BIRTH

THE BIRTH OF ASPEN RAIN | C-SECTION, GOLD COAST BIRTH PHOTOGRAPHER

Aspen is my nephew. His mum is my younger sister.

The week leading up to Aspen's birth was full. My sister and her family were in transit, leaving their home of nearly two years in Darwin, en route to New Zealand for another stretch of time; the exhaustive task of moving to another country put on hold, to be surrounded by family, slow down for just a little while and have another baby.

Six days before Aspen's unexpectedly early arrival, we were shooting in my garage, documenting her bump and the tail end of life with just two kids in tow.

Baby wasn't due for another couple of weeks. Everything was looking good for a second successful VBAC. Bree's first pregnancy culminated in a planned c-section as her first son was in breech position, which then turned into an emergency c-section when she went into labour naturally ahead of the planned delivery date. It was a labour in fast forward. Everything was rushed. She had to force the midwives the check her as they told her to calm down, the obstetrician is on the way, we will take you down to theatre shortly, there's no need to rush, there's plenty of time, everything is okay (eye rolling at over the top first time mum), when in fact she was fully dilated and baby was trying to come out right then and there. A woman knows her body. First time mothers should never be TOLD how they feel.

Second time around, her daughter was born naturally.

The day after our shoot, Bree noticed a small patch of raised skin above her caesarian scar. The following day it had grown and was now filled with fluid. Another check up with her OB confirmed her scar had begun to rupture and the safest way forward for both of them, was steroid injections for baby's lungs, bed rest through the weekend and deliver baby first thing Monday morning. My brother-in-law was already in New Zealand, not due back for another week or so. Flights were rearranged, he arrived Saturday morning to have the weekend with the kids, and a quiet weekend was spent in hospital for Bree; waiting.

His birth was the first time I had been in an operating theatre, witnessing a caesarian birth. Barring one male orderly and the paediatrician, the dream team of theatre staff were all women. I marvelled at the ordinariness of it all - surgeons arriving in scrubs, expensive handbags slung over their shoulders as if they were strolling into any other job that didn't entail cutting someone open and delivering new life. Casual and excited early morning chit chat, preparing necessary equipment and tying colourful hungry caterpillar scrub caps. I was briefed on what was about to happen and where I was allowed to stand. How fast it would happen once baby's head was out. Don't touch anything. Don't touch anything.

All the staff wore smiles and gentle voices. Their every move deliberate and fluid. Like a gentle, calming hum in the background. There was laughter and conversation and music. A hand placed on her shoulder, or a soft brush of her arm. Kind eyes peering out from covered noses and mouths. Warm faces reassuring Bree, We've got you.

My eyes bulged, peering over the curtain separating Bree from her tummy, at the tugging and manoeuvring to free baby's head through the open wound made so swiftly in Bree's middle. Barely two minutes ago she was whole. Even though I was seeing it all with my own eyes, it was difficult to process. Unwinding the umbilical chord around his neck. More tugging. A little head. His earlobes folded up the wrong way from his safe, watery cocoon. More unwinding. More tugging. And there he was. Perfect. And sound asleep. Looking just like his big brother.


 

JESS + ROHAN | HOME BIRTH

I got the call just before 4am. This quiet, gentle voice whispering down the line. Tahnee, it's Jess. I'm in labour..

Jess lived about 75 minutes away from me, on a good day, with no traffic. When she reached out to have the birth of her fourth child photographed, I squealed with delight - a home birth. I'd only photographed hospital births before - which I am all for (my three were born in hospital) - but to witness the difference of a home birth, I was curious.

As Jess offered up more details about her pregnancy and previous births, her location.. my squeals of delight began to dissipate knowing the odds were stacked against us. Fourth baby, previous births all going smoothly, no complications, quick labours, over an hour between us.. yep.

Jess was fully aware that it was more probable that I would be documenting the first hour or two after baby arrived, rather than the birth itself. And she was on board for whatever was to happen.

I hoped and prayed the whole time I drove through the darkness. Asking the universe to help us out - I knew how much Jess wanted her final birth to be documented. I passed green light after green light, hit the highway and felt as if time stood still for brief moments to allow me to get closer to Jess. Exactly one hour later, I arrived, without speeding. It was as if I'd been in some kind of weird time travel. I pulled up not knowing whether baby was already here or still on its way.

Jess told me the door would be unlocked and to come on in. I entered a completely silent house, following a faint light down the passage. As I came into the living room I could hear rhythmic breathing. That was it. Instantly, I felt huge relief and excitement that the universe had listened (and baby too). We exchanged quiet hellos and I asked her midwives and mum how she was going. Less than five minutes later, Rohan Oliver arrived - her fourth son. Dad, and their three older boys were sound asleep.

These were possibly the most challenging conditions I have ever worked in. 5.30am. One light source not directed toward Jess. Trying to capture the images Jess wanted without making every shot a grainy mess was staring me in the face the whole time. Once Rohan arrived, he really didn't like my little light shining in his face every time I tried to get him in focus. I switched to manual focus - in almost darkness, and hoped for the best. The results were not perfect - far from it, but the imperfection here is so much lovelier to me. I had to remind myself the honesty in documenting a birth is far more important than technical perfection.

The unplanned variables of birth photography are what make me love it so much - it is so challenging. To be-give-show the right amount of invisible, support, closeness, distance, angle.. all while showing the utmost respect for the woman in front of you. I met Jess at her most vulnerable - barely clothed, in the final stages of labour. A stranger walks into your living room and you exchange hellos for the first time.

To be invited into these incredibly sacred spaces and moments in time, is like nothing else. To be handed such trust is something I cannot find the right words for. It is a bigger feeling than words. Jess will have these photos forever. And when she's old and grey, they'll be passed to her sons. And then onto her grandchildren. And her great grandchildren.. such is the beauty and magic of a single photograph.