see if progress could be made for a vaginal birth instead of a c-section. A couple of pushes later, she asked Dad if he wanted to see the head. Then, at 10:53 PM on Wednesday, 11-15-15, Baby Girl Evalee Gentry was born. “Eevie” was named after Grandma (LeeAnn) and her Great-Grandma (Gentry). 55 years ago on 11/13, Great-Grandma Gentry was giving birth to Mama’s uncle. Then, about 9 months ago Grandma Gentry died at the very hospital Eevie was born. When Grandma Gentry died, Mama was sitting outside reflecting on life, and just knew she was pregnant (she’d been trying for a year with no luck). Two weeks from that date it was verified- Mama was 2-3 weeks pregnant. AMAZING.
You guys… THIS is where my heart is. Weddings and portraits are great and fun, but birth photography is what is going to get me jumping out of bed at any hour with pure excitement to go to work. I know I have only told one other birth story, but I want to tell more. If you would like for me (me = CATE, not John) to document your birth, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can get together to talk about things more in detail. (Bonus points if you’d like for me to live-ish post it on Instagram!
… As you can tell, this was quite a journey for the parents and me. We hardly slept during the 54 hours I was with them but it was SO worth missing out on the sleep. The story isn’t even over yet- I went back the following day for Eevie to meet the rest of the family, and I’m headed out now to welcome her home.
If you’d like to talk to me about photographing your birth, please email me (CATE!)! email@example.com