A Powerful birth story

Being a mom is so damn hard. I know I don't need to tell most of you that --  you either are one and you know that fact deep in your bones, or you have an adoring mother, whom you've seen first hand deal with the demanding role of motherhood. Lately, my struggle is making sure I'm raising my girls to be as strong as possible. It seems that the world they will "adult" in, could be quite different for women, and that calms this mama's worries. I hope to be a small part in that movement, and to be able to tell my girls that I helped in some way.

You may not look at birth photography in this way, but I believe the rising interest in this art will definitely change some things. First and foremost, it shows birth in a different light and shows so many people how strong and incredible women are when giving birth. And this goes for any type of birth -- medicated birth, cesarean birth, home birth, unmedicated birth, hospital birth, lotus birth, etc. I believe it will also normalize birth, and not make it so "gross" or taboo to talk about. It's therapeutic for women to talk about their births, and if it feels good to talk about it -- they should.

This is all relevant to me, because I was incredibly fortunate to document such a powerful birth a few weeks ago. Heather contacted me back in the fall. We did a gorgeous maternity session with her family in November, and made plans for me to document the birth of her third baby girl. She was due on January 1st, and I had all kinds of hopes to photograph the first baby of the New Year! We were going to be famous. Baby had other plans, as they usually do. 

Heather called me at 2:45 a.m. on January 3rd to tell me her water broke and she was headed to the hospital. Although I don't usually head to the hospital right away, I was so excited and there was no way I was going back to sleep. So I left my house at 4:30 and headed for Howard County General. 

When I arrived, Heather was walking the hallways with her mom, and her husband and her 15 year old daughter were fast asleep.

Her husband, Ellis, was wearing a mask, and at first I just assumed he was trying to block out the light and catch up on sleep before things got real. Heather was put back on the monitor for a bit to listen to baby, and after the nurse left, she told me that just a few hours prior to her water breaking, her husband was diagnosed with the flu. The first and only time in their 10 year relationship. Talk about bad timing. 

It wasn't long before Heather's doctor made her way in and they informed her that he had the flu. There were lengthy explanations and deliberations and eventually it was decided that he would have to leave. For the safety of Heather, their baby girl and all the other newborns on the floor. 

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I love this image above so much, as you can almost feel her disbelief and pain, just moments after this news came. I should note, that the moment it was decided, Heather was remarkably strong. Stronger than I imagine myself being in that situation. She continued to bounce on her ball and do her hip sways, silently, while digesting the fact that her husband, and biggest supporter would not be there. 

Heather worked a long few hours preparing for the birth of her baby girl. In all the births I've experienced, I've never seen a better support person than Heather's mom. It was truly amazing to witness and to document. She didn't leave her side for a second. There wasn't a moment that she wasn't massaging, rubbing, moving the hair out of her face, giving cold cloths, or sharing words of encouragement. It was so beautiful to watch a mother, help her daughter, go through the birth of her daughter. 

It was around noon, and baby girl was getting close. Heather was reaching transition and at one point, expressed to her mom that she didn't think she could do it without her husband. But she did, and it was time to meet their daughter. They FaceTimed Ellis and Heather began pushing. 

She was so strong, and her mother was SO supportive and her beautiful baby girl, Colette, was born at 2:06 p.m. She had done it.

I was so excited to deliver these images to Heather and Ellis. That's usually the case when I finish up my galleries, but this time it meant more. I'm hoping that Ellis can look at these and feel like he was there after all. 

Perhaps one of my favorite images I've ever captured was Heather cutting the umbilical cord. It was such a powerful moment to witness. And one I'm sure she'll cherish forever.

As always, I'm extremely grateful for having been invited into a mama's birthing space. I am also especially grateful to Heather for allowing me to share her empowering birth story. 

While my 3.5 and 1.5 year olds may not understand just yet, I look forward to the day I can show my girls these and other images I've captured. Surely, this will help them understand the strength of a woman, and the strength that is inside of them.

Winnie's Birth Story

We had a lovely Christmas with our families -- we ate too much, had a few too many glasses of wine, got to watch and experience the magic through toddler's eyes, and gave and received so many great gifts. Typically, in our family, no one can beat my sister Mandy's gift giving skills. She puts so much thought and always seems to have the perfect gifts for everyone.

She gave birth to her beautiful little Winnie in July, and because she's my sister and my business took off, her photos had to be put on the back burner. But once November came around -- I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to win Christmas this year! Her long awaited images were made in to a beautiful book -- which I have no doubt, will be cherished until the end of time. 

Winnie girl was due on July 9th, and to be perfectly punctual, my sister called me that morning to say things were getting real over there. So I grabbed my camera and hopped in the car. Her contractions were coming hard and fast, but in between she had time to make jokes and still be the best momma to our little Liam.

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The labor was progressing and her doctor told her to head to the hospital. She had a few tough contractions that stopped her dead in her tracks, and in those moments it was tough for me to decide whether to be a sister or her photographer. I think at one point I had one hand on her shoulder and the other one on the shutter. Her body was working so hard in preparation for Winnie's arrival and she often winced in pain, but the only thing that brought on the tears was when it was time to say goodbye to her first baby, that sweet boy who made her a mother. 

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We arrived at St. Joe's Hospital and the staff made me wait in the waiting room for a bit (pure torture as both a photographer and sister.) Once I was allowed back, the mood was intense; the anesthesiologist was busy, but she got through the pain of each contraction with  determination and grace.

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After awhile she was able to get some relief. And she was finally able to take care of some important business, like letting her Snapchat followers know she was in labor. We turned on Lumineers radio, broke out our family's favorite snack (doritos, of course) and waited for her body to do its magic.

It wasn't long before she reached that magical number and she was ready to bring her babe earthside. It will never become old, watching this miracle of life. Everytime I experience it, I am in awe over the entire process, and especially of a woman's strength. 

 

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A beautiful, healthy baby girl. 8 pounds, 3 ounces and 20 inches of love. Six months later, she's still this lovable, squishy babe (except MUCH bigger, girl likes to eat) and the perfect addition to our family. 

Like I said, I totally won Christmas this year, right? There was nothing she could get me that would beat these heirlooms... and then I opened an Instant Pot. Maybe next year.

A Surprise Vow Renewal

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Back in June, I received an email from a friend (and previous co-worker of my husbands) Kenny. He explained that he was planning to surprise his wife, Wendy, with a vow renewal for their 10th anniversary. He’d asked if I would photograph it for them. Having had no experience with weddings or any event of that nature, my reaction was that our friend Kenny must have lost his mind. A few email conversations went back and forth, and he convinced me to give it a shot. 

 

The next few weeks I tried as best I could to prepare to shoot a wedding. Where do I stand? Do I have the right gear to get what needs to be captured during this special ceremony? Will the guests be able to tell I’ve never shot a wedding before? Ultimately, I kept sane by reminding myself that his other option would just be iPhone photos, and surely I could do better than that. 

 

The big day came and while the nerves were there, there was far more excitement. Kenny meticulously planned the evening for Wendy and their guests, and I could not wait to see it play out. Their family and friends helped organize all the chairs up on top of Federal Hill on a beautiful summer evening in June. He’d asked his father-in-law to preside over the ceremony and he had Wendy’s sister surprise her in the Uber that was supposed to be taking her to “dinner.” 

 

When Wendy pulled up to Federal Hill and got out of the car, she was greeted by her two children, who were SO excited to surprise her. It was the sweetest moment to witness her surprise  and watch them run to her. 

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Beautiful words were read and exchanged between Kenny and Wendy and they officially renewed their vows. There were lots of laughs and you could feel the love, and also Wendy’s genuine surprise at the whole thing. Kenny did such an amazing job planning and orchestrating this event, and I’m sure Wendy will not soon forget it. 

 

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After the ceremony we celebrated and enjoyed dinner and drinks at Rowhouse in Federal Hill. It was such a fun evening and I’m so so grateful Kenny pushed me out of my comfort zone to capture this for him and his family.

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Birth of Posie June

A few months ago, I went out on a limb and asked my dear friend, Steph, if she would allow me to photograph the birth of their second child. At this point I'd only documented one birth (my handsome nephew, Liam). I'd fully intended her answer to be a hard no or at the very least she'd need time to think it over - after all, giving birth is an incredibly intimate and vulnerable experience. Much to my surprise and to my elation, she immediately responded 'yes'. Of course, she still had to work out the details, and get permission from her doctor who was to perform an elective cesarean due to complications from her son's birth. 

I remember getting the text message from her in our mom group chat; her doctor didn't only agree to allow me in to the operating room, she was excited to have me! The days leading up to her due date were so exciting! Almost like I was having another babe, only without all the aches and pains and sleepless nights. 

She made it to her cesarean date without going in to labor, and this made for a conveniently planned trip to the hospital for everyone. When I got there they were prepping the OR and Steph for surgery and I shot a few details of the room and captured some of the anxious moments. We placed our final bets on whether baby Dougherty was a girl or a boy. Dad won that bet. I think mom's certainty that she was carrying another boy - due to the similarities from her first pregnancy - made Posie's birth extra special. 

After we put our scrubs on, they invited us to wait outside the OR while Steph went in and got her epidural. Having gone through two cesareans myself at this point, I was shocked by the nerves and anxiety while waiting on the outside of that OR. I can sympathize with my husband a bit more now. As the soon-to-be mama in that situation, you're wheeled in to that cold, bright room and you're in a whole new state of mind. At least for me, it was incredibly surreal and I left the nerves at the door on my way in. You enter a new zone, one of strength and determination, and the only thing on your mind is the health of that baby that's about to enter this world. Basically, you enter the mom zone. That baby is all that matters. 

Moments later, after we watched the doctors wash up and scrub in, someone came out and told us we could come in now. We took our respective seats, and Ryan took Steph's hand in support and reassurance. The doctors did their magic and in minutes Ryan and I witnessed a miracle, as their baby entered this world. They held her up and he announced that she was a girl and the joy and tears overflowed. Then the doctor held Posie over the sheet so Steph could see her healthy baby girl, and she was instantly overcome with emotions. It was perfect and beautiful and I am so thankful to have been apart of Posie's birth day. 

While I'm so, so grateful to have been able to witness and document Posie's birth, I'm also forever grateful for the opportunity because something else happened that day. I was certain before this day that I wanted to make beautiful, interesting photographs as my life's work. Documenting this experience not only solidified that plan, but sparked a deep and natural passion that I didn't know existed. My husband's grandfather, who lived a long and full 97 years, used to say every time we saw him, "you've got to love what you do, that's what matters." Fortunately for me, between being a wife, mother to my baby girls and making beautiful, powerful images for others - I have heeded his advice.