Birth Photography

The Birth of Lilly Mae, featuring Robin of Grace Enough for Us - Fairbanks Birth Photographer

This post is different than any other on this blog - rather than me rambling on and on, it is a wonderful (if I do say so myself) collaboration.  

A family of five, soon to be six.  

I absolutely love sharing birth stories (and reading birth stories, and writing birth stories, and all things birth stories...), but I will admit that I often have a lingering worry in the corner of my mind about telling others' stories - I worry about accuracy according to the family's recollections, about maybe revealing something about the birth the mama wasn't aware of, and in a general sense, stepping in on a story that isn't really mine.  Though I'm verbose by nature, I try more and more to let the images tell the story of a birth rather than put my own words to it.  

This is a glorious exception, however, because I didn't write this birth story!

When Robin hired me to photograph the birth of her fourth child and rainbow baby, she mentioned she has her own (rather lovely) blog, Grace Enough For Us.  It immediately occurred to me that I might be able to pull her in on an idea I'd had for a while, which was to publish birth stories written in first-person by the mama to accompany my visual storytelling.  The thing is, I do kind of feel like a heel asking the mother of a brand-spanking-new baby to write something!  (Because we all know what a new mom needs is something else to add to their to-do list, right?)  Lucky for me, Robin (almost) immediately agreed, and in record time emailed me the retelling of Lilly Mae's birth.  

(Sidenote: past, future, and current clients - if writing up your birth story sounds like something you'd like to do, please please please give me a holler!)

Without further ado, here it is: The Birth of Lilly Mae, by Robin Chapman.  


I'm so excited to get to share my birth story here! ...Also, a little nervous and starstruck to have my ramblings paired with Sarah's gorgeous photography. (You guys. It's THE Sarah Lewis.)

...okay, actually, my birth story is kinda boring. 

That's a good thing. This one was (as mine tend to be) blessedly uncomplicated. Short version: I had a baby. First, I was pregnant for a long time. Then I had contractions. Eventually a small human came out of my body. It went about like I expected, based on the last three babies I had.

Let me back up a bit. 

Wednesday morning, I woke up to painful contractions and no water coming from my  faucets. (Sarah's note: literally.  Literal plumbing.)  The contractions were annoying, but not a problem. They'd been on and off since Sunday, when I'd decided to walk five and a half miles (because I'm insane) and I expected them to go for another two weeks. With my third baby, my body faked me out in ways that were increasingly convincing for a couple of weeks. The tap water, though? That was a problem. I had to pee every four seconds, so running water was important. (It turned out to be a brief planned outage, thank goodness.)

Anyway, it was a rough way to start the morning. And, as is frequently the case for me in late pregnancy, the day continued to be pretty hard to deal with. There were some bright spots, like a kids' music thing at the university. And then there were some... less bright spots. Like the harmonicas that my kids (ages 1, 4, and 5) acquired at the music thing. Um... yay?

I spent a lot of the afternoon locking the bigger two out on the deck with the harmonicas while I stayed inside feeling fairly lousy. (Still, those darned fake contractions!)  I berated myself for being thoroughly unable to adult. (How are you going to make it through two more weeks of this?!?)

Happily, my husband (Andrew) and I had plans to get out of the house in the evening, which I hoped would keep my mind off the fact that I was very, very pregnant. One of those things was a music practice where I had a good view of a clock. Out of curiosity, I started timing them casually.

7:30 pm- Those fake contractions? Four to six minutes apart. And 20-30 seconds long. Predictably. Hmm. Still, I was reasonably certain this was NOT the real thing. But when, by the end of practice, they were closer and longer, I thought it prudent to alert my husband and the midwives... at least give them notice that it could be real.

8:45 pm- I texted Sarah: "Hey! Heads up, contractions every 3-5 min and 30s long. *THIS COULD STILL BE A FAKEOUT* (But it's getting to where if it IS a fake out, I will be heartily annoyed.)"

Andrew's mom, Bonnie, was already at the house watching the kids, so when we got home, she just went to get some clothes for the night and come back. Andrew had a work thing he needed to do (quickly) (remember, I still thought this was a drill) so I was on my own. Well, not really on my own. My oldest kept getting up and asking me questions during contractions. Usually accompanied by "MOM MOM MOM!!!" and insistent arm or belly patting. 

10 pm- It swiftly became apparent that this WAS the real thing, prompting another round of calls to the midwives and Sarah... and to my mother-in-law and my husband, since I had honestly started to contemplate driving myself in.  (Can we go back a sec and let it sink in that, during what ended up being early labor, somebody handed my children HARMONICAS? Thanks. Back to the story.)

10:30 pm- Bonnie came back. Andrew came back. I bossed them both around between contractions (while scrambling myself) to grab the last minute things. (Except my camera battery. I definitely missed that.) Also, I wrote a medical release for my kids, because the oldest needed a TB test read the next day. For the love. Never, ever, ever has writing a couple lines taken so much time or energy. 

11:15 pm- We arrived at the birth center, met by three women I trust implicitly, one of whom delivered two other babies of mine and also delivered my baby brother in my parents' bedroom when I was 10. Dana's basically the patron (matron?) saint of childbirth in my head. I was 6cm. (Not a fakeout! Hooray!) My thighs were cramping, so I got into the tub. I told Andrew to go find us a name for this little girl. (We've never named our babies any sooner than active labor. Our second was named after she was born, which felt SUPER stressful. The late naming isn't out of a deep-seated conviction to wait, but rather comes from procrastination and denial.)

11:45 pm- Sarah arrived (after dropping her smallish infant off).  About this time, it all starts to blur. Things got more difficult for me and Andrew made it through the names and we settled on Lilly Mae, which we'd had toward the top since we named the last baby girl. He held my hand and was generally awesome. Andrew and Kate rubbed my legs, because the cramping continued despite the tub.


At one point, when the contractions were long and the time between them was awfully short, I looked to my sweet husband, holding my left hand, and told him, "This can be our last one. We can be done."

He looked at me with his dreamy, kind, smiling eyes and replied, "Nah. We gotta have at least one or two more so we have an excuse to buy a passenger van." 

I looked at my right hand, resting on the side of the tub. I tried to will it to move. Nope. So I just said, "I wanna punch you so bad right now. I just... can't."

He chuckled. "I knew you would. And I knew you wouldn't be able to. I also know you won't remember this at all in the morning."

(I did.)

(Goodness, I love him. Also? What a punk.)

12:45 am- I checked in at 8cm. (Or 7? It's as much guess as memory. Because labor.) Then it got pretty hairy. I remember feeling a pain low in my belly that registered as abnormal and my brain panicked. "I'm a little worried that her shoulder is stuck," I said, rather rationally. Dana assured me that it was probably just the part of dilation. In retrospect, it was perhaps less rational than I thought to assume her shoulder was stuck when 100% of her was still solidly in my uterus, but whatever. I was in labor.

12: 51 am- Then it was pushing time and two minutes later (for a total of less than ten minutes after that check happened) (don't hate me), she was out. 

12:53 am. I reached for her immediately.

She was wearing part of her amniotic sac as a hat and she was the scary grey-purple shade that they always come out. She was perfect. There was no crying, just a lot of quiet looking around. 

I checked to make sure she was, indeed, a little girl (she was), and we just looked at eac...


No, really. I shouted that, because another contraction hit me out of nowhere. My husband laughed. (I didn't know that part then, because FREAKING OW, I THOUGHT I WAS DONE, but pictures help.) It was fine, of course... just a rude surprise as I was blissed out and staring at this perfect (if goopy) baby.

We got out of the tub and into the bed and moved on to all the other things that happen after a baby is born... We were mostly enjoying her and eating ice cream. (Pro tip: Ice cream is an awesome post-labor food if you can bring it.) I was trying to feed her; the midwives were taking vitals and listening to breath sounds... a lot of breath sounds. 

Know what's cool? The pushing part of labor is when the baby gets all the fluid squeezed out of her lungs.

Apparently, two minutes of pushing isn't always quite sufficient to accomplish that. 

So... the next three or four hours were filled with trying to improve her breathing rate and breath sounds and pulse ox. Toward the end, there was talk of needing to take her in, but they tried one more thing (positive pressure air) and it worked like a miracle. (I sound really laid back about this now, but internally there was ZERO chill then... This little girl is my only rainbow baby, so to have her not breathing correctly was pretty terrifying... Just when I was done fighting through all the fear that comes with pregnancy after miscarriage.)

5 am: Finally, she was breathing, settled, nursing.We needed sleep. (So did Julie and Kate, but another mama came in just as as things were settling with Lilly, so... no sleep for them!) We dozed on and off for several hours, then went through checking out and headed home.

4 pm: At home, Sarah rejoined us to capture my three bigger kids meeting Lilly. It was lovely. They adore her. They welcomed us with earrings they made for me and a necklace they made for Lilly (which is being saved for a time she won't choke on it.) One of them piled ALL her stuffed buddies on top of the new baby as gifts.

There were pokes, smooches, and eye-prying. There were lots of squeals and crowding and so much love. Basically, day one as a family of six.

Oh, and harmonicas. No newborn homecoming is complete without harmonicas. (Clearly.)

(This is Sarah again.  For more of Robin's maternity session, click here, and for Lilly Mae's Fresh 48 Session, click here.)

Strength - Fairbanks Birth Photographer

Occasionally, I get the opportunity to submit images to publications.  I was responding to a request from a journalist who was compiling a piece on the incredible strength of women during birth, and I had a thought: even if I'm lucky, only ONE of these images will be published.  And every single one of them is incredible.  

And so I decided to put them together here on the blog.  I do have to note that this brief collection is by no means a comprehensive survey of the strength I have witnessed in birth spaces.  Every birth I've ever attended has been a display of grace, strength, and determination.  

I'm reminded of a quote I've seen making the rounds recently: "The way a society views a pregnant and birthing woman reflects how that society views women as a whole.  If women are considered weak in their most powerful moments, what does that mean?"  (Marcie Maxari)

Birth truly is a powerful moment.  

Sarah Lewis Photography on The Huffington Post

One of my images was recently featured on the Huffington Post as a part of an article on the beauty of cesarean birth!  Fourteen other incredible images from my birth photographer colleagues from around the globe are also featured.  Click here to check it out!



The Births of Ernest & Vincent - Fairbanks Birth Photographer

I gift all of my birth photography clients a maternity session - so we can get to know each other a little better before one of us is in labor (ha!).  It's really become a favorite practice - I've so enjoyed getting to spend more time with my clients, to meet and get to know their partners and other children (and even pets), and to have some fun with the camera, to boot.  

Instead of breaking up this family's sessions into two or three blog posts as usual - one maternity, one birth, one fresh 48 - I decided to keep them together so you can get an idea of what the whole shebang includes, so to speak.  Below, you'll see the lovely Berriochoa family as they await their twins, at the boys' birth, and their Fresh 48 Session the day after they were born. 

It was such a privilege to capture the marvelous story of Ernest and Vincent's arrival and to get to know their strong and determined mama.  As her due date neared, one baby was lying breech, and the other transverse (!), so Emily knew a c-section was likely going to be the safest way to bring her babies earthside.  We all convened at the hospital on the chosen date, and a quick ultrasound confirmed that the babies weren't interested in changing position.  This was the first scheduled cesarean birth I had photographed, and I'm happy to say that it was just as beautiful an experience as I've ever seen.  Emily's family was able to surround her before surgery and then stay close by as she was taken back - and then, of course, they were able to meet two very special young men.  (Dan and Emily knew they were having boys, and had picked out wonderful names - but made everyone else wait until the birth before they'd tell!)  

There was so much love in that room, it was almost surreal.  

The Birth of Wyatt - Fairbanks Birth Photographer

Birth doesn't always go as planned.  It's said often, and it's very true.  But this birth story is a wonderful reminder that beauty transcends plans.  Rebecca and Ben had a homebirth planned for their third child, just as they had for their older two children - but when Rebecca suddenly developed complications, it was necessary for her to undergo an induction at the hospital instead.  

Even though it wasn't what they were planning and there were justifiably some feelings of grief when it was clear they wouldn't have their homebirth, there is so much beauty in this birth.  The support of Rebecca's husband and mother during (the entirely unmedicated) labor, and the joy and elation of the older siblings as they met their baby's beauty beyond compare.  

The Birth of Cash Warren - Fairbanks Birth Photographer

The birth of Cash Warren.  I'm going to let the pictures tell the story and not get too verbose, but I do have to say how deeply humbling it is to be invited into the birth space - especially when it's time and time again.  Heather and Tony were my first repeat birth clients - I photographed the birth of their first child, Claire - and (just to show how behind I am on blogging) Cash is now a big brother himself and I photographed the newest addition to the family as well!

Welcome earthside, Cash.  

The Birth of Petra - Fairbanks Birth Photographer

This was such a special birth to witness - especially so since Petra's older brother is one of few births I've ever missed!!  (You can read that story here.)  Since her last labor had moved so quickly, Tricia proceeded with caution as her due date neared - very justifiably, as it turned out.  As soon as she recognized a pattern to the gentle contractions she was feeling, we all convened at the birth center - and very quickly, it became apparent that it was no false alarm.  

Petra joined us under the nearing dusk of the midnight sun, born into the waiting hands of her father, and she is simply THE most beautiful baby.  Don't you agree?  

The Birth of Raleigh - Fairbanks Birth Photographer

As I have written in recent entries, I am way behind on blogging. Way. And I’ve found myself in the quintessential procrastinator’s bind with this story: I wanted to sit on this birth story until I had the time and mental peace of mind to do it justice. But at the same time, I can’t justify sitting on it any longer because it’s too beautiful not to share.

So, here we are!

I was thrilled when Heather asked me to document the story of her third child’s birth. Heather and her husband Ben are in Fairbanks with the military, and this birth held a lot of weight for them: Ben had been deployed for the birth of their second child, and he was scheduled to deploy again just a few weeks after her due date with this baby. They were so looking forward to experiencing this birth and welcoming their baby boy earthside together.

Heather had a history of fairly fast labors, so I was posed to jump on my phone pretty much every second of every day leading up to her EDD. After one false alarm, early one morning the real deal arrived and we all flew into action. I joined Heather and Ben at Bassett Army Community Hospital. Though it soon became clear that Heather wouldn’t be able to have the water birth she had hoped for (the tub simply wasn’t available that day), she was able to rely on her plan for a natural birth and the hypnobirth techniques she had studied.

The connection between Heather and Ben was an amazing thing to watch. I have to tell you, it broke my heart into a million pieces – in the best possible way – to hear Heather whisper, “I’m so glad you’re here” to Ben in between contractions. They danced through labor together, literally: Ben took Heather’s lead and supported her while they swayed and leaned into the intensity of her surges. The staff at the hospital was amazingly supportive and did their best to provide the experience Heather wanted, offering her the shower (and even preparing to catch a baby in there, should it be necessary!) so she could have the relief of the water. Eventually, she ended up back in bed, and I watched her enter the “trance” so often described in hypnobirthing. She completely relaxed her body, her hands open and loose, and let transition wash over her. There’s simply no way to do it justice with words.

I typed a few notes on my phone during the quiet moments about what I wanted to write about this birth, and the main musing I had was that it’s really no mystery why the terminology and visual imagery of goddess gets used so frequently in the realm of birth. Heather was simply a goddess, radiant through the steepest climes. It was incredible to witness, and again grounded me in what an honor it is to be able to attend births.

And then, he was here. Raleigh was born with a sweet squawking cry. There was meconium in the amniotic fluid, so he had a quick little exam before he was received into the loving arms of his parents, but once he was there, it was clear their hearts were full.

Oh, Raleigh. I get a little choked up going back through these images!