Homebirth to C-Section | A Story of Perseverence | Jacksonville Birth Photographer
Tiffany and Chris are such an awesome couple. When we sat down for their pre-consultation (at Maple Street Biscuit Company, YUM!) they told me about their year long honeymoon around the world. They bought a house and painted every room a different bright color. They were working on a huge painting of a world map in their living room. They have five cats and three dogs (and now, five chickens). To say that I was THRILLED for them to hire me as their birth photographer for their homebirth was an understatement!
Like all birth stories, this is a story of love. But it is also a story of partnership, commitment, and perseverance. Their sweet baby's birth looked completely different than what they had envisioned, but it was filled to the brim with emotion. I am honored to have been invited to witness this incredible day.
I woke up to a text message on a Wednesday morning from Chris, saying that Tiffany had been having some contractions since about 4am. Tiffany labored through the day and into the night.
"At almost 41 weeks I had started to really wonder what early contractions were going to feel like and was hyper aware of my body, but it just kept coming up nothing! I expected there to be some prodromal labor, or even Braxton Hicks but I only had ONE Braxton Hicks my entire pregnancy. So I didn't even have the test runs to base it off of.
When labor started I wasn't entirely convinced it was the real deal and kept expecting the contractions to putter out, but they never did. After the first 4 hours or so I was like 'Okay, it's the real deal.'
Early labor was a lot of the Great British Baking show, and trying to get into the habit of breathing through the contractions. And lots of naps. SO many naps happened that first day."
Tiffany labored on for a full 24 hours after that first text. Early the next morning, I finally got the text asking me to come join them. I knew that they were both exhausted after two sleepless nights and a long day of labor, and I was anxious to start documenting their journey for them.
I slipped quietly through their front door and mouthed "Hello!" to Chris and Jacinda, their wonderful midwife. The lights were off and Tiffany was moaning lightly through her contractions. Chris was glued to her side and supported her hips as she swayed in the dark.
Jacinda quietly took vitals in between surges. Baby "Taco" had a beautiful little heartbeat, and Chris and Tiffany were so ready to meet their baby...and find out if Taco was a he or a she!
Tiffany agreed to a cervical check and...good news! She was 6 centimeters dilated and doing beautifully. Her strong body was doing exactly what it was supposed to do, and she was powering through her contractions.
"[During each contraction] I tried to keep my mind blank and just accept what was happening. It helped that I knew that it was temporary, that each contraction got me closer to it being over, even if I didn't know when that 'over' would be.
When the contractions got really intense I'm not sure coping is the right word. There was simply existing. If I could manage it I thought about doing a box breath in 4 counts, but otherwise it was just existing through it."
(Tiffany is a belly dancer, so isn't surprising that finding a rhythm was a good coping method for her!)
We counted the minutes until the sunrise. So many babies are born in the middle of the night, but sometimes the dawning of a new day brings a renewed sense of energy and strength to a mom who has been laboring for a long time.
Tiffany tried a few different positions in the tub. This one had an inflated little seat on one end, which was helpful. The warmth of the water and it's buoyancy acted as a natural pain relief as she approached transition. But her surges were still powerful and intense; moving her baby closer to her arms.
Chris and Tiffany were such a wonderful team. She leaned into him, both with her body and her emotions, and he nourished her soul with encouraging words and gentle touches.
"Having Chris there to help me through and having an amazing birth team to distract me helped as well, though I don't feel that I did much interacting! I spent a lot of time just watching and noticing the blurry people around me, I never did put on my glasses that second day!"
But it was still so hard for him to see her struggle. She had been at this for over 24 hours now, and as well as she was coping, it was still hard, hard work. Tears slipped down his face several times, wishing, as Jacinda later echoed, that he could "take a turn for a while."
"Chris was having a hard time watching me in such pain, to the point that it was hard for ANYONE to look at him. A room full of women, one in labor, and Chris is the one crying. Gotta break all those stereotypes! Until labor got super intense I had to not look at him because he was going to make me cry with the puppy dog eyes. Jacinda said that she's not one to cry at births, but she couldn't look at him either without tearing up. I think the whole thing is (in retrospect) hilarious and amazing."
But it seemed like baby was finally coming. A break in contractions and the anticipation of finally meeting this sweet, stubborn baby cleared the air and things lightened up a bit.
Chris broke out a stack of motivational cards that a friend of theirs had designed. Some were funny, ("I am an ax-wielding warrior and I slay all the things!") but one choked Chris up and tears flowed as he read aloud...
"I am happy for this awesome moment, because this moment is my awesome life."
Tears all around, folks.
And then all of us girls were laughing at how Chris had us all so emotional! It was such a relief to see Tiffany smiling for a little bit. She exudes such a joyful light, and her laughter was contagious.
But she was soon back to her hard work as she started to feel just a little "pushy." She decided to get out of the tub while Jacinda and her birth assistant, Renee, emptied the now-cool water out of the tub so they could refill it with warm water.
Birth is the kind of thing that love letters and wedding vows are all about. For anyone to look at it as just a "medical event" and not a journey of strength and surrender...it's just beyond me. And for this little family to sway with the surges in the haven of their own home was so special.
"You are the most amazing person I've ever known. And this is the most amazing thing I've ever seen." He repeated these words to her endlessly throughout the day, and he meant it.
I later asked Tiffany how Chris supported her through labor.
"By just being there. And the amount of empathy he was feeling really helped I think. Somehow I wasn't doing it alone, even though it was only my body going through the experience."
They spent the afternoon together, laboring all over the house. In bed, on the sofa, on the toilet, walking little trails up and down the hallway.
The image below is one of my favorites from this beautiful birth. Exhaustion, perseverance, and strength all in one moment.
After a while, Tiffany got back into the tub, now topped off with fresh hot water.
After pushing for a while, Jacinda suggested trying some different pushing positions to see if Tiffany could get baby moving down.
Over the next hour, Tiffany did some really difficult things to help get baby to move. She squatted, lunged, lifted one leg up onto a stool, and did a side-lying release in bed. She powered through; absolutely trusting her talented midwife and doing whatever was necessary to meet her baby.
Jacinda recommended another method of pushing, called Tug of War. Tiffany pulled on a robozo while she pushed, and the birth assistant provided resistance on the other end.
Chris later shared some details about what was happening:
"Unbeknownst to us, Taco had flipped to what's called 'Sunny Side Up,' meaning they weren't breech, but they were looking the wrong direction. In addition the head was tilted. Basically Taco decided to be as unhelpful as possible. Laboring at home was uneventful, if painful, up until she was completely dilated, at which point it was becoming difficult to manage. After a long afternoon of pushing, this sweet baby was still not here. We were able to see baby's head at some points while Tiffany pushed with all her might, but baby wasn't making any downward progress."
And these were Tiffany's recollections on the last moments at home:
"After 2 hours of pushing with no progress, and 36 total hours of labor, my midwife recommended we go to the hospital. I agreed. It wasn't an emergency situation, but we wanted to avoid one. By that point I was in the throws of that fetal ejection reflex and honestly probably would have done whatever anyone told me to do. It was like I didn't have a brain anymore. At the time all I could think about was that the pain would end, I could have drugs, even though I'd been so against this option beforehand. Being in the thick of it really changed my mind.
This is probably the fuzziest part of the whole experience for me, looking back. All I can remember is a sense of relief, dread, and of being terribly present in the moment, even if I can't remember those moments now."
Jacinda calmly called the hospital to give them a heads up, while the birth assistant swiftly began to pack things up. (She stayed behind to drain the birth tub and clean the house...what a wonderful help!)
"We made our way to the hospital (changing plans to go to the nearest one instead because I was in so much pain) in what I can only describe as the worst car ride of my life. Sitting at that point had become nearly impossible, with baby so low and the urge to push so strong. A terrible ER person tried to stop us from being immediately admitted to labor and delivery, but an awesome ER nurse overrode him and zipped us through the hospital."
Still feeling the unstoppable urge to push, Tiffany powered through each contraction and pushed and pushed.
"An hour or so later I was administered an epidural which thankfully diminished the need to push (which the doctors wanted me to stop doing, lol, yeah right) so that my body could recover a bit and we could try to get baby to turn. However the epidural didn't fully take, and my right hip was still hurting all throughout the next 7 or so hours."
After almost two full days of intense labor, Tiffany was finally able to rest. Her smile and spunk came back, and Chris fell asleep on her lap, exhausted.
"[Going to the hospital was] a mixed bag, but mostly positive. I LOVED the nurse that we got. Honestly it was worth going to that hospital just for her. She was amazing and willing to answer any and all questions (once I was drugged enough to ask them). She stayed with me for so much of the process and was generally just one of the best human beings I think I will ever meet. I don't think I'll ever forget her."
Jacinda stayed right by Tiffany's side the whole time they were at the hospital. Her calm presence and expertise helped them to understand what was happening, and she answered all of their questions along the way. She and the nurse worked together to troubleshoot and try to figure out how to get this sweet baby turned the right way.
For the next few hours, Tiffany rested a bit, and then tried laboring in some different positions. Even with the epidural, her nurse and midwife helped position her in the bed, so that baby could possibly turn their head and descend.
"After 7 hours, we pushed for an hour in another attempt to move baby. Pushing with the epidural, it was totally different. Once the pain was managed I was able to bring in my dance training and really think about which muscles to use and focus on the action itself. I took it to a very technical place, because that's where I felt comfortable, and it made me feel like I was in control."
Baby's head came more and more into view. The nurse called Chris over to come see his baby!
"But while baby did move lower, Taco didn't turn. The epidural was wearing off and the doctor recommended a C-section at that point. My water had been broken long enough that infection was beginning to be a concern, and along with baby's positioning, she stated that the odds are that one of us would go into distress before birth. With 47 hours on the labor clock, Chris and I decided to go with her recommendation and we both prepped to go into the operating room."
"When we were either going to, or at the hospital I looked at Chris and dead serious told him that if we had to do a C-section, I was okay with it. I needed him to know so that he could make decisions if they had to be made. My entire birth plan was avoid a C-section at almost all costs, but after 36 hours, I knew that other options had to be on the table, especially at the intensity of labor I was in.
I was upset that we had to go that route, but by the time we decided to do a C-section I was at hour 47. I was tired, I was in pain, and the epidural was wearing off. Looking back I'm not happy about how the doctor presented my options, I'm still conflicted about the choice I made."
"But in the moment I was fine with it. I was almost jovial as they were wheeling me into the ER. Chris told me later that while he was waiting outside he could hear me laughing with the nurses and it made him upset. How could I be so happy? Honestly, I just get really chatty when I'm nervous, but also I was about to meet my baby, and the pain was going to stop. I was legitimately joyful, even through the contractions that I was feeling again since the epidural had worn off."
"Chris was told to wait outside while they prepped me, but during that prep they found that the epidural hadn't taken well and did a spinal tap to numb my lower half. It also didn't take and within the span of about 10 minutes it was decided that I had to go under general anesthesia and Chris would not be allowed in the room.
That's when I first felt sad about the choice. I knew that that was going to gut him.
I told them that someone had to go tell him, that he was going to be upset. And someone said they already had and he was fine. I knew they were lying to me. I was crying as they knocked me out."
"I almost feel like I jinxed myself. So many times during labor I would look at Chris and say 'I just want to go to sleep and have a baby when I wake up'
And unfortunately, that's exactly what I got.
And so I was put to sleep, baby made a sunroof exit, and I woke up alone save for our (amazing) nurse in the OR recovery room. When I woke up I was the thirstiest I've ever been. Like I'd been wandering the desert for days and was weak and thirsty and trapped under the blinding light of the sun. Except it was just hospital lights. Chris was finally allowed in with me and I asked about our baby, but he had opted not to see them until I could be present as well."
"Super drugged, we went back to the room and were introduced to our beautiful baby girl, a secret that the OR staff and all the nurses worked really hard to keep for us. One thing I really appreciated was that as they prepped me for surgery they must have mentioned about a million times that the sex of our baby was a surprise and that everyone was to keep it that way! I really appreciated the lengths they were going through to make everyone aware of our choices."
They gave their gorgeous girl a fittingly gorgeous name...Senua.
"She had all the gorgeous hair that I was hoping she would have. It was my only wish as far as what they would look like. 'Just let them be born with a lot of hair!' I had a ton when I was born, so I was hoping it would carry through.
She's more of a mix of us than I expected. I don't know who I expected her to look like, but I didn't expect her to not really look like either of us, and to be more of a blend. She's gorgeous though. She was also much larger than I expected her to be! She didn't feel that big on the inside!"
After spending 26 precious hours with this special little family, I bowed out and let them bond while I went home and crashed. But I had an alarm set...I was heading back.
Right before Tiffany was wheeled into the operating room, she tearfully asked, "Will you come back and take pictures of my mom meeting the baby?" She could have asked me to rob a bank for her, and in that moment, I would have found a way to make it happen! Tiffany and Chris share their home with her mom, and with everything going so off course, I was so willing to do one extra thing for them that was part of the plan: capturing the moment when her mom met her first grandbaby.
I knew that these images were going to mean so much to Tiffany and Chris. I knew that having images to fill in the blanks from the 26 hours I spent with them would help them process their birth. But Tiffany shared something so incredibly vulnerable with me, and I was blown away by her words:
"I was at risk for postpartum depression due to previous depressive episodes and several miscarriages before Senua. I think I barely missed the mark on it being serious. I definitely had some PPD but instead of being all consuming it was trigger based. I know for sure that if I didn't have these photos, this proof of my strength, and the support of my husband at home during the first few weeks I would have tumbled off that cliff. I don't think it would have been pretty.
When I first decided to hire Dallas I just wanted an important moment in my life documented. Like one would a wedding, or an extra special event. What I ended up with was so much more. These photos portray more than just the moment, they tell the story. They prove how strong I was. They provide memories of moments that I'll probably never fully remember. They're my only link to the birth I wish I'd had, and the only proof that I did everything I could. They're worth more than I paid for them, and are some of my most treasured possessions. I fully believe that they saved me from a worse postpartum experience, and I can't thank Dallas enough for her time, energy, and love that she puts into all of her work."
Tears. Tiffany and Chris, thank you for inviting me into this transformative moment in your life, and for being so raw and open about your experience. I know that your story will bring hope and healing to others whose births may have followed a similar path. You are INCREDIBLE parents to your sweet little girl (who, at the moment of writing this blog, is with them in Dublin, traveling the world before her first birthday!), and I can't wait to see all of your adventures with her!