It is funny, as a photographer, the thoughts that go through your head during major life events.
Last year, I learned that we were expecting our third child and, within hours of learning this wonderful news, my brain was already beginning to think about how I could adequately capture this amazing, fleeting time.
When I was pregnant with our first, I had not yet been bitten by the photography bug and the story of her entrance into the world is just a handful of images right after she was born. Fast forward three years later to the birth of my son and, while my passion for photography was certainly there, my focus was on getting precious newborn photos of him once he was home from the hospital and not on capturing the precious details surrounding his actual arrival. It wasn’t until a couple of months after his birth that I became very nostalgic over not having all of the little details preserved forever.
That is why, this time around, I knew things would be different.
In a perfect world, I would have hired a talented birth photographer and been very happy to hand over this huge responsibility to someone else. However, I knew my sweet girl would be making her entrance into this world via c-section and that having a birth photographer was not an option for me (My hospital has a strict policy about allowing only one “support person” in the OR during a c-section.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think for a split second about having a birth photographer as my “plus one” in the OR, but figured my husband might like to actually see his daughter come into this world.). So, I got to work thinking about the shots that I knew I absolutely wanted to capture.
Seeing as how this was my third c-section, I did feel like I had a good idea of what to expect in terms of what shots I would actually be able to take, shots that I would need to delegate to someone else and shots that were just not feasible to capture. I broke my list into three different segments to make each one manageable: before delivery, during delivery, and after delivery.
When thinking about the photos that I knew I wanted to capture before my delivery, my mind instantly went to wanting to capture the details of the morning: the time and temperature when we left for the hospital, the weather, the drive to the hospital, a final shot of me and my belly, OR prep, etc. I knew that these shots would be easy for me to take because I would still be in complete control of the situation and my body. It also provided a really great distraction for me as the scheduled surgery time approached since I was focusing on something that I love instead of the impending procedure ahead.
Once the epidural was placed, I faithfully handed my camera over to my husband and told him to, “document everything and get creative with the shots”. In all honesty, at this point, my focus definitely shifted from being a photographer to being a soon-to-be mama of three. The nerves took over and I didn’t think much more about capturing the moment.
My husband, however, did a wonderful job in his new role as family photographer and absolutely captured moments that I want to remember forever. I do want to mention that before giving him the camera, I set the manual settings for what I anticipated the operating room to be like in terms of lighting and white balance.
What I did not anticipate was the very bright surgical light that would be directly above my girl as she was born. Some of her very first shots are very over-exposed. At first, I was really disappointed by this, but a few of them were salvageable and now I just look at the over-exposure in those images as a type of censorship, ha! Also important to note, I made certain the the file type was set to RAW as I knew that the images he took might need more editing than normal and I wanted to have the most flexibility later down the line with these images.
After the c-section was complete, I was wheeled to recovery where I stayed for a couple of hours. During this time, my husband still had the camera and was capturing everything as it happened – our girl, who we named Molly, being weighed, bathed, with our OB, etc. I did manage to capture some shots of my husband with Molly as they were wheeling me out of recovery to our post-partum room.
Once we got to our post-partum room, the pressure to capture every fleeting moment as it was happening was suddenly no longer there. As the adrenaline of the day began to wear off and the pain meds began to set in, photography fell to the back-burner. I didn’t pick my camera back up until that evening when our older two met their sister for the first time. Since I could not get out of bed due to the epidural still being in place, I captured that special meeting as best as I could from my vantage point in the bed. In the end, the images from that night aren’t perfect by any means, but they will always be very special to me.
For the remainder of our hospital stay, I knew it was important to me that I document what our first four days were like in that room together. There is something so special, so fleeting, about the first days of life when the outside world seems to almost come to a standstill as you relish this new little wonder that has entered the world.
I will say that this part of the stay was the hardest for me to get motivated to shoot. I was very lucky that I was feeling pretty well after my c-section, but it is amazing what lack of sleep and medication can do to your overall general motivation. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have hired a professional photographer to come in for a “Fresh 24-48 Hour” session so that I could have had my main focus be solely on enjoying my precious girl.
Although a birth photographer was not an option for me in the delivery room, a Fresh 24 session was absolutely an option and, looking back, I do wish I had booked a session for this special time so that I would have been able to enjoy the experience while trusting that someone else was capturing it forever.
All in all, I am very aware that these images are not award-winning in terms of technicality and composition. That being said, these images are so very special to me because they tell our story. They capture details that will slip out of my memory as time passes. They will later show Molly just how anticipated and loved she was before she even took her first breath. When she is grown, these will be the images that I look back on and get a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach aching for times that once were – and any image that is capable of evoking emotion like that is considered a win for me.
So, if you find yourself in a situation where hiring a birth photographer is not an option, please know that you, with the help of others, can still absolutely capture the details of this life changing event… and even if they aren’t the most perfect images ever captured, they will still hold a very special place within your heart.
***Not all hospitals have the same policy when it comes to photographing c-sections. Please check with your specific hospital to determine the policies they have in place.***