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.