Friday, July 31, 2015

Perfect Baby L

I am a certified birth & bereavement doula, but I'll be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about giving birth.  I kinda think that had my own birth stories not been so traumatic, and maybe if my uterus wasn't trying to murder me, I would have a better understanding of how magical giving birth truly is.

To me, giving birth is..... terrifying.    

But Baby L came into this world in the least terrifying way that could ever be possible.  He arrived through a direct passage filled with serenity, encouragement, love, and peace, right into his mama's arms.  And I was so privileged to be a witness to it.

Mama got induced at the local German hospital, giving me a really neat perspective.  Since Baby J was born at the Army hospital just a day earlier, I took full advantage to compare the two experiences.  Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) is where my little family gets all of our medical care at and is the hospital that I am most familiar with, so I was enthralled with the style of the German medical team, and so excited to be able to experience it up close!  

I was notified that Mama was being induced, but she was already in full labor by the time I arrived about an hour later.  She was in the bathtub, the room was dark, her doula soothing her through each contraction, with essential oils filling the room through a diffuser.  I was escorted into her room by a nurse who made it clear that I was absolutely not allowed to take pictures of any medical equipment (no monitors), or pictures of baby coming out, and anything indecent was forbidden.  Germans don't mince their words, the rules were clear, and fair.  
I drew from my doula training and knew that there wasn't a lot of time before baby would be making his appearance, so I quickly assessed the room and got my camera ready. 

I was instantly discouraged noticing that I had zero natural lighting.  I was mindful of what mama wanted, leaving the lights off to ensure her comfort, but I knew that taking pictures in that type of setting was beyond my rookie capabilities. 
I've been practicing taking pictures with my speedlite in shutter, aperature, and manual modes with very low lighting, but I hadn't gotten the hang of it, and I knew this was going to be a struggle.  I'm comfortable, and way more confident, with lots of natural light in manual mode, but without the lighting, I'm thisclose to putting my camera on 'auto' and letting the pop-up flash make my pictures look as shitty as it wants, just as long as I get some kind of picture.  
So again, having no idea where or how to start, but with a lot of determination, I just jumped in with both feet.  I put my speedlite on my camera (no, I would never actually use the pop-up flash), set my ISO at 500, and set it to manual mode.  I wasn't confident that that was the correct combination, and I had to fiddle with the ISO throughout the day.  But basically.... I snapped pictures on a wing and a prayer.

I tried my hardest to get pictures through the perspective of Mama, Daddy, and Doula- so I shot through IV cords, messy hair, over shoulders, under elbows, however I could to get a picture while keeping my distance so as not to interfere with Mama's concentration or the process baby needed to make his way into this world.  
There was a serene bubble surrounding Mama that I didn't want to mess with- it was too magical and I didn't want my poisonous uterus ruining anything.  I just sat behind my camera and listened to the gentle breeze of encouragement that fed Mama's strength.
It. Was. Amazing.

The labor progressed quickly and Mama's body gave all the indications that baby was coming!  The nurses and her doula convinced her to leave the bathtub so that she could begin pushing.  
That's when my brain started to panic.  I'm just not that fast yet with taking pictures, and I especially don't know how to get my camera to go faster when the room is so dark.  I just obsessively took pictures to try to capture as much as I could while still minding the rules the German nurse laid out for me.  I didn't know how else to put my panicky brain to use but to be obnoxious and take a bunch of pictures.

Once Mama got in a position that was most comfortable for her, Baby L came into this world in just minutes!  Now, I have almost no personal experience with giving birth in the traditional sense, so maybe it's like this for everyone...I wouldn't know... but I was struck by how Mama was given all the freedom she needed to get baby out.  
Her doctor, nurse, and doula allowed her body to do exactly what it needed to, and what it is designed to do.  Her absolutely incredible doula gently guided her through each contraction so she wasn't stressed, and together- doctor, nurse, daddy, and doula- flowed with mama's needs.  

Also, I learned that German hospitals sort of run off a seniority thing.  Like if a nurse has been working in a department for 10 years, and the doctor for 5, then the nurse sort of "outranks" the doctor.  Not on an education-level thing, but on a basic experience and respect thing- like the doctor understands that the nurse is more experienced, and the nurse understands the doctor has more education, but each are essential.  The doctor may bring his/her past experience with them to a new department, but never tries to undermine the experience of the nurse.  Does that make sense?  
For Baby L, the doctor was present for the birth in case of an emergency, but the nurse did the work and actually delivered the baby.  To me, it looked like a respectful, successful team because no one was "better" than the other.  Mama was fully in charge, they were just there to ensure everyone's health and safety.  It made sense!  Just a better way of doing things, if you ask me.

It's a boy!


I stopped taking pictures for a minute to check my settings on my camera when I saw the serene & magical bubble that had surrounded mama and had welcomed Baby L.  If you look closely, you can see it- you can see God's peace- it fills the entire room.  This was a difficult moment for me and I did only what I thought would distract me from my familiar ache... I took a picture of it.  God's peace filled the entire room, but I didn't feel worthy to be apart of it, and I wanted to leave.  I began to worry that my poisonous uterus was going to ruin the magic.  It was just so special, and my heart ached for my losses.  Baby L's birth had nothing to do with me, but I couldn't remove my own birth experiences from this moment, I tried... I really did... but I couldn't.
I almost felt like I was watching a movie- like this wasn't real.  But then, for me, it wouldn't be.  A hospital room filled with God's peace and the joy of a new baby is just something that isn't in my reality.  I'm pretty sure that His peace was there when my son was stillborn, but the weight & pain of my baby's death was what my heart focused on, so it's just a guess at this point.  I think God's peace was there when Isabelle was born....?  But I was so overcome with relief that she was alive that I didn't notice, so I can't be too sure.  

What I wouldn't give to relive those two days over again, knowing what I know now.

Do you see it?

Baby L was absolutely perfect.  He squeaked a little to let the world know that he was here, but once he was in his mama's arms, he was totally at peace.  The nurse got Mama cleaned up and comfortable, but never took Baby L away from her, not even for a second.  Baby stayed naked, in his blanket, where he got to nurse and bond with no distractions. 

It wasn't until about an hour or so later that the nurse gently took baby to clean him up, weigh him, and all of the other things that nurses do after a baby is born, but it was all in the same room that he was born in- he never left his mama's sight.  And while mama got cleaned and checked, I snuck in a bunch of pictures of daddy falling madly in love with his son.

He's smiling!

A perfect 3,310g! (7lbs 3oz)

My time with this amazing little family was coming to an end.  Mama was sleepy, and where I had not felt intrusive throughout the entire afternoon, I was now starting to feel that my camera was invading their privacy.  Besides, I suddenly felt emotionally drained, and so ready for a glass of wine.

I've gotta say.... after seeing two perfect babies born in two very different, but equally spectacular medical settings, just 24 hours apart, if I had to choose to give birth at the largest U.S Army hospital in Europe, or a smaller German hospital, I'd choose the German hospital....hands down, no contest, no question!

I am done with birth photography for the rest of this year, and I'm happy about that.  Just the rest of this year though, not forever.  I don't know what God has planned for me in the mean time, but for now, I'm happy to be taking a break (even though I could definitely use the practice).  Being smack dab in the middle of something that is sooooo emotionally complex for me was..... tough, and my heart just needs a minute to put those little broken pieces that got loose seeing two beautiful babies in their mama's loving arms back in their place- no biggie- those pieces come loose lots of times, I've accepted that they'll never fully heal.  
I have no doubts that after a few months off, I will be ready to take on whatever else God has planned for me!  I hope it's in the direction of 'Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep,' but who knows....  I'll go where ever He leads.


  1. these photos are amazing. just as good if not better than other birth photography I have seen. you did amazing. these parents will treasure these always. -Lindsay hovden

  2. These are truly AMAZING! I'm pretty sure that your uterus isn't poisonous but rather a "key" to helping other families. Your experiences and talents are being utilized in wonderful ways. My bet is that these families "feel" something from you when in your presence. You've left them not annoyed by you being there but rather comforted and joyous of your talents. Kudos to you lady! Keep rockin' it out! - Judee Kleinsasser