Women I've Shot

Birth: This is Romy’s Story
The Birth of Shyla & Tatum, 9 December 2015

The highway was quiet and dark on my way to the hospital. The robots on my way changed colour fluidly, I was grateful.

This was going to be an emergency C-section, a true emergency to save the two babies lives. I parked at Kingsbury hospital and within moments I slipped into the operating theatre in a set of blue scrubs.

Romy’s back was exposed, a long needle going into it – it always makes me cringe. Romy’s husband, my cousin Cal, holding her in the safety of his arms. The two were intertwined in such a gentle embrace and I didn’t want to disturb it. It’s a crazy space, so many doctors and nurses, the amount of equipment, the colours. One knows that very soon many things will be changing, a baby, in this case twins, will be arriving in moments.

Romy lies down with Cal at her side and I watch as the doctors prepare her. She looks so strong and so courageous and when I think back on it, she must have been terrified. This was going to be an emergency C-section, the first I would witness.

I watch as that first line of blood meets the blade at the point of the incision and then a gush of fine fluid as her waters are broken. It’s quite surreal- the fact that such major surgery takes place while the patient lies awake, I never get used to it.

The light is hard and harsh on the camera.

Romy is quiet holding Cals hand, its strange to think that she can’t see what is happening to her own body so close by. I watched and felt like a guardian. Romy and Cals eyes were locked.

The doctors gently pulled out the first tiny baby girl. I stood so near as she emerged from Romy’s stomach. She was perfect and so, so small and was carried into the warm light of the heated receiving table on the right. It was a weird feeling to know that there would soon be another baby emerging…

There was quite a bit of conversation. Many hands moved swiftly as they guided out the second baby, feet first. This baby is a totally different colour, dark and red whereas the first had been pale and creamy. Baby two is also smaller and she’s immediately carried to her sisters’ side. The doctors intensely and carefully watch over them both and communicate back and forth in low tones. It’s extremely tense.

It’s hard to believe what I’m seeing and yet at the same time I’m working and documenting. I can’t explain the strangeness of the experience: Romy on the bed, meters away, Cal in awe, standing with the babies, tears in his eyes, speechless, two tiny crying baby girls. The operating room feels heavy.

They wheel the babes almost immediately away to the NICU. It all happened so fast, I’m a bit taken aback by the abruptness, Romy hasn’t even laid eyes on her girls, in fact nothing has been said to her at all! She’s asking but getting no response as each of the doctors is managing the medical situation at hand. I walk around to the bed to show Romy an image on the back of the camera, I feel nervous about what to show her, these two tiny babes look so fragile. I watch as the reflection of the LCD screen of my camera, held above her face, dances in her irises as they move between the two little figures, she’s seeing for the first time in this small image. I can see she’s trying to absorb it, to grasp the intensity of every last second that’s just passed. It’s a huge triumph, a miracle and a trauma.

She looks so incredibly beautiful in this moment. I can’t believe the courage she must have had to hold herself together. She’s like a lioness, a mother bear and these are her precious treasures.

The doctors take a long time, it feels, to sew her up. Romy wants to know about the girls but not much is communicated except that they are in NICU. Cal is by her side holding her hand, his other hand protectively around her head, stroking her hair. I watch the procedure intermittently. I don’t feel phased by the practicalities or technicalities of it but am rather aware that Romy has still not seen her babies. It must have been the hardest thing.

When the doctors are finally finished the nurse’s wheel her out and then do some checks and blood pressure monitoring. Romy looks pale and she’s shaking. It’s the drugs, the shock and the experience.

Romy’s parents are desperate to reach out to her over the red line on the ward floor between the theatre space and the outside area, it’s just a few meters away and they wait impatiently to embrace her. Eventually she is wheeled to a room and her parents hold her, reassure her, congratulate them both, hug her. They are overwhelmed too. Romy’s sisters are already on the plane. Our family WhatsApp groups are humming with congratulations and wishes.

Finally, a doctor comes in. Romy has been desperate to have news of her babies, almost an hour has passed by now. It’s hard to hear what the doctor is saying, I watch the focus on Romy’s face. When the doctor leaves she melts into sobs and is enveloped by her family, it’s so hard.

She has been so strong up until that point, so brave and courageous, now her emotions come flying out in a release. All she can do now is hope and wait the doctor tells her.

Her babies are so separated from her and it’s all so out of her control. The babies are not out of the woods yet and all everyone can do is hope and wait to see what news will come from NICU. The doctors are doing their very best to look after those two tiny little souls.

I watched Romy in all these moments and admired the woman that she is. My mind is blown. I leave the space quietly and head out of the hospital in a daze. I consider the incredibility of the miracle I have just had the honour of witness. The first moments of these two beauties into this world. The love and courage, the strength and caring of all those that surrounded her and I know this is all really quite something. Romy is quite something. Then I’m back on that quiet dark highway with just the memories of what I’ve just seen.

(The babies stayed in NICU for about 6 weeks and both underwent a surgery, both are happy and bouncy 5 year old’s now).