Two years ago, I wrote a list of personal and professional goals that I wanted to achieve over the next few years. On this list, amongst a few other things was that I really wanted to photograph a birth. Last week, I finally did it. I had the honour of documenting the most incredible event I have ever been privileged to witness.
Birth photography isn’t very mainstream, but it is something that is becoming more popular. When my friend Liz became pregnant with her third child, she mentioned that she may consider the idea of having a photographer there for the birth. Liz is an awesome wedding photographer and therefore is in the business of capturing beautiful, emotional and life changing events. It makes sense that these values which are so important in her work should also be crucial in documenting her own life and momentous occasions. I jumped at the chance of being the photographer who would be there for her.
I don’t have children myself, and I have never been present at a birth before (other than my own obviously – strangely I don’t remember anything about that) so I didn’t know what to expect. I told myself that I should expect anything… That I should try to remain in the background, that I should be helpful and that I should be as quiet as possible. I also prepared myself that I might be faced with disappointment if Liz changed her mind about having me there or if the situation might mean that I wouldn’t be able to make it.
But last Thursday in the early hours, the call came. Liz had been induced and was in labour. Would I be able to come to Haywards Heath Hospital? I leapt out of bed – my camera gear was already packed. I drove quickly over to the hospital, nervously, trying to not let my emotions or my excitement get the better of me. I ran from the car to the labour ward. When I arrived, Liz was mid contraction and her husband Rich was by her side holding her hand and rubbing her back.
Liz and Rich had hoped for a home birth but because the doctor had decided to induce her, this meant that she would need to be in hospital. Shortly after I arrived, the midwife moved Liz over to a room with a birthing pool – This was something Liz had hoped she would be able to do at home so the next best thing was to have a water birth in the safety of the labour ward. Once in the pool, Liz seemed more comfortable… The warm water helped support her and eased the pain in her back. Liz went through several hours of increasingly painful contractions, with Rich as her rock by her side. They were both exhausted. They had been awake all night bar an hour or so. Rich was on the high energy drinks, Liz was on the gas and air. There was a point when the midwife seemed hopeful that things were progressing well and that she may give birth very soon.
On inspection, it seemed that things hadn’t progressed as well as everyone had hoped. Liz had endured hours and hours of excruciating pain and she started to think that the baby would never come out. It got to the point when the pain became too much and the decision was made to have an epidural. Liz was so so brave throughout. Rich managed to not faint! I watched silently from the corner of the room. The doctor made a Tommy Cooper joke. It was all quite surreal.
The next few hours that followed were spent monitoring Liz and how the baby was coping. At around 1pm the baby was less happy than previously and finally, the doctors made the call that an emergency caesarian was necessary. Liz and Rich had discussed this previously and had decided that if a c section was needed, Rich would not be able to watch without fainting and would therefore not be able to go into theatre with Liz. This meant that my role was suddenly not just photographer and friend, now I would become hand holder and moral support during the procedure. The midwife gave me some scrubs to put on.
I will never forget the look on Liz’s face as she lay there on the operating table with the curtain blocking her view. She looked at me and didn’t look away. She didn’t look scared, she looked calm and quietly determined not to let herself get scared. I was terrified. I hope that didn’t show. I felt so protective of Liz and so worried. I was told where I could stand so that I could hold Liz’s hand and also get a view of what was happening. I looked over the barrier several times before returning my gaze to Liz’s face and I reassured her that it all looked ok (What was ok? Was ok, lots and lots of blood? I didn’t think so but I didn’t let Liz know what I could see)
And then came that that sound. Before we could see him, we could hear him. The moment when everyone in the room smiles and relief washes over the surgeon, midwives, doctors, nurses… He cried. And in an instant they pulled him out into the world. I thought my heart would burst.
Time stood still for around ten seconds while they held him up and cut the cord – then it all went into hyperspeed again. Suddenly the team divided – half to look after the baby, the rest to care for a very poorly Mum. Liz lost a lot of blood but still she managed to hold her son for a few minutes before he was taken to meet his Dad… waiting anxiously outside the door. All of these moments were just so precious to see. The look in their eyes. Seeing him open his eyes for the first time and gaze into his Mum’s eyes. Seeing his tears vanish as he was held so close and comforted. Seeing his first skin to skin time with his Dad. The look of pride on his Dad’s face.
That day I will never ever forget. I have so much respect for Liz – for her incredible bravery and strength throughout. And to Rich for being such a calm and loving support. And the incredible staff at the Princess Royal Hospital – all of whom seem like superheros in my eyes now. I am not good with words… reading this account doesn’t even begin to describe the intensity of all the emotions felt that day.
My aim was to carefully and sensitively take photos throughout the whole process of labour through to that moment when a new, precious life enters the world. What I didn’t realise would happen, was that I would see parts of the birth experience that neither Liz or Rich would witness. For that reason, I feel more honored than words can describe. And I’m so glad that my camera could be their eyes… So that these photos can tell the story from where I was standing. This is the birth story of Tobias Joseph Harry Hankins. This is what I saw…
Thank you so so much Liz and Rich. For letting me witness this miracle and for letting me share the photos here. I wish you and your family all the health and happiness in the world. xxx