A few months back, I got an email. The first of it’s kind for me. “I got your name from a friend; my partner and I are looking for someone to photograph the birth of our first child.” I read it again to make sure I understood properly. Of course, as the “newest thing” I’d heard of Birth Photography.. I just hadn’t expected anyone to ask me to do it. Various bits of advice that I’d received over the years filtered through my head – a teacher in college told me to always say “yes” to a new challenge, and then work on figuring out how you’ll approach it. A mentor wisely told me that the more scared you are of doing something, the more important it is for you to do it. And my husband Norman, when asked his thoughts on the matter, said “Aye – why not?”
One of the things that I both love and also drives me crazy about my husband is that he never sees the reasons why not to do something. Because of this outlook, we renovated our basement almost entirely ourselves. Neither of us had ever tiled or drywalled before, but we learned how and we did it. When our roof started to leak, he pulled the old one off and put the new one on, all by himself. When I told him casually that I’d always wanted to go to Japan, he started looking up flights and six months later we were there. This man pushes me to far exceed my expectations of myself, and of what is possible. And I’ve learned to trust that he’s usually right about these things.
So I said “Yes.”
At first I couldn’t picture how I could possibly be in the room for something so intimate in a couple’s lives, but before we met with them I looked online for images from Birth Photography sessions. Norman and I watched a beautiful slideshow that had been put together by a group of photographers, and I cried my eyes out. Most of what we photograph is incredibly personal to our clients – whether it’s their wedding day, their family, or their work that they’ve designed and made by hand – and we’ve worked with babies as young as 5 days old. But this was different.
I could see in these images the moment when these people’s lives changed forever. The exact moment that a new soul entered the world. It was the most amazing thing, and I wanted to be a part of that moment in someone’s life.
We corresponded a bit in email, and then met with John and Meghan in person about a month ago. They were warm, relaxed, excited. I thought, “This will be amazing.”
They liked the idea that we were all going through this for the first time together. They showed us adorable punk-rock onesies that they’d been given as gifts. We met their cat and their dog. We noticed they had a passion flower vine in their kitchen – the first time I’ve ever seen one indoors – and showed them my passion flower tattoo. All of a sudden I had no trouble imagining how we could photograph this moment in their lives. In the history of their family. I started to get really excited about it :)
So how does one prepare for witnessing their first ever birth? And on top of that, for the responsibility of capturing it?
I first tackled the part that I knew how to prepare – the equipment. I made a list of everything I wanted there with us, and strategically separated it into two groups so that I could keep one camera bag at the studio and one at home. No matter where I was when we got “The Call”, I would have what I needed to take with me and then Norman would be able to get the other set and meet me there. I picked out an outfit that would work well even if we ended up being there for 12 hours or more. I packed a bag with snacks and cab fare. I stuck a little post-it list right next to my front door: “bring to birth”. I charged every battery I own, and packed the chargers too. I made sure there was lots of space on my portable back-up hard drive. I gave John and Meghan’s cell phones a custom ring tone (“Heaven Is a Place on Earth” – if you’re wondering “why that song?” then listen to the first two seconds of it!). I looked at my pile next to the door, and felt comforted by this organization.
There was just one problem. Every mother that I mentioned this upcoming Birth Photography session to had the same response: “I guess you’re not squeamish!”.. The problem is that fact that I am. Really squeamish. I passed out when I had to read the release form before getting my tongue pierced in college. I can’t stay in a room when anyone is discussing varicose veins or showing the pins that were used to set their broken wrist (that last one was my own mother haha!). I had my own wrists tattooed to save myself seeing the veins there. The list goes on. I do not have a strong stomach.
So what the heck makes me think I can do this? Two things. The first is an actual psychological bit of magic (one of my brides once told me the technical name for this but I can’t remember it!) where you block out things that would normally be a problem for you simply because you have to. You rise to the occasion. This explains how I’ve been able to photograph 4 weddings with migraines so bad I couldn’t get off the couch the day before, but had no problem the days of the weddings. Somewhere inside you, you make an unconscious decision that you’ll forge ahead today and recover tomorrow, because you need to. The second is Norman. I’ve never met anyone (other than a medical professional) who is less squeamish, and more down-to-earth and matter-of-fact about anything medical. Knowing he will be there gives me strength. Knowing we’ll be sharing this amazing moment makes my heart smile.
After the weeks of preparation, and thinking every day “what if it happens now?” – we got “The Call” last night. We were sitting on the hill in High Park, eating a picnic with friends so close they are my adopted family, and waiting for the beginning of Taming of the Shrew. My phone was on vibrate, so I didn’t get to hear the ring tone I’d so deliberately set up. We’d driven back from a wedding near Sarnia the night before, so we’d not got to bed until 3am. Meghan wasn’t due until August 26th, but she wasn’t feeling well so they’d gone to the hospital as a precaution. John said it was maybe a good early parenting lesson for them: you can have all the perfect planning in the world, and then you just have to adapt to what reality throws at you. I know they’re both disappointed at not being able to have a home birth, but I also remember meeting with the two of them and their midwife Esther – Meghan rubbing her belly as we went over the birth plan, and saying that if anything didn’t go according to plan then she just wanted whatever was best for the baby.
John called again this morning with an update.. they’ve induced Meghan and now it’s just a matter of waiting. He said they expect she’ll go into labour around midnight tonight. Will I sleep knowing the next call will really be it? I hope so. We’ll all have an exciting night ahead of us.
Tomorrow is Norman’s birthday. I can’t imagine a more unique way of spending it..
Knowing how excited and nervous we are about this baby’s arrival, I can only imagine what John & Meghan must be feeling right now. A few weeks back, I’d asked them to complete the following two sentences: “The moments we want to be sure are captured are…”, and “We would feel more comfortable if you didn’t capture…”. One of my favourite parts of the “be sure to capture” list they sent back was “us loving him for the first time” – Shakespeare had some pretty great lines, but nothing quite as beautiful as that :)
Here's to new adventures!
Jessica + Norman
Here's to new adventures!
Jessica + Norman