When Rachel first asked me if I would consider photographing her birth I didn’t get myself too excited to begin with (even though I was over the moon). I wanted to have a think about it for a few days and make sure I could fully commit to being on-call 24hrs around the clock for 4 weeks or more. I had to make sure that I wouldn’t be out of town and that I could drop everything (including organising a baby-sitter for my 2.5 year old) at a moment’s notice. After I decided that, yes it was possible; I let myself get excited for the magical and awe-inspiring event that I knew I was going to be honoured to be a part of.
My preparation process started on new years day even though the due date wasn’t until the end of January. I had 2 cameras ready to go, multiple lenses, back-up memory cards, batteries, snacks and clothes for the hospital… I think I actually took more stuff to the hospital in the end than even Rachel did! I was probably a little too excited or nervous but I wanted to make sure I was ready for any event. The nerves got worse as the due date approached and then went by us.
On the second of February Rachel started to get “signs” that things might start happening.
…. But things didn’t really get going until the next afternoon. Just after dinner on Monday the 3rd I got a frantically excited phone call followed by a text message from Renae (Rachel’s friend and extra birth partner who happens to be my sister-in-law).
So off I went with all of my bags of “stuff” to Rachel and Joel’s house. I was wondering what Renae meant by “Rachel’s lost it a bit”. Hmmm, are we going to have this baby really soon? As I walked into their house, decorated in typical Rachel style with beautiful and quirky things on the walls and sentimental photos hung everywhere, I breathed in the smell of calming oils burning and sensed the excited, pre-birth tension in the air. Rachel is a beautiful soul who believes strongly in the power of women. She had been practicing hypnobirthing techniques which she also used for her first birth, her daughter Ella. The hypnobirthing music and words were playing from an iPhone and Rachel was calmly finishing off a contraction in her lounge room. Renae was standing by her every step of the way in true “Red Tent” style. I got a little emotional seeing her so vulnerable and strong and knowing that I was honoured to bear witness.
Unfortunately Rachel wasn’t the only one in the house going through some painful moments. I was informed that Joel had come down with a VERY bad stomach virus or gastro. He was in a world of pain and hardly able to get out of bed except for the frequent running to the bathroom! It was very unfortunate timing indeed. So, at the same time we had Rachel labouring through surges in the lounge room, and Joel getting acupuncture treatments from his parents in the bedroom. Obviously Rachel was upset that Joel was out of action on this most important night. Renae took over head labour partner duties and Rachel tried to focus her strength on herself, all-the-while grieving the fact that her love could not be there with her in the capacity that they had imagined.
Rachel went through the surges calmly with Renae massaging her back, until we thought it was time to head off to hospital. Joel got the strength to pick himself up off the bed and stumble into the shower. We all crammed into their car, me at the wheel, and headed off to RBH. Just after take-off Joel announced that he was wearing one of Ella’s nappies – just in case! We all burst into laughter. It was a strange car ride to say the least.
At the hospital Rachel laboured in the bath, on the fit ball and walking all around the room with someone massaging her lower back. Through the night Rachel’s surges came on harder and would drop off again for a bit. She started to doubt herself on occasion (as every woman does in labour) but her inner strength and her support partners pulled her through. Her cervix was stuck at 9cm for some time and she had to pull out all of her strength to fight through that last hurdle.
Once the pushing began it was over as quickly as it had started. With a couple of primal expulsion-induced pushes Rachel birthed her baby boy Billy into the arms of Joel and bought him up to her chest.
New big sister Ella at home on the morning of the birth after a big mug of hot chocolate!
The rest as they say is history. A family of 4 now begins their new journey with Billy in their lives. It was an emotional night and I am so, so honoured to have been there to share in Rachel and Joel’s birth experience. Thank-you so very much, Rachel and Joel, from the bottom of my heart! You invited me to photograph you at the most vulnerable, precious, loving, difficult, trying and heart wrenching time of your life. It is a night which I will never forget.
“There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that childbirth is painful. It’s that women are strong.”