This birth - wowwwwie this birth!!
Some backstory: Morgan is my doula sister, dear friend, and if you’ve followed my photography for a few years you have seen her face quite a bit. She’s a wonderful support and I’m grateful to have her in my life! We first met just before her daughter was born in 2019, and bonded together after her “unplanned and unwanted cesarean”, as she always refers to it. Following a loss in 2020 of sweet baby Corey, I was honored and SO beyond excited when Morgan asked me to be her doula and photographer for the birth of baby Will.
Morgan texted me the morning of December 8th to tell me that she had a nose bleed, and the last and only time she’d ever had one was right before she went into labor with her daughter. The birthing person always knows things about their body that we can never know, and sure enough she was right. Just a couple of hours later at 11:15am, she texted me that her water had broken in a big gush. She was going to take a bath and try to rest, I was on standby.
Morgan is usually thorough, thoughtful, and specific in her texts, so when she just sent me “ok come”, I knew things must be moving. My normally 25 minute drive was made 40 by some classic Rochester lake effect snow, and when I arrived it was about 1:15pm. My knock was met with silence, and the door was open so I entered. I found Morgan and Billy in their bedroom, working through a contraction. Morgan was quiet and strong, leaning over her bed, while Billy applied counter pressure to her back and whispered encouraging words in her ear.
As a doulatog, I usually keep my camera off for the first little while when I arrive unless something is going on that I feel needs to be captured. It allows me to fall into the rhythm that the birthing person has set, and gently say hello when the time is right. Morgan was sweet but firm on what felt good for her in terms of support, and it filled me with pride to see her power settled in and working for her body and her baby.
We hung there in the bedroom for a beat, until Morgan looked up and said “we need to go” and then “I need to use the bathroom first”.
In case you’ve never heard, the bathroom is THE best little birth cave. We’re used to being totally vulnerable in there, totally exposed, the toilet allows for a perfect birth-stool-like squat, and often emptying the bladder allows more room for baby to move down. Billy stayed with her there, ever steady and present, but I could tell he was starting to worry if we were going to make it out of there. Contractions were coming every 1-2 minutes now, and at one point Morgan looked up from Billy’s shoulder and said “Jennie, I want to push”.
Any doula knows that when you hear those words it. Is. GO TIME. I said as gently as I could, “the contractions are going to keep coming every time we stand up. We need to go now.” One shoe. Other shoe. Let’s move. Gently urging her towards the door, grabbing hospital bags, fulfilling her request from a few days prior - “make sure Billy has his coffee”.
We made our way to the cars, stopping a few times to allow the waves to pass. This is when my camera started to really click, and I realized that it had only been about 25 minutes since I’d arrived. When Billy opened the passenger side door, Morgan said softly, “can I kneel?” At this point both Billy and I knew it was time to GO, so we quickly and gently encouraged her to kneel facing backwards, and she wrapped her arms around the headrest.
I jumped in the car behind them and followed them the whole 20 minutes to the hospital. I had instructed Billy to pull over if a baby was coming, and I half expected we would have this little dude on the side of 590!
We arrived at the hospital at 2:00pm in a total tornado of chaos. The front of the building at Strong Memorial Hospital was bustling, valet parking had been suspended due to COVID, and there we sat taking up the whole circle with our two cars. A security guard yelled that we couldn’t park there and I yelled back “She’s about to have a baby!!”
These are the moments when sometimes I wish I could be a fly on the wall with my camera. My focus was 100% on keeping Billy and Morgan from being separated, and getting her up and into a room before this baby came. But oh, how I wish I could show you all what an absolute birthing goddess and force of nature Morgan was in these moments. She exited the car, grabbed the offered wheelchair with both hands, spun it around and used the arm rests to lean forward on. All the while saying, “I have to go”. I waited for Billy to catch up with her and made a mad dash to my car. I won’t go into details as to what I did to get myself parked at shift change and into their room within 10 minutes but let’s just say I was moving quick.
As I ran through the halls, I opened my camera, adjusted for lighting and white balance, and was met by a nurse with a “are you with Morgan? Room 25!” When I entered the room there was such a strong, peaceful presence in the air. Morgan was on hands and knees on the bed, and although the room was full of people trying to get things ready, they were respectfully quiet about it.
Ultrasounds, IVs, and then a bunch of voices asking for consent to do a cervical exam. With a gentle reminder that Morgan only wanted her provider to be touching her, the midwife happily obliged and soon said, “We are fully, +2!” In birth language, that means this baby’s a comin. You can see the head with each push.
After a few more contractions, Morgan’s midwife suggested that she lay on her side if she was comfortable doing so. Prenatally there had been some discussion of the baby being big, and some education on what it would look like if he had shoulder dystocia - Morgan knew that if the midwife was asking her to change position, it would be for good reason. She moved to her side and roared through a few more contractions before reaching down and touching her baby's head! He was crowning and she could feel him there, so close to being in her arms.
It quickly became evident that something was off, and the midwife was so wonderfully efficient and reassuring as she instructed Morgan onto her back, called “shoulder” softly to the nurse, who then ran out and returned with a team of people. It was alarming for everyone, and I was especially impressed with the way that Billy held it together for Morgan, never leaving her side. She was told to put her feet up, then flex her feet, and then when that didn’t work, her midwife reached for the baby and finally got him free. She reached up between Morgan’s legs, and handed her her precious VBAC and rainbow baby. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room. Oh, hey - and the time? 2:50pm. That's right. Only 3.5 hours after her water broke at home!
Morgan experienced a few postpartum complications - a postpartum hemorrhage, retained placenta, and an inverted uterus. All of this was not captured in photos because in these moments, I am doula first.
Baby Will was assessed under the warmer and then brought to Billy for skin to skin as Morgan and her providers worked hard to stop the bleeding and get everything to a place where things were stable and healthy. I love working with this group of midwives and at this hospital for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that everything happens with the birthing person’s consent. Even in an emergency situation.
The nurses parted so that Morgan had a clear view of how Will was doing, and I'm certain it eased her Mama heart to be able to see him there. As soon as Morgan and Will were good to go, they were reunited skin to skin. He latched right on and nursed for 30 minutes!
Around 2 hours old, Will was taken to be weighed and measured and then given to Billy for some more dad time while Morgan was cleaning up and getting ready to move to their postpartum room. Oh, and he weighed in at 10 LBS 12 OZ! You read that right.
Leaving the room we’d entered only a few short hours earlier felt triumphant and sweet. Morgan had worked so hard for 3 years to have an empowering birth experience different from her first, and she got it in so many ways. Feeling empowered is not about having a straightforward or uncomplicated experience. It’s about choosing your team and doing the emotional work that comes with healing and preparing to VBAC. It’s about choosing the people who accompany you so carefully, that you trust that no matter what they’ve got your back. Letting go and leaning in.