Alexia and Theo invited me into their birth space to document the birth of their baby girl. Alexia sent me a message on the morning of the 15th, four months ago already, and warned me that she had gone into labour during the early hours of the morning. We had planned to meet that morning to discuss her feelings about birth photography and having me in her space. No time for that now, she trusted my integrity and I awaited further instructions.
Not much later they moved from home to the Cape Medi-Clinic where I joined them mid-morning. I discreetly slipped into the labour room and greeted them both, almost the only words I spoke for the next 6 hours, and the only words I spoke to Alexia during her labour and birth.
It was a phenomenal and mind-altering experience. There are not many opportunities for one to be present at a birth (having no responsibility from a support or medical perspective) and it left me feeling like an honored witness and like a guardian of her space.
I’ve felt so “precious” about the resulting images (and experience) that it’s taken me months to publish! A few weeks after the birth Alexia sent me a reply to some questions I had for her about her choices and perspective, these I have incorporated along with the images to share her story.
How did you prepare yourself for your labour and birth?
I was so excited for the birth right from the start. I’ve had times, before falling pregnant, where the thought of natural birth was scary for me, but when I fell pregnant I was overcome by the faith and realization that natural childbirth is what my female body was made to do and that I am just one of many many women over many, many years that had given birth naturally.
I never for one moment doubted I, and my babe, could do it, and I never focused on the perceived ‘pain’ of labour but instead focused on the miracle of the journey and where that intensity could take me on other body levels – emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
Tell me a bit about your experience in labour and birthing your babe.
Wow. An intense, magical, challenging journey that took me into the deepest parts of myself. Physically one is taken to a place where you face yourself head on. I’d describe it as transcendental.
I was really aware that my daughter Isa and I were undertaking this challenging experience together, hand in hand so to speak.
I really wanted to be consciously present for her as she entered the world. Saying all that I was also quite amazed by just how physical it is. Nitty gritty basic physical human stuff! Pretty grounding & humbling. Seven weeks later and I’m still processing!
The above image reflects how Alexia looked throughout her labour,- like a Greek goddess, totally serene, inside her own world, peaceful. She reminded me so much of the two below paintings (of Danae).
What was your reason for wanting a natural birth in a hospital environment?
I wanted to birth as naturally as possible. I initially wanted a home birth but for various validated reasons my husband wasn’t comfortable with it and I was happy to accommodate him so that he could also have the birthing experience he desired. I chose a hospital I felt safe and comfortable in.
In hindsight, at home or in hospital, I managed to experience the birth I desired by going inward – the physical environment and happenings around me didn’t make much of a difference in the end.
How did you feel having me present in your birthing space?
I loved having you there! You were like a little guardian angel, quietly present.
You have a beautiful nurturing, gentle energy and I don’t think it would have been the same without you!
For a while you were the only woman in the room with us and I was very aware of that at the time and grateful for your presence.
The images speak for this I feel.
The moment Isa was born Alexia’s intense powerful and feminine force changed to emotion and wonder as she reached out crying and took her baby.
It was such a dramatic change in tone in the room I had to look up from the eyepiece of my camera for a second, bewildered that it was the same person who had just morphed life phases in those split seconds… I was astounded, the moment very surreal.
I documented the experience as objectively and honestly as I could. This meant that those moments which are so often excluded from our stories were ones that Alexia could choose to retain if she wanted to. For example; the birthing of her placenta which was intense, quite rough and painful, the blood and instruments that littered the trolley standing next to her bed….I incorporated it all.
Afterwards I asked Alexia what she wanted to see and she asked for everything.
She said that from her own perspective she had no idea of the goings-on outside the boundaries of her own body. Now, she wanted to see the experience from a the outside.
You made comments about your experiences in the weeks following the birth and that you felt that there was much information here that you would like to share?
Yes! Personally, I was quite shocked by how unprepared I was for those first weeks following the birth. I’ve grown up around babies, au paired new borns etc so I come from a place with some experience yet I felt completely overwhelmed at first.
I personally experienced huge amounts of emotional healing during this time, never mind the normal physical challenges and lifestyle changes (which one doesn’t really get until one experiences it) and with no personal support system, I found a huge need to share and connect with other moms.
I do feel there is a pressure to be socially silent about the challenges faced during this time for various reasons.
I do think there is a need, living in a modern, disjointed community, for open and honest sharing.
As with pregnancy and birthing, I really believe knowledge is the key to a positive experience. There is so much info and discussion around pregnancy and birthing but I feel a huge lack of communication about the postnatal phase of the experience.
I’m on a mission to really open up about this fourth trimester – I call it “keeping it real”.
It is so emotional to look at these images now!
I was so deep within myself at the time, I was unaware of so much going on around me. What a gift to be able to have that special moment recorded. And I’m thrilled my baby girl gets to witness her incredible entry into this world.