When I announced that I was planning on photographing the birth of Cassandra and Pete‘s daughter a lot of our mutual friends were a bit
shocked surprised. Now in of itself photographing a birth isn’t breaking any new ground in photography, there are plenty of photographers who cover births and even specialize in them. Most of those photographers however are either parents themselves, or dream of one day of starting a family. This has never been a dream of mine. In fact when I am asked about wanting children usually the answer to my “no” is met with disbelief. How could this be possible? A totally absent desire to replicate? Who will carry on the legacy? I have no answer for you there. The SAF gene (that’s Starting A Family) just never made it to my brain. And no matter how many times I’ve been told that I’d change my mind when I got older, I got older, and my mind didn’t change. But that’s okay, there are people out there to pick up my slack. To add further weirdness to this whole birth photography thing is that in addition to not desiring kids, the BAC (babies are cute) gene is also not in my brain. I generally don’t get that interested in kids until they are formulating full sentences. What can I say, I like to carry on a conversation. And finally you might be thinking, well at least he can appreciate the miracle of life… that’s not even a gene. Actually it’s called the ATMOL gene, and that one’s pretty weak in me too. I look at it from the point that some species have kids who are able to join the herd a couple of hours after birth. Now that’s impressive. A lot of us are in our 30s and have still not fully joined the herd. I digress.
So why did I offer to do this for Cassandra and Pete? As soon as we got the invite to their baby shower I got to thinking about what sort of gift I could give them that would truly leave a mark on their lives and the life of their daughter. Sure I could have just hit up the registry, thrown my offering into the onesie pool, bought a Costco pack of diapers, or purchased an amazing interactive learning device. But babies grow fast, poop a lot, and are generally more interested in the cardboard box the interactive learning device came in rather than the device itself. What would last? What would really tell them I loved them? I’m not saying that all of the people that bought them traditional gifts didn’t love them, they certainly did… you need a lot of baby gear in the beginning. However I really felt like I could give them something unique. I wasn’t really sure that they’d even take me up on my offer. I photographed Cassandra in her hottest boudoir attire, and I photographed the two of them getting married… but the birth of a child? Now that’s hardcore. There is a lot of trust in something like that and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. I was prepared for them to say, thanks but it’s just too intimate of a thing. The day of the baby shower I presented the gift. Pete immediately gave me a big hug and I knew then- that he knew, and that this would be a really powerful thing.
The plan was for them to text me when it was time, and I would take turns in the room with Cassandra’s mom because the policy was that only two people could be in there with her, and Pete was obviously going to be there the whole time. I had a camera bag packed for this for about a month, not knowing when I’d get the call. The delivery date came and went. Finally late Sunday morning I got the text I had been expecting and I immediately took off for Scripps. I arrived a little before noon I think, and the waiting began. I took photos here and there, but mostly just observed as the emotions built up. Around 7pm the pushing started to begin. I was situated behind Pete on one side of the room. I might have been able to move around more, but I didn’t want to disturb anyone and I was also really conscious of not capturing that angle. You know the one I’m talking about. What happened after that was pretty intense. I’ve probably never witnessed anyone work harder in the next 5 hours than Cassandra did. She never complained once, in fact throughout the whole thing she was mostly worried about the comfort of other people. There were moments when we were all laughing, smiling, and there were some moments of fear too. The pushing part doesn’t usually last that long… there was some discussions of a vacuum (Dyson references had been supplied earlier in the day), and C sections. Those things aren’t without the possibility of complications, and the realness of that was something you could tangibly feel and see in her eyes. Dr. Guru made the call to let her continue as long as she had the energy. Right after midnight as Harvest Moon by Neil Young played softly in the background Kate was born.
So was watching a baby being born beautiful? Well the actual physical part I had prepared for by watching many Aliens vs. Predator movies. It was not so pretty, but the emotional magnitude of the moment was exquisitely beautiful. This experience did change me. Not in the wanting kids part, that I’ve already covered. It changed me in the sense that I want to be a part of life-changing moments, I crave the heavy responsibility of documenting them. I want to record the beauty of emotions, and the passage of time. I know I can do more than just weddings, and in a way I feel like a door has been opened. I had joked that this was the first and last birth I’d ever cover, but I’m not so sure that is accurate anymore. The reward was too great to ignore. And I really do love people, and not just any people, but my people.
The final thing I want to say about the experience is that in the medical industry the nurses are the real heroes. Not that Dr. Guru wasn’t in there doing her part, she was. But Jina and Julie the two nurses assigned to Cassandra were amazing. There is a big Gigantor shot of Julie towards the end of this post looking angelic, like some true life guardian. The last time I had been in a hospital it was when my grandmother had died, and the nurses that took care of her (and us), were beyond what I’m even capable of describing. To be able to give like that to people you barely know is an amazing thing. They also let both Monica (Cassandra’s mom) and I stay in room the entire time. Another family member could have easily been in the spot I was through the whole thing, but I am thankful that Cassandra and Pete trusted me enough to let me be there. Welcome to the world Kate, I can’t wait for you to learn English!