Vanessa had contacted me about shooting her home birth after seeing photos I had shot of another home birth that had featured her midwife, Marcy Tardio, who is fantastic, by the way… After meeting them at their apartment for a consultation they decided to participate in my home birth documentary book project– basically trading their release for me to use the photos in my body of work (blog, website, ultimately a coffee table book, etc) in exchange for a free birth photographer… I was thrilled when I got a text message from them saying she was in labor, and though I did miss the birth itself by about 8-10 minutes (WOW that was fast!) I got to shoot some very tender scenes with this brand new family as they got to know their new baby girl and let her start to latch on for breastfeeding. Meanwhile the midwife, her assistant, and a doula were there to help with the placenta, sewing up a tear, and of course cleanup and assistance with the breastfeeding. I was kicking myself for missing the action leading up to it, but sometimes that’s just how life goes, and I love the photos I was able to shoot for them when I arrived! Below the slideshow and image gallery of my favorite shots you can read Vanessa’s reflections on her home birth experience!
How did your labor go? Describe your birth experience as you remember it…
In a word, it was great. Overall, it was much shorter than I had anticipated. Marlo was born at 9:17 on Sunday morning. The first flutters of contractions actually began on Friday – I’d call them “pre-contractions.” Saturday morning arrived with a sense that this was going to be the day. One of our Saturday traditions is to have brunch in the East Village (Yuca Bar on this particular morning), which we did, taking a table outside as it was such a beautiful day. By coincidence, our doula (Natalia Hailes) walked by with her husband, and we chatted for a bit, telling her that contractions had begun. She told me to make sure I had a nap during the day, probably knowing that we would be up all night. Afterwards, we went for a juice at Juicy Lucy (another weekend tradition), followed by a stroll through Tompkins Square Park. We took a photo in the park – not a selfie because I wanted a picture with Jerry and me together showing me pregnant – so we asked a man walking by to take it for us. With each of these things, the sense was that this would be the last time that it would be just the two of us.
We had rented a car for the weekend and decided to drive out to a beach on Long Island. My mother came along, and we took our time, so didn’t actually get to the beach until about 6:00. I wanted to have an experience of nature that day. We didn’t swim, but the sand, sun, and waves gave me that sense of nature that I was seeking.
The contractions had been developing all day, so that by this time, they were painful, although far apart and without a consistent pattern. Jerry works with a restaurant group (Bareburger), and we went to a restaurant opening they were having in Rockville Centre for dinner. We knew a lot of people there , so it was a social event as much as a meal. Early labor had definitely begun at this point, so it was difficult at times to speak with people. After dinner, we contacted our midwife (Marcy Tardio) and Natalia to let them know that I was definitely in labor.
We got home around 11:00pm, and I was compelled to clean the apartment a bit knowing that we would be having “company.” By the time we went to bed, we only had an hour or so of 10-minute catnaps before the second stage began. The rest of the night was spent working through labor with contractions increasing in frequency, length, and intensity. It was just the two of us for most of the night. We called the doula just before sunrise when Jerry had run out of ideas for managing the labor, and I was becoming anxious that our other caregivers were not with me. Natalia arrived around 6:00am, and we called Marcy a short time later.
Marcy is working with a new midwife, Tanya Wills, who also happens to run our Bradley Method birth class. Tanya arrived shortly before Marcy and began to asses my situation. When Marcy arrived, she checked the baby’s heart rate and determined that it was time to start pushing.
While we could have called the midwives sooner, my experience of pain was not so great as to warrant a call any earlier than we did. I also wanted to go through the majority of labor with just Jerry and myself. As it happened, we did just that. When Marcy instructed me to move to the bed, Tanya checked and found that I was fully dilated and that baby had descended to Station +2.
From there, it was about 40 minutes of pushing – really only a few cycles. Initially, we didn’t see progress. My water hadn’t broken and was protruding past my cervix, so they decided to break so the baby could replace the water balloon that seemed to be blocking the way. That did the trick, and almost immediately we saw (and felt) the baby’s head.
Marlo Juliette was born at 9:17. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, as often happens. Marcy and Tanya untwisted and removed the cord and handed her to Jerry who was the first person to actually look at her. All along we had expected, and people were predicting, a boy. So it was a wonderful surprise for us when we saw the baby was a girl – so much so, that it took 3 days to name her.
I would describe the entire experience as beautiful and magical. There was a gentle anticipation throughout the weekend that this would be the weekend that our lives would become something different. It was fun and exciting (with nervousness and anxiousness about the unknown) to observe the experience as it unfolded.
How did you feel about the care you received?
Any discussion of the care I received must begin with the entire process of care throughout the pregnancy which allowed me to develop complete trust in our team – a doula and two midwives. Natalia has an intuition and knowledge that belies her short time as a doula, and Marcy and Tanya are so outstanding that there are not words superlative enough to describe them.
It was a pleasure having Marcy over for home visits and developing the relationship that made us feel safe and comfortable throughout the entire pregnancy, birth, and afterwards. I always felt that I was in good hands.
I would not want to have a birth any other way than this.
Did you feel safe? What went well? What didn’t?
I felt absolutely safe the entire time, even when I was in the self-doubt phase of labor. This was a key element of choosing home birth – I feel safest in my home with my husband and my cats, and all my personal things. I don’t have inhibitions about being naked or in pain because I was in my home. I trust my husband and my midwives who have been to our home many times for checkups, so they are familiar in my home. From a tactical standpoint, we have NYU just two blocks from home, so our transfer alternative was nearby and simple.
Overall, everything went well, and I can’t think of anything that didn’t.
Describe the experience of pain during your labor and if possible describe you handled it in your mind, and what, if anything physical, helped you manage it (massage, birthing pool, acupuncture, postures, breathing, etc).
When contractions started, it was interesting; they were like menstrual cramps in a way, but they were in waves. At first, they were gentle waves that built slowly and then faded. As labor progressed however, they became increasingly stronger waves to the point of taking my breath away.
The baby was positioned perfectly, so I didn’t experience “back labor,” but sometimes the contractions were so strong that the pains started in the back near my anus and shot up my spine.
As the pain became great, I found myself tensing up, supporting myself with my arms, so much so that my arms and shoulders ached for two days afterwards as if I had been working out really hard.
As many people will describe it, “pain” is not exactly the right word for labor sensations. There is certainly a great deal of discomfort, and yes, pain. When it’s taking place, it feels like it will never end, but thinking back on it, I barely remember it.
Throughout the entire experience, the thought of going to the hospital and have an epidural was never in my mind. Even when I was saying, “I can’t do it anymore,” I didn’t really feel like I had an alternative. I just knew that this was just a part of the process that I needed to get through.
In terms of managing the pain, we tried everything we had – standing, sitting, lying on my side, sitting on the exercise ball, leaning over a table with my belly hanging down, etc. I had envisioned spending much of labor and birth on all fours, but that didn’t offer relief either. The only thing that seemed to work for me was sitting on the toilet, and so I spent the better part of active labor on the toilet.
Other than that, focused breathing was helpful when the pains got to that point of taking my breath away.
Compared to contractions, the pushing was much easier. In pushing, I was an active part of the process, whereas with contractions, they were something that was happening, and I had to figure out how to work with them passively.
At first, I was pushing through my chest and lungs. Marcy had me focus my breathing and pushing much lower in my uterus. Once I found the right place, pushing was very productive.
How did the reality compare with the birth plan? What surprised you?
The birth plan was to have an unmedicated birth at home. In that sense, we were very successful and had no surprises.
Describe the moments after birth, and/or what went through your mind when you were meeting your new baby for the first time.
I remember feeling an instant end to the pain as soon as Marlo came out. My husband held our baby as I looked on. I was tired, sleep deprived and frankly in a state of shock. We had agreed beforehand that I would signal when I was ready to hold our baby…that came much sooner than I thought it would. I suppose it’s an innate reaction to want to immediately reach for your baby even when one is exhausted and just so happy to be done with labor. Jerry came over and held our baby while announcing to me that we just had a little girl. I was elated, but so tired and out of it that I kept referring to our baby as a “he”.
After Marlo was placed on my chest to warm her, I remember feeling how beautiful her warmth felt against my body.
I loved her immediately and felt so proud of her for going through the journey of birth. At the same time I couldn’t believe that I had given birth to her…it was all too surreal.