When I decided to start this amazing career path, I never gave much thought to how each intimate aspect of every session would bring me closer to my clients.
I'm well aware of how idiotic that sounds, trust me. Given the nature of my position, how could I NOT become close to them?
I knew I would be exposed to, and immersed in, one of the MOST personal and intimate experiences each family encounters, that was beyond obvious. What I was not really prepared for was learning so much about each couple. Between our sit down consultations and the long hours logged during labor, small talk turns into knowing quite a lot about one another by the time baby arrives. There is also only so much words can convey. What I think I've been most surprised by, is learning about a couple through their body language. You learn the ultimate limit of a woman's strength: how she handles pain, the patience she embodies with hours or sometimes days of waiting, and how she treats the people who have come together to support her. Most importantly, to me at least, labor is the truest testament of the partnership between the couple in question. In the case of Reagan and Ryan, not only did I get the opportunity to learn more of their past, but I had the absolute privilege to witness first hand how perfectly meant for one another they are. I'll elaborate on that more a bit later.
When I met Reagan and Ryan over the summer,
we shared lots of laughs, as we discovered we
had quite a bit in common when it came to humor and pop culture. I felt comfortable quite quickly
as though I was meeting with old friends. We touched lightly on their relationship, but mainly focused on their hopes for the delivery of their
little girl and what my presence would accomplish. Reagan, being from Arizona, knew she wanted
me to act as a link for her family who would be
so far away for Fiona's delivery, capturing all she wished they could have been there to witness themselves. Like most dads, Ryan wanted to be present for everything rather than being glued
to his phone. He wanted to capture as many firsts
as possible while somehow being the best support he could be for Reagan and simultaneously soak
in all the excitement.
Every birth experience is unique. Reagan's labor however is definitely at the top of my "holy cow" list. Normally that list would have a much more profane name, but for the sake of this being shared with friends and family alike, I will do my best to censor myself.
I received the first text at 10:30 on Friday evening. SURPRISE! Reagan's water had broken. First of all, that RARELY happens. Unlike what Hollywood movies portray, your water has more chances of being broken by your physician, or breaking on its own right before baby is delivered. That is the norm that I am used to, at least. With most first time moms I would normally be on guard most of the night, waking every 20 minutes to frantically check my phone to make sure I hadn't missed a call or text, until being called hours later when their contractions had finally picked up and they were on their way to the hospital. I would then wait until Mama was admitted and checked for dilation before even making my way to my car. Considering how quickly Reagan's contractions had gone from practically non existent at 11pm, to getting the call from Ryan at 12:50am that they were on their way to the hospital, with contractions about 3 minutes apart and lasting about a minute, I decided to give them a few minutes head start and headed right up to Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood, New Jersey.
I arrived at the hospital at about 2am to learn that Reagan was only 1cm dilated, which normally would be a slight "uh oh" moment for me since some Mamas take a LONG time to make it to 5cm. I instantly worried that I should have waited a bit longer to head over. That thought was QUICKLY put to rest when I witnessed the intensity of, and time between, Reagan's contractions. Within moments of walking in and settling myself, I was introduced to Reagan's amazing doula Emily Walker of www.originstorydoula.com, who was hard at work utilizing tons of methods, positions, and her own body's strength to keep Reagan's pain as manageable as possible. This would be a good time to mention that Reagan is a ballerina. Like, a real one. I'm still blown away by the flexibility she was able to use to her advantage throughout her all natural labor and delivery. She held positions that I would have to be in a hot yoga studio to attempt and would most likely render me handicapped for at least a day or two. Between her unbelievable strength, her amazing CNM Jessica Hayes from The Childbirth and Women's Wellness Clinic, Emily's guidance, and Ryan's support, Reagan was set up for every amount of success possible.
To touch upon Ryan and Reagan's relationship a bit more, I was so happy to learn more about how they met during the course of Reagan's labor. Emily was the master of distraction and asked all the best questions between contractions that any couple with such an awesome backstory would have been happy to oblige in answering. Having met in Ireland during a study abroad program as teenagers, they hit it off and kept in touch once home and separated back to their respective states. Staying in touch over the years, they eventually began dating long distance, only seeing one another every six months because, well, broke young adults can only afford so much airfare! For over two years they made it work until Ryan was relocated to Staten Island for work and decided to invite Reagan to move in with him. She left her home and all of her family in Arizona and took what would have felt like a "chance" in any other respect. But.. it was Ryan, and it was very obvious that it was the right move. Once on the East Coast, it's safe to say their fates were sealed. Marrying in Hope, New Jersey, they eventually bought a home in Belleville that they share with their insanely adorable pup Maverick. They have tons of common interest, my personal favorites being the interests that err on the side of being "nerdy" in the best ways, in fact they had just finished up a round of Magic the Gathering right before Reagan's water broke. That might not evoke lots of good feelings in some, but for me it makes me giggle in the best ways, and the fact that they will get to tell that story to Fiona when she is old enough makes my heart happy. It's truly a sight to be around Ryan and Reagan. Their chemistry can be seen by even the most oblivious onlooker. Being able to witness and document the support Ryan gave Reagan throughout her entire labor was genuinely touching. So much so that upon review of their images, while culling and editing, I was brought to tears. Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes words aren't necessary, and in this profession I work really hard to tell each couple's story through their images. Seeing the results of each birth I have the privilege to document usually evokes strong emotion in me, no matter how long ago it took place. I am instantly transported to those moments, and in the case of Reagan and Ryan, I will always remember the love felt between them. I hope their gallery evokes the same feelings in all the people they share it with, most importantly Fiona. It is such a gift to have parents who love each other so deeply, I can only begin to imagine how impactful that will be for her as she grows.
Utilizing Emily's bag of tricks: guided breathing techniques, and the magic of a hot shower,
Reagan progressed from 1cm at 2am, to 5cm by 5am. That is pretty much unheard of, as I have
had to leave births because a Mama was stuck at 2cm, not progressing, needing rest, and not
leaving me much to photograph for HOURS returning once she had finally hit the 5cm mark.
Like I said, every birth is unique, but there's usually
a normal flow and most of the time labor takes... A LONG TIME! Not for little Fiona, or "Rocketbaby"
as she was so affectionally nicknamed by the wonderful staff on the labor and delivery team.
As if coming two weeks early wasn't enough, she had to make her debut AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
Between the time of being 5cm at 5am and waiting for the tub in her room to fill, Reagan jumped to 7cm. At that point, being in the tub and immersed in the bath long enough for its magical buoyancy and pressure relieving properties to take effect, she jumped from 7cm to 10cm in what felt like 15 minutes. After somehow making her way from the tub to her bed, Reagan was ready to push! Within what felt like no more than 5 perfectly controlled pushes, Fiona made her arrival at 6:42a, weighing in at 6.5lbs and measuring 18 3/4'' long.
I think it would be easy to call Reagan "lucky" for the smooth way her labor progressed, but it was, without a doubt, because of her own preparation, her awesome health, her amazing STRENGTH, lack of complications, and the amazing team she had behind her that made her entire labor look like it was expertly planned. In so many ways, it WAS! There is so much to be said for proper care and preparation, an amazing support team, and a wonderful medical staff. Everything that took place in that delivery room was a perfect example of putting a Mama and her wishes first, as well as allowing her to listen to her body and take the safe steps to delivering naturally in every way.
It was my absolute honor and privilege to witness and document such an important time in the Gleason family's lives. Thank you for allowing me to play a tiny role that will surely stick with me throughout my career.