Some of you may know me. Maybe I took some maternity pictures for you a while back, or maybe we met last year at the Natural Birth Expo. I imagine, though, that most of you do not know me. My name’s Jeanine and I’ve been the Barefoot Birth staff photographer since Barefoot Birth’s inception. Just as Barefoot Birth has, I’ve come a long, long way since then. I began my career shooting maternity and newborn photos. Soon after that I began shooting weddings. I slowly poured every dime I had into upgrading my equipment and taking classes to better myself as a photographer. It’s truly amazing to look back and see how far I’ve come.
The one thing I could never photograph was births. Not for lack of desire, but because I had a full-time job, reducing my ability to be on-call for the late nights birth photography called for. My life journey has finally led me to be able to offer this service I’ve been longing to do. I am so excited to say that I am finally accepting birth photography clients – and the timing is perfect. The serendipitous event that has led me to be able to quit my day job and offer birth photography is the birth of my own son, Desmond, seven weeks ago. I’d love to share that story with you.
I worked up until my due date. I distinctly recall saying to a coworker, “I feel weird today. I wonder if this is the day.” I left work and my mother and I went to my pre-natal appointment with Lakeland Midwifery Care. I had started to have some mild period-like cramps. It was very easy for me to dismiss them, but my mother kept telling me, “You’re in labor!” Regardless, we got lunch at Bosphorous Turkish restaurant in Lakeland, where my mother proceeded to exclaim to the entire restaurant, “my daughter is in labor!” Horribly embarrassed, I hissed back “No – I’m not”. I didn’t want to jinx it! We went to my appointment and Marianne suggested that we might have our baby by the weekend. It was a Thursday, and I was so excited that we might meet our baby in just a few days. When we told my husband Kevin that we thought I might be going into labor, he got so nervous he slammed his finger in the car door. It’s still black! By the time I got home, the cramps were similar to regular old period cramps. I went to bed early just in case. I truly hoped to wake up in full-blown labor later in the night.
At 10pm, a contraction woke me up. This one was a bit more serious! I got really excited. I laid there in bed, unable to quell my excitement. I’d been using an app to time my contractions – though most were over ten minutes apart, some were as frequent as three! I text messaged Charlie, my very good friend and assistant midwife, to let her know. She came over that night just in case, but told me to take some Natural Calm and try to sleep as much as I could between the contractions.
Friday rolled around and my contractions were anywhere from 1 to 15 minutes apart - not exactly encouraging. Charlie went home and Kevin and I pretty much just hid out in our house, except for some long, long walks through the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights and smelling everyone’s laundry vents. I thoroughly enjoyed the pregnant nose. By late Friday night, Charlie was again sleeping on my couch, and I was very disheartened. They were hurting quite a bit and I couldn’t get more than 15 minutes’ sleep at a time. Kevin drew me a bath, poured me a glass of wine, and made me a grilled cheese sandwich. I’d been having contractions for 24 hours and there was no sign of baby.
Before Charlie left Saturday morning she sternly informed us that we needed to get the heck out of our house before we lost our minds. Having contractions in a car SUCKS! I feel for women who make the drive to the hospital. That was not fun! We met up with my parents and walked around the mall, getting lunch in the food court where we had to split a large table with a metalhead who was trying to eat some Chinese food. I think I may have made him a little uncomfortable because he got up halfway through and moved. I remember going to the bathroom in the mall and having a contraction at the sink, which caused a little bit of a scene when women started encircling me and asking if I was okay. I thanked them for their concern, and said I was fine, but didn’t let on to them that I’d already been doing this for over forty hours. Again, Charlie came over and spent the night while I tried desperately to get some sleep. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and desperate. Contractions were now anywhere from one minute to seven minutes apart. By the time 3AM rolled around, I was, frankly, freaking out. My husband had me in the shower where we both had a bit of a breakdown. It had been over 48 hours. Was I going to be in labor forever? Would I have to transfer? Panic. My dogs woke Charlie up and she came in to soothe me. She has an amazing touch; I swear it feels like the moment she puts her hand on you, a wave of peace washes you over. By 5AM Sunday, things seemed to pick up, so we decided to call Marianne and my birth photographer, Priscilla of Endless Dreams Photography.
Sunday. The day my son was finally born. My memory of Sunday is basically a big blur. I’d not slept more than five minutes at a time the night before, ten minutes the night before that, and fifteen minutes the night before that. I was downright exhausted, physically and especially emotionally. I continued to labor with Marianne and Charlie having me switch to and from a multitude of positions, trying to encourage my cervix to dilate and my labor to progress. My water had still not broken. We set up the birth tub in my kitchen, which provided some relief, if only by allowing me to take some weight off. I could get in more comfortable positions, with the warm water taking the burden of gravity off of me and the soft, padded flooring of the tub cushioning my tired limbs. I spent the bulk of the day fully nude, wandering about my house, occasionally bracing in a doorway or on the shoulders of Kevin or Charlie. I remember having to pee constantly, but I hated the toilet because it invariably brought on a contraction. I also recall describing the pain of the contractions as akin to a Mayan priest ripping a sacrificial heart out with his hand through the chest, only the sacrificial heart was my uterus. By mid-day, I began to give up, begging to be transferred. First to Tampa General – but an hour drive at 8cm dilated seemed like a new Hell, and, as Charlie said, “you’re going to hate me if I transfer you and you immediately have your baby in the hospital.” She was right, so I soldiered on for a while longer before I begged, “please just take me to Brandon for my c-section.” My husband, Charlie, and Marianne informed me that they would transfer me if I really wanted, but that they thought I was getting very close and would be better served to hang on – mentioning the risk of having the baby in the car on the way there! Apparently when a laboring mama starts talking crazy, the midwives get excited because it signals transition, which means baby’s coming soon. I knew that, but I didn’t realize that that would be me. It was surreal to find myself folding into the mold of a laboring mama for, really, the first time during my labor.
By 5PM, my amniotic sac had still not broken. They had me give small pushes in the tub to see if I could pop it and get things going, but it wasn’t happening. I appeared to be fully dilated, so Marianne finally put her foot down and said we should try moving into the bedroom to see if we can get this baby out. I lay on the bed, pushing to see if I could move Desmond down and pop my waters. No dice. No matter what I did, nothing seemed to be working. My body was meant to do this, but why the hell was it taking so long? In a moment of weakness, I shouted, “get the ___ out!” to my son. It was then that Marianne had me move to The Toilet of Doom to bear down and try to get my water to break. Still nothing. Eventually the decision was made that Marianne would try to break my water – something they typically don’t do. So I endured several contractions on The Toilet of Doom while Marianne pinched my amniotic sac and tried to pop it. That was fun. Eventually, the sac DID burst to a chorus of cheers, and my husband shouting, “OH MY GOD” at the sound of the waterfall. This was great – progress!
After we broke my water, we were back to the bed to try to deliver Desmond. I had been waiting for the undeniable urge to push that I’d heard about – where your body basically does it on its own. That never came. I put my feet up on Charlie and Marianne’s shoulders and bore down like my life depended on it. SO MUCH RELIEF. It was the hardest work I’d ever done, but SO worth the effort. Contractions were nearly painless, compared to how they felt before! Kevin used a pillow to help me bear down into each push – I swear he did more work than I did. He had to be exhausted, but it helped so very much to have something to push my back against.
I remember identifying the “ring of fire,” which really wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. I remember hearing Charlie tell me that I was “stretching beautifully” – it was like she knew that I was holding back for fear of tearing. I remember Marianne telling me to PUSH HARDER. HARDER. She used her hands to show me exactly where I should be focusing my efforts. She also used her hands to push some remaining cervix out of the way. Charlie told me she could feel hair! He had been taking two steps forward and one step back, with his head only partially out. A contraction had just ended when Marianne punctuated a routine fetal Doppler check with, “Jeanine, we’re going to get him out with the next contraction, okay?” You think you’re giving 110% of yourself until you hear that tone in your midwife’s voice.
The next contraction kicked in and I put every ounce of strength I didn’t know I had into pushing. Suddenly, a gush of fluid surrounded me, I felt flopping against my legs, and jubilant words were exchanged – Charlie had caught my son, and he was immediately handed to me and placed on my chest. It was 8:54PM. His eyes were open and looking around, but he didn’t cry. Marianne apologized to me as she grabbed a towel and rubbed him vigorously. He cried – the most amazing sound I’d ever heard. “He is so beautiful” is all I remember saying. Every pain was gone. Memories of my miserable morning sickness, back pain, acid reflux, and exhaustion from the pregnancy were instantly relegated to the “worth it” pile of my brain. I snuggled my amazing son – nothing in the world existed or mattered at that moment. It was the defining moment of my life. It’s so cheesy, but I finally understood my purpose.
We delivered the placenta, that beautiful organ that nourished my sweet baby. We waited until the cord had stopped pulsing and they invited Kevin to cut it. I found out he was born with the cord wrapped twice around his neck and crossed over his chest, and that he was delivered with a bit of help from Marianne and Charlie after his heart rate decelerated below acceptable levels. Desmond was born happy, alert, and healthy - 8 pounds, 8 ounces, and 22 inches long - after more than three long days of labor. I’m so thankful for Charlie and Marianne’s expertise in knowing when it is necessary to intervene, and exactly what to do. I know my birth would have been vastly different had I not chosen to birth at home. His birth was the most intense, painful, exhausting three days of my life. I am so incredibly proud of myself for fighting for the birth I wanted for my son – drug-free with immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth. I am so very thankful for my husband’s support – I know it was nearly as hard on him as it was on me. We would not change a thing – I would endure the pregnancy and birth a thousand times over for this sweet boy.
At seven weeks old, Desmond now weighs 14lbs, has grown two inches, and is the light of his family’s life. He has inspired me to resign my day job and dedicate myself to his nurture - which allows me to finally heed my calling to birth photography. He is worth it all, and I thank him for making me a mother.