all images © j.mo studio 2015
this beautiful baby girl is very near and dear to my heart. her mama was my very first client, years ago, and strongly encouraged me to take the leap into professional photography. she even started marketing for me before i could say no! not a day goes by that i’m not delighted to have made that leap, and i will always be grateful for her endless support.
i love that this post not only depicts sarah’s journey, but also the gradual development in my own photography. because she was such an early client of mine, you can truly see the progression over time as i learned new techniques, acquired new lenses, new editing software, a new camera! so fun experiencing a journey of my own while i captured hers.
try as i might, there is no one who can recount her birth story better than she, (i can’t even think about it without getting choked up), so it is with much gratitude that i am able to share with you sarah’s story, through her words, and my camera.
My first pregnancy, labor, and delivery were dreamy. I wouldn’t have described them that way at the time, but I didn’t know how blessed I was as a first-time mom. An easy pregnancy, uneventful (albeit, looong) labor, and textbook unmedicated birth. After 41.5 weeks and 22 hard-earned hours, at last I held my precious Kate. And that was it. Around the 37th week of pregnancy, my friend Julia, who happened to be a photographer, had come and taken some maternity pictures for us. They completely captured the phase we were at. A couple in love, just dying to meet the little person that would make them a family.
When Kate was about six weeks old, I asked Julia to come back and take some more pictures. Again, she somehow caught the beauty of the new season we were in. Over the next year and a half, I asked her to come again…
Our little girl was changing every day and every stage was so much fun. Often I would see an older man or woman out in public observing me with Kate. They got a wistful look in their eyes and said, “It goes so fast. Enjoy it!” I believed them and tried to memorize every roll on her wrist as she slept on my lap. Every adorable noise and new word. Every “aha” moment as her mind blossomed before my eyes. But I knew I couldn’t remember it all and I wanted something tangible to look back on what my heart would always treasure. So I kept asking Julia to come back.
When Kate was 20 months old, I found out we were going to have another little baby. Right away I knew this pregnancy was going to be different. I had terrible morning sickness for 16 weeks. With Kate I hadn’t been sick at all, so I was sure it was either twins, or a boy, or twin boys, (it was a girl).
As soon as I told Julia, she began contemplating new ideas for a maternity shoot. I couldn’t wait to see what she had up her sleeve.
We started shooting a progressive maternity series, never expecting the outcome that lie ahead…
At 19 weeks my husband and I went in for the anatomy scan. The sonographer told us we were having a girl! (?) But then she started doing more measurements and stopped talking. After a couple minutes she left to get the doctor. They both came back, visibly concerned, and told us that I had placenta previa. I vaguely remembered reading about it on my pregnancy app the first time around. The doctor said that it resolves itself most of the time, but in some cases it requires a cesarean section. I was pretty caught off guard, but knew lots of people who had c sections and my doctor seemed somewhat calm about it. Why borrow trouble?
However, once I started educating myself, this diagnosis was very alarming. Placenta previa forums online were full of women who were put on bedrest for months, hospitalized until their delivery, delivered very premature babies, blood transfusions, emergency hysterectomies. There was even a higher chance of maternal death, in spite of very skilled medical intervention.
Not all of my research was discouraging, though. I found out that the occurrence of placenta previa is 1 in every 200 pregnancies. Of that half a percent, 90% of previas resolve themselves before delivery. Therefore, the possibility of my previa being one of the scary stories like the forums I had read was roughly 1 in 10,000. I decided to rest in those favorable stats and wait until my next ultrasound.
Meanwhile, several friends were coming out of the woodwork and telling me they had placenta previa and it resolved itself. “Don’t worry,” they assured me. Well, the next ultrasound came and went. It hadn’t resolved and even appeared to have gotten worse. Still, I didn’t have any signs of complications so I was hoping it would move at the last minute.
At 30 weeks I went to labor and delivery one night with contractions. After they determined that the contractions weren’t progressing, the on-call doctor did not mince words about what the remainder of this pregnancy would look like. The risk of spontaneous hemorrhage was very high. She advised me to not go further than a few minutes from a hospital. I put myself on modified bedrest, in spite of my doctor assuring me that bedrest would not prevent hemorrhage.
A vaginal birth is out of the question with placenta previa, so my doctor scheduled a c section for 36.5 weeks (3.5 weeks earlier than a normal 40 week pregnancy). In cases like mine, medical professionals have to toe the careful line between the risk to the baby of premature birth and the mortal risk to the mother of the placenta previa causing hemorrhage. It was a scary time.
The next three and a half weeks were a flurry of trying to nest while on bedrest. I must’ve known somewhere deep down that we would have this baby even earlier than the early c section date.
At 33 weeks and 2 days, I woke up my husband in the middle of the night. This was it and it was going to happen in one of those “worst case scenario” ways we had hoped and prayed it wouldn’t. The next hour and a half kind of felt like an out of body experience. Clint carrying me to the car, calling my neighbor to come stay with our sleeping two-year-old, calling ahead to the hospital to try and communicate all vital information in case I lost consciousness from blood loss, and at last kissing the tiny fresh head of our 4lb. 3oz., Brooke, before she was whisked away to the NICU.
Nothing about it seemed real, or fair. I kept telling myself that the only thing that matters is that we both survived. I texted a few friends to tell them the news, but my mind was still in a fog. How could I have been in the tiny percentage of people that this happens to? Why couldn’t I be one of those rare people who wins the lottery or doesn’t get wrinkles?
This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. I was going to “beat” the placenta previa and have another natural birth a week before my due date, so she would be home for Christmas. And I’d have a birth photographer there and then hang one of the beautiful, tasteful pictures above her changing table.
I got to hold Brooke later that day. She had a CPAP mask on, a feeding tube down her throat, and an IV taped in place on her little hand. It took three nurses to put her in my arms with all her wires and tubes. My eyes were swollen and red from the pain medication and tears. This was not the precious moment I had envisioned.
My husband and I were just robots over the next days and weeks. Our families, friends, and colleagues filled in the gaps where we had nothing left to give. There was always someone to watch Kate while we shuttled back and forth to the NICU throughout the day. We had three weeks of meals delivered to us. People sent flowers and notes of encouragement. Most importantly, they let us tell them about Brooke’s scary birth. And they cried with us.
Each time I told it, I felt more affirmed and more ready to accept it as part of our story.
After 24 days in the NICU, Brooke got to come home. I never thought I’d be so relieved to bring a five pound baby on oxygen home from the hospital. The next week Julia came to take our first family photo in front of the Christmas tree. I could see the tears in her eyes while she worked and I knew that this dear friend was thinking the same thing I was, “This is the Christmas that almost wasn’t.”
It’s been three months since Brooke’s birth and we are settling into life as a family of four. Like anyone who survives a brush with death, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and thanking God for sparing my life. I’m kissing my babies more and telling my husband how much I love him every chance I get.
After such an ordeal, I’m reminded of the expression, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And I do feel stronger. Stronger just doesn’t look like what I always thought it would. Instead of an impenetrable fortress, for us it turned out to be more like a ship you owned but just discovered is seaworthy. It is not a skill I ever would’ve signed up to learn, but we certainly learned a lot as we navigated through that storm. I also feel more prepared to lend an ear and offer a prayer for those in the midst of their own gale. The strength does not come from being sure that you’ll never be hit with another storm. The strength is in the knowing that this ship floats.
after what seemed like an eternity of waiting, little brooke was given the ok to lose her oxygen tubes, at which point i was given the ok to schedule our “official” newborn shoot. i was relieved, overjoyed, and beyond grateful to finally capture this little miracle, just as precious as the rest of her amazing family. there are so many reasons that i love my job, but i cannot begin to express the overwhelming emotion i feel as i go back through this family’s journey…it is such an awesome feeling to have been a part of so many important moments in their lives, and to have captured these moments for them to treasure, always.