October 30, 2013

An All Nighter I Won't Forget

I pulled an all nighter last night. 

Several months ago, a friend of mine asked if I might be willing to photograph the delivery of her first baby (if she could talk her husband into it.)  I had taken their engagement photos, photographed their wedding day, and done their maternity photos. 
By choice, I don't do a lot of portrait photography, simply because I don't fully enjoy it.  But Luke & Kate have been an exception from the start, because when I met them together, I saw real love, respect for each other & what they were getting into, and I believed in them.  My heart was in it.
While portrait photography is not my passion, but something I'm willing to do for fun on occasion, this most recent proposal truly thrilled me, deep in my heart.  I felt as a photographer, this would be the ultimate honor, the most wonderful thing I could be asked to capture for someone.  Real time, candid, life photography is what I love.  And as a mom & friend, I was just as honored to be allowed to witness something so personal & monumental.

We had a no-pressure arrangement, understanding that births are unpredictable & that pinpointing an exact date & time wasn't possible.  But if I were available when the call came, I would be there.

Sunday morning I received the message that her water had broke & they were at the hospital.  My day suddenly gained a mega-watt surge of enthusiasm. 
They kept me updated on progress.  We had a dinner reservation with an aunt & uncle who pass through town once a year & I wasn't sure if I should go or not, playing it by ear.  As things progressed slowly, they told me to enjoy dinner & they'd update me later. 
Just as we were parting from dinner, I got the text with the green light to be on my way.   Woo-hoo! 
I had driven to dinner separately & was to the hospital in 20 minutes, arriving at about 6:30 pm.

The night was a long one.  An exhausting one.  This new mom & dad & baby endured all kinds of long hours of labor.  They were awesome through it all.  From my side of the delivery room, I faced the clock on the wall.  I watched the hours go by, wearing on these already tired parents-to-be who hadn't slept much the night before.  With each shot I took, deliberately including the clock in the background to document the timing of their story, with each passing half hour, I would think - this is going to be the one!
I watched as the staff prepped the room, bringing in carts of sterilized supplies.  The tiny diaper & hat.  The doctor came & went, and finally came & stayed, suited up for delivery.  I was constantly aware of the monitor to my side, listening to baby's heart beating quietly on the Doppler all those hours, and watching his reaction to each contraction.  He was such a strong little guy!  I grew more excited to see his face, while capturing the determination on his mom's.

Of all that I took from this experience, one thing that stood out during labor was that until now, I had only been in the delivery room as the one giving birth, myself.  Now I know how Mitch might have felt when I was in labor with our kids.  It's a very intense feeling (on an entirely different level of the intensity the mother is feeling.)  I wanted so badly to help her. 
I faltered a bit at sticking to my camera job, by offering a cool washcloth when I saw the sweat on her brow, offering a hand to squeeze through a few contractions.  From behind the camera, I noticed myself holding my breath to the count of 10 while she pushed.. putting all of my helpless energy into it with her. 

Baby was almost here, but after pushing until 2:00 am, plans changed.  Emotions changed.  Family re-joined for an hour.  I listened to new doctors introduce themselves & explain the rundown of a Cesarian.  I watched all the carts that had been brought in for delivery be cleared back out.
At 3 am, Mom was wheeled to the OR.
Only one person could be with in the operating room (Dad, of course), so plans to capture the looks on their faces as they met their son, and his first breath in the world, changed, too. 
I paced the empty halls and waited with family during the next couple of hours, which may have felt longer due to growing worry & the wee hour that it was.  Tiredness was setting in for all.

One set of grandparents had caught a flight from DC, connected in Chicago, landed in Minneapolis, waited in line for a rental car, and made the remaining 200 mile trip to the hospital by midnight - all since the onset of labor.   
Great-grandma-to-be stayed awake the whole night, working on her Sudoku puzzles and relaying information to a very eager aunt on her phone.  She was offered a pillow, but refused to give in and sleep.  From stationed in the hall outside the delivery room door hours earlier, to now - approaching morning & waiting for some news from the operating room, this entourage of supporters patiently waited.

At last, around 5:30, a nurse came to get me & I was brought into the recovery room where Kate was being monitored after surgery. 
And there they were.  A family of three!
The strain & stress of the hours before were replaced by a doting new daddy - a natural! - smiling with new light in his eyes as his son grabbed onto his finger.  Mom had a satisfied smile on her face after all she'd been through over the past 25 hours (or nine months) or more.  She was a natural, too, reminding Dad, "Support his head!"  Barely able to stay awake & hooked up to monitors of every kind, but mothering instincts sharp as a tack. ☺
And there he was, a perfect baby boy, changing everything with the sound of his voice. 
I wasn't supposed to touch anything in the recovery room, but I had to ask if I could touch the paper towels at the sink, because something was causing my eyes to water & my nose to sniffle.
Finally mom was ready to have her baby in her arms.
And then came the waves of new grandparents & loving family to see them.

 As I finally walked out of the hospital on tired feet, the sun was just coming up & I heard someone call out to me, "Drive safe, Amanda!"  It was the attending delivery nurse, also heading home.  I had been there when she came on for her 12 hour shift.  She said she only had seven miles to go, I had a bit further. She was smiling, too. 
The air outside was cold, about 20º, and my windshield was frosty.  I stopped for gas & a cup of cappuccino, & as people greeted me, freshly awake, with "good morning" greetings, I thought, "If only you knew!"  It was a great morning.  A new life was here.

Once home, just before nodding off for a few hours before the kids got home from school, I summed things up as this:
I got to be a teeny, tiny, irrelevant part of something amazing throughout the overnight last night.
I watched as a whole lot of lives changed significantly for the better by one precious life beginning brand new.
It was one of the greatest honors I've ever had.  

Note: This was written Monday night.  I've been slightly delayed in posting as I caught up on sleep and things here at home.  I've been back to the hospital for a follow-up visit & wanted Mom's blessing before sharing.  She & baby are doing wonderfully.
I also wanted to add a few photos.  My goal was to capture the emotions
& candid details of this monumental (is that word even big enough?) day, without being intrusive.  To preserve their private & intimate moments respectfully.  The photos of faces & expressions really tell the story, but it's their story, so I've selected just these few simple shots to share.
Sharing with Little Things ThursdaySimple as That


  1. i loved this - and the respect you have given them through their delivery. so glad all went well!

  2. Oh, my. What an experience! Loved reading about it.

  3. What an amazing experience. You're a wonderful writer as well as photographer.

  4. What a wonderful event to experience! Great story and photographs.

  5. How amazing! I bet it was such an honor to be a part of this. I think you did a great job preserving the personal details but sharing just enough so we could get a glimpse of the night. That last photo is so precious! Congrats to the new parents!

  6. I'm wiping away tears. That was beautiful and so respectful too. What an amazing time. Like you, I've only ever been the mother in the delivery room, and less than a total of 25 hours for all eight children. What a time it must have been for all, ending in great joy.

  7. So beautiful. I love that last picture so much, and I'm happy that you have recovered from the ordeal of being witness to the new birth, with things not going as planned. Thank you for sharing this with me! I am honored. :-)

  8. Wow, what an experience to document for them! A true gift. That last shot of the two hands was an immediate zinger to my heart strings :). Fabulous all around. So glad you edited these in BW too...truly allows you to hone in on the magnitude of the event. You sometimes lose that ith the distraction of color. Kudos :)

  9. What a wonderful experience that must have been, Amanda! And what an honor to be asked to document it. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Wow - what an honour for you. And such gorgeous shots.

  11. Enjoyed reading. You had a wonderful experience. Baby's footprint is very nice...

  12. You did wonderfully! Hope you have caught up on your sleep. :)

  13. I am tearing up as I am reading this. What a wonderful experience that had to be. And I love the photos.


  14. What a great post! I love the pictures - the way they capture part of the story that is often overlooked. I would not have been able to pull that off!

    Stewart M - Melbourne

  15. Now I am looking for a towel to wipe my eyes! This is by far the most moving post I have read…wonderfully written and the photos are very,very nice and lovely! Wishing you a quiet weekend!

  16. These are wonderful and what an opportunity! I'm sure the parents will treasure your images for their whole lives. Hope you are feeling more rested!

  17. I had tears in my eyes reading this. It reminded me so much of Katie's birth - 24 hours of labor leading to a c-section. I was lucky enough to be in the delivery room for the birth of two of my sister's kids. It's an amazing experience. I'm sure Luke and Kate will treasure the photos you took. :)

  18. What beautiful photographs. They will treasure them. And an interesting experience for you.

  19. These are extraordinary moments you have witnessed and photographed so beautifully. What a kind person you are!!!

    I invite you to participate in I Heart Macro and this year's 5th Annual Gratitude (word) Quilt. Instructions and a link that explains the origins of this project can be found at the top of my blog. In past years there have been participants from every continent except for Antarctica. I hope you'll join us:-)

  20. What an absolutely incredible story - I read it with a bit of apprehension... both of my daughters had emergency Caesarean Sections and I'm so grateful that everything turned out well for your friend (and my daughters).

  21. Birth photography is one of my all time favorite things. I've been able to photograph and support my sister during her 3 deliveries and those were some of the best days ever. What an exciting time for you!

  22. Wow, what a story! I had two deliveries by caesarean and it was still a joy! Those hands, oh my... Thank you for coming by sharing your creative photography on the Weekly Top Shot, #107!

  23. Wow. This is really extraordinary. Beautifully told too!

    Mersad Donko Photography

  24. Oh my ... thank you for sharing your special experience, seeing the photos game me goosepumps ... it is truly a miracle to to witness new life being born! The tiny fingers holding hand ... tears are falling down here ... the joy and feeling of responsibility as a parent.

  25. What a wonderful recording of this momentous event! Beautiful job.