Gerry was due to give birth on 10 June 2013. Baby boy had other ideas.
On the morning of Wednesday 29 May, I woke to a text message from Gerry telling me she was to be induced two days later, on Friday morning. Friday morning arrived along with another text message. Induction had been pushed back given there were no available delivery suites following a busy Thursday night for new life.
Gerry was induced around 10am and she and her support team kept in touch to let me know how things were progressing. It was just after 3pm when I received a call from Gerry's brother, Noel. It was time.
In the time it took to drive to the hospital, I thought about the times I had been in Gerry's shoes. Blossoming belly, anticipation filling my entire body to my very fingertips, counting down the hours until I would meet this little person who I already knew, who had grown inside me, who I had nurtured and loved, without question. Who would they be? What would they look like? Would I be telling loved ones we had a son or a daughter? I am certain I was smiling most of the way to the hospital.
I also thought about what I needed to be, for Gerry. The task was simple in theory. I needed to be invisible. I needed to make her feel as though I wasn't there. So she felt free to embrace the raw emotion that comes with delivering your child into this world, without feeling self conscious or guarded. From our email conversations, especially her first, I knew Gerry was a strong woman.
Given baby's early arrival, Gerry and I had no time to meet prior. Walking into a birthing suite to meet someone for the first time as they squat on an exercise ball and breathe through another painful contraction is not your usual hi, hello! Gerry's friend, Bianca, who I had spoken to earlier over the phone, acknowledged me with a smile and a gentle hi. Lara, Gerry's midwife, welcomed me with a warm, easy smile.
So you're the photographer?
Yes I am.
In that moment I thought she should ask me for some proof. Like an authorised backstage pass to the big event that was about to take place.
The room felt all too familiar. Calm and warm, the gentle ticking sound of the monitor strapped around Gerry's middle. I began snapping, worried my already soft shutter was too loud for her. She took no notice of me and kept breathing. I let her take the lead and only offered conversation if she asked for it. I could tell from Bianca's words and the rapport between them that she was the perfect person to be beside Gerry at that moment. As contractions drew closer and Gerry's comfort lessened, there was no waiver in Bianca's commitment to ensuring her friend knew she was capable of the sometimes overwhelming task ahead.
As baby moved closer to his escape, I struggled to continue with my invisibility theory. The only times I have experienced birth is by being the one doing the birthing. It is a very different side of the fence to be on. Gerry was labouring naturally, and I knew what that felt like. The pain on her face as contractions mounted made me want to join Bianca's side as chief cheerleader. Many times, I opened my mouth to offer support, before my brain knew better and allowed nothing to come out, only for Bianca to utter the very same words that had formed in my head, moments before. Bianca holds her lifelong membership to the motherhood club too.
I warmed heat packs, offered water and grabbed hair clips when moments asked for them. I delivered news to Gerry's family, sitting patiently behind the door that divided the workers and the waiters. I had to push the hot tears from my eyes as I told them Gerry was fully dilated and ready to push. The look on their faces was something else. Pure joy that their nephew and grandson would be here soon.
Though not soon enough.
I've heard of women in their final stage of labour, pushing for hours to bring baby into this world. I had never witnessed it or experienced it. I was blessed with babies that were in a hurry to get here. If you're a mama, who has been lucky enough to deliver your baby naturally, you will know the strict and precise technique involved in pushing. It can take a while to get hold of and Lara told us how common it is for birthing mothers to spend half an hour or more pushing in a way that isn't moving baby any further to the exit, until they get it.
Hours passed. Pushing, changing positions, checking baby, administering more syntocinon to extend the length of contractions that were not giving Gerry enough time to move baby very far at all. She was exhausted. Beyond exhausted. I wondered where she was to find the strength to continue pushing. Bianca held firm and laughed off the obligatory pleads of I can't do this! All the while having at least one hand on Gerry or grasped firmly in one of her own.
Of course you can! It's the only way baby's coming out! Let's go. Push!
Gerry gave me free reign of what I was to document. She wanted an honest account of her baby's arrival into this world. An honest account of her literal journey into motherhood. While completely unintentional, as baby and mum finally came together to push through the final exhaustive stages, I was drawn to where baby would emerge. In that moment, I felt Gerry's story would be incomplete if I was to be so close to baby's first moments and not capture them.
There are no missing pieces to baby's arrival here. If natural delivery of a baby is not something you feel comfortable to see, I trust you will anticipate the right moment to scroll ahead. For those, like myself, that feel there is no greater miracle than baby emerging from mother, then I hope you feel the same power I do when I look at these pivotal images where new life is born.
When doctors and midwives praise your efforts following the birth of your bundle, I always assumed it was a necessary part of the process. A prerequisite. Something they checked off their list to complete the birthing process. They have to make you feel good after all that hard work. It is only now, after witnessing someone else's birth, that I realise it is as far from a prerequisite as it could be. It is honest. Pure honesty. That a woman has the strength and power to deliver a baby from her body when sheer exhaustion threatens to defeat her.
In the space of seconds, just as I had known, Gerry's tangible exhaustion evaporated as she enveloped this tiny creature, still a part of her. Her face showed only wonder and astonishment. That he was here. That she had done it. That she had made it - to the other side. Her first moments into Motherhood. And he was perfect.
Welcome, tiny Gabriel Francis Micallef!
Emotion and love overflowed. Mother and son were separated by Gerry's hand. The news had to be shared, even though she was still technically in labour. Dad, Frank, and brother Noel, were delivered the good news and beckoned from the waiting room. Gerry introduced her new son, with the people she loved the most, as she delivered the placenta. Lara asked if I wanted to get a photo. Yes! Please get a photo of the placenta for me! shouted Gerry. Never had I heard such a strange and beautiful request at the same time.
Gabriel has been welcomed into a strong, loving family. I spent little more than four hours with its members, and I could walk away knowing how blessed his life would be. Because that is all a child really needs. To be loved.
Thankyou Gerry. Thankyou for allowing me to be present at the very moment your life was changed forever. The moment where your heart began to live outside of your body. Blessed and humbled is how I feel to be able to deliver your story. Thankyou X