April 17, 2017 Baltimore Birth Photography | Welcome Baby Marlee
March 30, 2017. A day that I will never forget.
But first, let’s back up a bit. In 2013, I got an email from Rachel. We were both members of a Maryland Photographers’ group on Facebook and she was looking for second shooters to help her out with weddings for the year. I was weeks away from quitting my day job and starting this hustle full time, so I was excited and eager for the extra work. We met in person, hit it off, and I worked with her a good bit that year. Over the next couple of years, we had worked together fairly often – even spending one Valentine’s Day together. In early 2016, I started indoor climbing, and as early as my second day at the gym, Rachel became my climbing buddy (and Valentine for the second time :)). Over the course of the next year, through our bi-weekly climbing dates, we went from being photo buddies to belay buddies, Harry Potter marathoners, and very close friends. I’ve always adored Rachel, but she quickly became one of my favorite people.
It was on one of our climbing dates that she told me that she was pregnant. I was so excited to watch this fierce, strong, loyal human being become an amazing mother. She hung in there climbing with me faithfully until her 7th month of pregnancy. It was around then that I offered to photograph the birth for her. Over the last year, I’ve really tried to focus on what matters to me as a photographer, figure out what that is, and do more of it. I’ve found that what moves me most are the things that can’t be replicated– the real moments that exist only once. Capturing those fleeting moments is what I feel most called to. I imagined that capturing a birth would be incredible.
I had no idea.
The week that baby Marlee was born, I had a busy week. Rachel had messaged me earlier in the week asking when I would be finished working with my students (I teach a video class in the winter), and I told her noon on Wednesday. Up until that point it would have been tough to leave. Her due date was Monday, so we were hoping that Baby would hang in there. Thankfully Baby was very punctual and Rachel’s water broke at 11:59 AM on Wednesday. From that point on, I was on standby waiting for things to build up enough for me to head to the hospital. I waited for the call from John to tell me to head on over. The call came more than 12 hours later, he tells me that things are getting intense and it’s not a bad idea to head that way. Within 20 minutes I’m walking into the room.
I immediately start crying.
There lied my good friend, in intense pain, and I couldn’t do anything to help her. Not to mention, I had no choice but to pick up my camera and shoot through her pain. I felt like a deer in headlights (the doula later told me that I looked like one too), but I picked up my camera and slowly eased into working my way through the room and shooting what I could.
For over three hours, I photographed my friend pushing her way through a natural birth. I captured pain, anticipation, helplessness (from Rachel and John alike), a few smiles, and so much love. One of my favorite moments was when after almost two hours of being there, a smile broke across Rachel’s face. She could feel the baby squirming and said “I can feel you baby! I can’t wait to meet you” – it seemed to be the motivation she needed to push through. Another favorite moment was when in between contractions, Rachel looked over at me and asked if I thought she could climb a 5.11 (a fairly difficult grade of climb). Girl, you could do anything after this.
Around 5 AM, it got really intense. It was obvious that we’d have a baby in our arms soon. And sure enough, at 5:37 AM, Marlee made her appearance. As soon as she was out, I started crying and I couldn’t stop. I don’t know if it was seeing her face, or hearing Rachel ask the gender of the baby and when she heard it was a girl saying “Happy Birthday, Marlee” that did it, but it’s a miracle any of the photos from then on are in focus. I was sobbing straight through them. However, I managed to capture my favorite image ever during that time – which you’ll see later in the post – the one of Marlee holding the tool while John cut her cord. The uncropped version is even more powerful and amazing, but not for the eyes of casual blog-goers :)
The afternoon before Marlee was born, I called my friend Juliana, who is an incredible documentary photographer and is killer at birth photography. As we were talking, she told me that there may come a time where the camera will need to go down, and I’ll need to step into friend mode. She told me that it was totally intuitive, and I wouldn’t question it if the time came. Sure enough, she was right. Shortly after Marlee was born, she needed to be whisked away to have her lungs cleared, and Rachel needed to be tended to for some repairs. John went over with the baby, and immediately, my camera went down and my job was no longer to document, but to be a friend. To hold a hand, to stroke a forehead, and to be a support to one of the strongest people I know. During this time, Rachel joked that Marlee was going to be an only child. I say “Hey, I’m an only child and I turned out alright.” She responds “You’re more than alright, you’re amazing. One of my favorites.” Yep- cried again.
After things calmed down a bit, I remember vividly the nurses tending to Rachel, me stepping back out of sight for a moment, taking a deep breath, and just losing it completely. I hadn’t realized that I had held in that much emotion, especially since I had cried so much already, but at that point, I just let it all drain out. Maddie, Rachel’s doula, came over and started rubbing my back and telling me that it was okay to cry, and that birth really is a lot. Especially when it’s someone you care about. She was amazing.
While Rachel was back in surgery, Maddie and I took a moment to grab some food and coffee for John. I got to document his mother and grandmother meeting the new baby for the first time, and waited patiently for Rachel to arrive back from surgery. I hung around while Rachel came back to from the anesthesia, got to watch her feed Marlee for the first time, helped feed Rachel her first food in a while, and got to capture some of the final images from the morning of the new family. By the time I left, I had been there for close to 10 hours, and was running on less than 3 hours of sleep in the previous 36 hours. The lack of sleep wasn’t even a concern in my mind. As I left the hospital, I felt so alive. I had just experienced the most powerful and amazing thing of my life. With tear stained cheeks and a full heart, I wished I could hold on to that feeling forever.
Marlee, you are so very loved already and have such a strong mama and a loving papa. Your Auntie Brea loves you so much already. I’m so honored I got to see you take your first breath.
Baltimore Birth Photography