The Little Rock, Arkansas VBAC Birth of Isabelle
Below you will find the story of Isabelle's birth, as told by her mommy, Stephanie. Stephanie is a psychotherapist with her own incredibly awesome practice, The Healing Arts Studio, where she specializes in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and maternal mental health. She is one of the helpers in this crazy world and I am honored to now call her a friend.
"Over two years ago I met Brittany. I was pregnant with my daughter Isabelle at the time and was connected via a friend who told me that she did birth photography. I contacted her and we met up; she's very sweet, bubbly, easy to get along with. She's also very passionate about her field and her portfolio was beautiful. I hadn't known anything about birth photography or even considered that it was a thing until I met her and became aware its advantages.
At our consultation Brittany and I chatted about the many benefits of having a birth photographer -one thing that she mentioned was that it can be helpful to process any grief or trauma that may have been experienced during the birthing process. As a psychotherapist this was very eye-opening for me. It occurred to me how incredible it would have been to have a birth photographer there with our first daughter Hazel's birth. While she and I both turned out alright in the end - the process was very difficult - eventually leading to an emergency C-section and time spent in the NICU due to low blood sugar. The only photographs I have are low quality quick stop shots. I treat patients with PTSD all the time and I know that tangible proof of their memories such as a photograph could not only help them process and expose themselves to the difficult moments as a part of their healing process but could also capture the beautiful bright sides that are inevitable in the most difficult of circumstances.
Little did I know that for Izzy's birth I would come to appreciate this aspect in an intensely personal way. We thought that Hazel's birth was THE MOST difficult and my husband and I jokingly said whatever happens this time has to be better than it was with her. Of course, that didn't end up entirely untrue. We WERE able to have a successful vbac. She was born into this gorgeous daylight streaming through the windows, surrounded by friends. I had my husband there supporting me. It was an incredibly cathartic and beautiful birth. Meanwhile Brittany was there as a shadow in the background: unobtrusive but capturing tender heartwarming moments throughout the birth itself. When sweet little Izzy arrived she was not blue blue but maybe a little purple. I now look back on Brittany's photographs and I'm so grateful that I have clear, professional, beautiful shots of us bonding in those first few moments. We had maybe three minutes of holding her and touching her before the nurses said they were just a little worried about her oxygen levels. They took her to the warmer to evaluate her and gave her back to us on oxygen for about another three minutes before whisking her away again, this time out of the room almost without a word. One of my flashbulb memories is telling my husband I don't think that no news means good news. At this point we had our friends and Brittany go home. We'd all been up all night at that point and we told them we'd let them know as soon as we knew anything. Later everyone told me that they cried all the way home because it was such a scary situation.
When the nurses came back later we received the news that Izzy had a heart condition that would likely need surgery that day. They were going to take her to Arkansas Children's Hospital immediately and they would try to get me discharged as soon as possible so that I could join her. As you can imagine our world spun and our hearts dropped. What was and is one of the best days of my life turned into one of the worst. Five hours later, after just having given birth, I found myself in the children's hospital waiting room in a wheelchair. Waiting. Waiting on word of how bad her heart was. I remember I had dreamed so happily of the first meal after Izzy's birth. After having labored for hours (most of which I was vomiting) I planned on eating a giant pizza. During the whole labor I comforted myself with the knowledge that in just a few hours I would be relaxing in peace with my baby, eating pizza. As it turned out my first post-birth meal was a bag of Doritos and a Kit Kat from a vending machine in a hospital waiting room.
Eventually after hours of terror, the doctor came back and told us that she was stable for now but still would likely have to have open heart surgery. We wound up having to leave that night without her which was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Izzy ended up staying in the CVICU for a couple of months, each day not sure if she would have to have surgery or not. Thankfully they were able to finally send her home with no intervention! She still has an incorrectly formed heart and may need to have surgery by age four or five but in the meantime she's a beautiful, happy, energetic little toddler.
So this brings me back to the gratitude and appreciation I have for birth photography. When I look back on her pictures that day I'm vastly better able to process through the grief, trauma, fear, joy, surprise, awe and the millions of beautiful wonderful emotions that we all experienced. I have a visual story that I can move through. The little glimpses of reality otherwise could be so distorted were it just my memory. To me it all just happened in one big whoosh or a series of little frozen moments in time, but with the pictures I can stitch back together the whole day. I can find those moments that otherwise would have been forgotten or never noticed at all as I labored; the sweet look on my husband's face as he held my hands, my darling friends holding back my hair as I endlessly threw up, all of us laughing after I got the epidural and we were able to pause to eat a leisurely lunch before I decided to start pushing. And then of course my beautiful baby: her sweet face gazing into my eyes for those brief moments she was on my chest: before we had to go through the horror of her being hooked up to tubes and monitors and wires for the next 2 months. I'm so glad that we captured that time and I'm so grateful to Brittany. I never realized when we discussed the benefit of birth photography to grieving or traumatized moms that I would literally be in that situation in just a few short months. Now I know from personal experience that it indeed was worth the investment to capture those moments both good and bad. The healing and joy they brought is beyond priceless."