San Antonio TX Birth Photographer | The Birth of Esme
Last year I had the honor of documenting the birth of beautiful Esmé Jean! I love it when mommas tell their birth stories in their own words, and this story took an unexpected twist. Enjoy!!
• • •
"It’s taken me some time to fully process! I wanted to write out as many details from that day as I could remember. Here’s my birth story, in its entirety. I’m an amateur novelist so it’s a long one, but it’s all mine and I know I will enjoy having it to look back on in my memories for years to come.
•July 29th, 2018•
Sunday morning was like any other morning. I woke up, hobbled to the bathroom grumbling in my head about being sore. My hips, my feet, my back, everything was generally sore, being that I was almost 37 weeks pregnant!
I went to the bathroom, leaned over after I was finished, and felt like I was peeing again. My first thought was, “weird, I didn’t know my bladder could have THAT much liquid left in it”. Second thought, “that didn’t feel like pee, after all”. I wiped and it was a very light pink.
Ryan mumbles, half asleep, “hmm”?
“Uhhhhhhhh, can you bring me my phone right now please I think I have blood”..
He brings me my phone, I take a picture and send it to my best friend, Karelia, who is a doula. We’re texting back and forth and decide jointly that it was not my water breaking and I am surely NOT in labor, I mean, come on. And that I just over-did it yesterday and need to go rest.
I go lay on the couch and put on my current vice show, the Handmaid’s Tale (great show, btw!). I’m having what feels like very mild period cramps.
Throughout the morning I’m texting Karelia with updates. Looking back on the messages now I’m laughing so hard.
“Would I last till Friday? Haha possibly?”
“Maybe it’s just Braxton Hicks right?”
“It’s fine. I’m going to sit here in denial for a little while longer”
Karelia is asking me if I’m excited, because based on what she’s hearing - cramps getting stronger, fluid leaking which seems like amniotic fluid - I’m in labor! My response: “I’m indifferent. I told you I’m going to deny what’s happening for a while longer and watch tv. I’ll keep you posted”. She tells me not to worry, the baby won’t come until tomorrow night anyway, and to pack a bag.
“I’m not packing shit lol”. -Me
The bleeding got a little more intense through the morning and into the afternoon. Ryan’s thoughts: “I’m...sure that’s fine”. We were both expecting water breaking to be this theatrical event. We were also both expecting me to be pregnant for several more weeks.
At 12:45 I lose what I’m assuming was the mucus plug. At this point I’m annoyed because this is not in my plans for the day, or for the remainder of the month of July for that matter.
The wrench in the story here is that I was planning to deliver at a birth center. In order for that to happen, you have to be at least 37 weeks pregnant. Sunday was 36 weeks and 6 days.
So my midwife, Yesenia, called around 1. She had attended a birth the night prior and had just woken up. We decided to meet at the Birth Center at 2 to see if we could confirm membrane rupture.
Sure enough, my water had broken. I wasn’t dilated even 1 centimeter yet at 3:00. Yesenia said that based on how I was feeling, it wasn’t likely I would deliver before midnight and delivering at the birth center wouldn’t be an issue. The issue now was the 24 hour window I had to get into an active labor pattern. Once your water breaks, the chance of infection increases for the baby. If I wasn’t showing signs of progression by 7:30 the next morning, I would have to go to the hospital. So Yesenia gave me some herbs and tinctures to start taking around bedtime to help labor along as needed. She said to grab some castor oil on the way home which is a last resort to get contractions going."
• • •
At 3:22 I got a text from Ryan that Chenae's water had broken & she was in early labor. He asked if I offered to come do some early labor documentation or not and we discussed the possibility of my stopping by that evening for an hour or so. I told them that would be great & to keep me posted.
• • •
"I wanted a drug-free natural birthing experience. I wanted that primal event to occur without intervention, without sugar-coating, and without the myriad of other things that come with giving birth in the hospital. Birth is a natural physiologic event that has morphed into a “medical condition” “requiring intervention”. These are my feelings and I do not fault anyone whose opinion differs from my own. This is just my mindset going into labor and delivery, and really set the tone for how the rest of the day went.
So now that we confirm I’m in early labor, logically Ryan and I decide to go shopping. We stopped by my moms house first to get the castor oil. She offered to keep Isabella at her house so I could go home and rest up for the big event tomorrow, which was awesome. At my mom’s house, I was pausing in our conversations to lean over the counter and sway from side to side. I’m still calling these sensations “cramps” by the way. Next, we headed to grab a couple nursing bras. In the store I had to lean over the counter and breathe through the “cramps” some more. I went to the truck while Ryan paid because I was a little too uncomfortable to stand there any longer. Chipotle sounded good, so he went in and got us dinner and then we headed home."
• • •
I checked in again at 5:47. Ryan let me know about 6:17 they had gotten home & were doing well, just getting things ready.
• • •
"At home, I started getting a little more uncomfortable. I only ate about four bites and felt like I needed to lay on the couch. I also felt cold, so I bundled under some blankets and turned the TV on. I didn’t end up watching anything though, as I basically buried myself in the couch creases. Ryan was scurrying around the house getting things ready. We hadn’t packed a bag, installed the car seat, or anything. We were mildly under-prepared. And by mildly, I mean gravely.
I figured a warm shower would feel good so I got in the shower with my stability ball. I had Ryan put on my labor music which consisted of two songs apparently, from Nina Lee’s “Sacred Pregnancy - Deep Drink”. I was still in the process of creating my labor playlist last week! It only took me an hour or so to realize the same two songs were playing over and over again. And some point I told Ryan, “I think a song is on repeat...” He told me later he was so thankful I finally realized it LOL.
At 6:30 our birth photographer, Jennifer, asked when she should come over. I pondered about it and figured I might be ready for her in another hour. She got to our home around 7:30. At that time I was back on the couch, bundled up. I’d asked Ryan to get me some fuzzy socks, and I had on sweat pants and a thermal shirt, and was wrapped up in my blankets again."
• • •
I remember when I arrived I rang the doorbell and it seemed to take an age for someone to answer. When Chenae opened the door I knew right away why. She moved slowly, stopping to lean over & sway through contractions. I had a feeling I wasn't going to be only documenting for an hour and leaving again. After just a couple of contractions I could tell she was in active labor.
• • •
"Jennifer took some photos of Ryan prepping, our home, our pets. Riley and Chloe were both very attentive to me. They cuddled with me on the couch and I remember feeling really comforted by them both. Ryan continually asked if I was thirsty, and encouraged me to drink water no matter how many times I said “no”. At one point I asked him to make me a PB&J. He was so sweet and proud of his sandwich. I took one bite and was over it LOL. It was good! I just couldn’t eat anymore.
Jennifer asked how long we were planning on staying home. Literally, the entire time she was with us, she was the small voice of reason we needed to bring us back to the reality that we were having a baby. Soon. Ryan told her about how we had to get to midnight, so she just trudged on and kept documenting.
At 8:30, Ryan sent a text message to Yesenia. “22 contractions in the past hour lasting 61 seconds on average”. I had downloaded an app to track contractions earlier but didn’t feel like I could tell when they were definitely coming and going, so I didn’t start timing them until 7:30-ish. Yesenia told me later that she was shocked when she read that message and said to herself, “Ok, that didn’t just happen out of nowhere”! LOL Ryan talked back and forth with Yesenia while simultaneously pressing start and stop every other minute to keep track of the contractions. To be honest, I have no idea why we were still timing at this point. In my mind, it was important.
The contractions, which I finally acknowledged as contractions, were getting strong enough that I needed Ryan’s help. He was providing pressure on my hips however he could. I knew he was probably getting tired but it was the only relief I got. When the contractions came on, there was very little time to do anything before they got so strong that I was basically in tears. I was groaning and moaning and gripping pillows and the mattress edge. I remember being on the bed, on the floor in our bedroom, and on the toilet. Yesenia had told Ryan that if I felt the urge to push we’d have to go to SAMMC if it wasn’t midnight yet. When I was sitting on the toilet and having a contraction, I would grab Ryan’s arm or hang on his shoulder. I tried facing backwards on the toilet and that didn’t seem to help. Ryan’s arm has to have been sore from essentially doing 190lb biceps curls over and over again lol."
• • •
I stepped out of the room for a bit to give them some space and quiet time in the dark to relax. I could hear her working through contractions and at 9:39 I texted Bryan (my hubby) to bring me some chux pads. I use them with my newborn sessions, and at this point I wasn't entirely certain we would make it to the hospital or the birth center before baby arrived. I wanted to give them something that might protect their carpet a little more than the towels just in case Ryan found himself catching. I had a feeling they were still somewhat in denial that things were progressing that fast. I heard a change in her voice, a more gutteral sound... she was starting to feel an urge to push.
• • •
"About 10:30 is when I felt the first urge to push. I was sitting on the toilet and had that sensation I vaguely remembered someone somewhere saying meant the baby was coming - I felt like I was going to poop. I told Ryan. He told Yesenia. “She’s pushing. Yep. Definitely pushing”. He so kindly noted to me that all I had to do was make it one more hour, which would get us to 11:30, leaving a half hour drive to the birth center. Lol. Not gonna happen!"
• • •
By this time I was sitting on the edge of their tub listening. I heard it, that grunt that meant she was definitely pushing. Chenae said "Jenn I think I just pushed, I didn't mean to". I assured her that was normal, but we did need to decide what they wanted to do because her body's natural reflexes were kicking in.
• • •
"Jennifer in all her documentation glory nicely asked if we have anything to clamp the cord with, you know, just in case. “Dental floss! We have dental floss...” At this point, Ryan is telling me we have to go. He’s on the phone with Yesenia, she’s saying we should get going, I’m saying....you guessed it, “NO”. Even in the depths of mind numbing contractions where all I can do is breathe and count random numbers in my head, I was still DEAD. SET. on the birth center. I don’t remember saying “No”, though. Which is funny to me now because I DO remember at some point saying to myself, “Chenae, just take the drugs. Go to the hospital and get the damn drugs!” I guess my inner-self and outer-self were not on the same page, though. Anyway, my new goal now is to get my underwear on. It took me a while to get from the toilet where I’d been camped, to the bed where Ryan had so neatly laid out my dress, new fancy nursing bra, underwear, and my favorite crystal necklace. I remember thinking how sweet that was. It took so long to get there because the contractions were so frequent and strong. I essentially crawled out of the bathroom and Ryan helped me up at the bedside. He helped me get my underwear on up to my knees when I felt an incredibly intense pushing that wasn’t like before. Before, it felt like my body was saying, “Hey girl, there’s this thing in you, you might want to bear down a little to get it out”. This time felt more like, “LOL OK FINE. YOU DON’T WANT TO PUSH? I’LL DO IT MYSELF”. I’m standing by my bed, hanging onto Ryan for dear life. Apparently I scratched his back and drew blood... Sorry babe! When the next contraction came I was on my knees again. At some point, chuck pads had appeared. Jennifer had asked her husband to bring them with another piece of equipment she needed. By now we’re nearing 11:00. Yesenia tells Ryan that we need to call the ambulance if I can’t get to his truck. I guess I kept saying no, and finally Ryan sits next to me with his phone in hand and says, “Babe. I need your consent to call 911”.
He had gotten into a kneeling position and I was resting my head on his thigh. He’s on the phone with EMS. I’m in and out of listening to their conversation. Ryan is giving my age, our address, etc. The highlights I remember are the 911 operator telling my husband, “I need you to listen to me very carefully, and do exactly as I say. Get your wife to lay on the bed, on her back”.
I’m shaking my head “no”.
Ryan says, “Not gonna happen, bro”.
They go back and forth on the topic. Wasting time. Finally I said, “Just tell him I’m on my back! What’s the next step? Step 2.”
911 Guy: Is she on her back?
Me: Yeah, I’m on my back!
Ryan: No, she’s not.
Poor 911 Guy is just trying to do his job and not get fired LOL
Ryan had told them that the door was unlocked so they could just come in when they got there. So naturally, they rang the door bell and waited for Ryan to go open the door.
Here’s where the fun begins.
The whole time EMS is setting up the gurney, slamming it into the walls and dressers, I’m actively pushing. My body is doing the pushing really, and I’m just going along with it. I remember Jennifer mentioning the Fetal Ejection Reflex. Haha. Yes. Eject button had, indeed, been activated.
The paramedics helped me onto the gurney, and now I’m laying on my back. They let me keep my blanket which was my security more than anything. I was definitely cold, but the blanket was just a nice familiar thing to be aware of in the flurry of all the unfamiliar territory I was blazing. I’ve never been on a gurney, in an ambulance, or in hard labor on my bedroom floor. Lots of firsts tonight."
• • •
I refrained from shooting while the EMTs were getting her prepared for transfer. They didn't look too keen to see a photographer there. LOL I resumed shooting once they had her outside ready to load on the ambulance. I was also making sure I had everything I needed to head to hop in the truck with Ryan.
• • •
"When they wheeled me outside I feel like there were two ambulances. I haven’t even asked anyone to confirm that. I just remember lots of lights. They get me up into the ambulance and away we go. The ambulance ride felt like an eternity. And also like we were driving through an obstacle course designed to test the 4 wheel drive of a Wrangler. Unbeknownst to me, the ambulance actually took a wrong turn out of the neighborhood, and headed straight to the dead end. Ryan waited at the intersection for them to turn around and commenced following them to the hospital thereafter.
We make it to BAMC at 11:30. My coping mechanism at this point is very deliberate breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth, still doing the counting thing in my head. Eyes closed. Focused on I don’t even know what, the numbers I guess. I remember being wheeled through the ER at what felt like a pace similar to that of a Sunday stroll. The Russian-sounding EMS guy who had been by my side in the ambulance just kept asking me, “are you feeling the urge to push?” Uhh, I mean, YEAHHHH! Haha but he was really nice and reassuring the whole time.
We rode the elevator to the fifth floor and they wheeled me to Labor & Delivery. A man I can only assume works the front desk out of pure enjoyment was on duty. The first thing I remember thinking was why in the WORLD was it taking so long?! Next thing I remember is him on the phone talking about, “C - H - A - N - A - E”.
“It’s C - H - E”!
Him, talking into the phone still: “Uh huh, yes. C - H - A - N” -
“IT’S C - H - EEEEE!!!!!!”
Once he finally gets my name right he pulls the speaker part of the phone away from his mouth, looks up at me and says, “Ok, ma’am and what are you here for?”
I about died. What am I here for? The artwork on the walls, Earl wtFFF! does it look like?!?!?!!?
I said, “Uhhhh I’m PUSHING?!”
Nice Russian EMS guy gave Slow Earl the run down and magically the double doors open. Thank GOD.
One of my nurses told me later that they had gotten the call that I was coming via ambulance, but when they saw me rolling in, none of them got excited because I looked so calm. Lol she said I looked calm. I think at this point I should reassess my career choices and go into acting because calm is LITERALLY, literally, the absolute LAST word I would have used to describe my disposition at that time.
They roll me into the room and lock the gurney next to the bed. There are maybe two nurses in the room getting things set up. The EMS guys are so sweet and trying to help me transfer to the bed. Lucky for me, Nurse Rhonda was on duty that night, and is getting a little impatient with me. I’d asked for a break because another contraction came and my body is doing the whole fetal eject button thing. Rude Rhonda says to the EMS guys, “She’s fully functional, she can transfer herself”.
Oh, I can transfer myself? Lol really Rhonda? Lol. LOL. LOLOLOLOLOOOLOL OK LETS DO IT THEN!
So somehow, by the grace of God, I was able to get onto the bed. Rhonda is clearly not in the profession of nursing ON THE LABOR AND DELIVERY UNIT, mind you; because she loves pregnant women in labor. I got that vibe loud and clear. Rhonda got hers when she yanked my left knee over to the side, peered down to have a look-see, and gets the surprise of a lifetime.
“SHE’S CROWNING! SHE. IS. CROWNING!!!”
I’m crowning, apparently. How’s that for “fully functional?! Jerk. lol.
So nowwww my room turns into a Grey’s Anatomy scene and about 25 staff come running into the room. Some saint gave Rhonda one last Karma kick and said to her as she’s still yelling about me crowning, “Ok! Calm down!” Ha! Yeah. Calm down, Rhonda. I’m just crowning. Pfft.
These people are in high gear. There are people messing with the bed, someone shoving a monitor into my pubic bone yelling, “I CAN’T FIND A HEART BEAT!”, other people setting up the little baby station across the room, people everywhere. I hear a lot of chatter, and a lot of latex gloves snapping onto wrists. Pretty sure someone asked me if I had any allergies. I’m in and out of presence. I look up and this 12-year-old looking Harry Potter type says, “Hi! I’m doctor Gisseman! I’m going to be catching your baby tonight!”
The meanwhile here is that Ryan, Jennifer, Yesenia, and my Mom are all en route. I had told Ryan to call my mom when I was on the bedroom floor panicking and thinking I was about to have a home birth. However, when I say we called my mom, we left out literally ALL the details and just said to come to my house. Then Ryan sent her a text and said we were going to BAMC. My mom ended up at our house ringing the doorbell. She must have just missed the ambulance. She had no idea there was an ambulance lol. Next, Yesenia didn’t have privileges to get on post. So she rolls up to the gate and they turn her around and tell her to go to the visitors center. They told her she had to wait until the ambulance actually got to the gate to confirm they had the correct patient before she could get on. She could hear the ambulance coming from a mile away and had to just sit and wait until I cleared the gate. Jennifer is in the truck with Ryan, documenting away. I can’t wait for our Birth Story video!! Lol"
• • •
The ride to the hospital was crazy, they missed a turn and we waited for them to turn around at the dead end. Once we arrived we went in through the ER because that's where we were told to head & the person at the desk had no idea what we were talking about, then finally we managed to convey that he was there for his wife in labor and she was pushing... so she tried to explain how to get to L&D. I interrupted & told Ryan I knew exactly how to get there & we needed to book it. We hustled out the door and headed to the next parking area over. By now Chenae's mom & kiddo had caught up with us and we all headed up to Labor & Delivery. There we were delayed in the waiting area, I had already told Ryan that because she transferred via ambulance they were not likely to allow me back until after baby was out.
• • •
"Ok so cut back to the Grey’s Anatomy episode. I’m all alone in this room with a bunch of people yelling and pulling my knees every which way. Someone pulled out the stirrups and threw my feet onto them. Then Doctor Harry Potter tells me to scoot my butt down to the end of the table. I really don’t know why but these people had so much confidence in my functional capacity. I don’t know if I said No, or if I just laid there but eventually someone just pulled me down to the end of the bed. Thank youuuuu!
Since no one here knows jack about me besides what they’ve gathered in the last few minutes, I decide that it’s time for me to announce my birth plan to the team. Here goes:
“UM. Can you people please be nice to me?”
Someone says yes.
“Also, I want immediate skin-to-skin!”
“And can we delay cord clamping? I want that.”
I hear someone say the word Pitocin. Pitocin?! I jerked my head up off the table in the direction of whatever psycho just said that. It was the most alert I’d been since 6:30 that evening.
“I do NOT WANT DRUGS!”
“Ma’am, the Pitocin is for after you deliver.”
“Yes, to help the uterus contract.”
I lay my head back down and resume the panic. Where tF is my husband?!"
• • •
The desk guy finally comes back up and motions for Ryan to come with him. Chenae's mom & I ask "Us too?" No. JUST him.
Ok. Fine. Had a feeling it was going to be like this dang it.
• • •
"Dr. Harry Potter says the next contraction that comes I will need to push. And there it was, the next contraction. And there Ryan was! He appeared. Like, materialized out of nowhere just in the nick of time.
The pushing part of the evening lasted a short while. Ryan said maybe three pushes. I remember the first push saying to myself, “Yeahhhh, that’s not gonna cut it Chenae. Gonna have to push harder”. I have this whole team of cheerleaders yelling for me to breathe and push and to good job and whatever else. It was pretty surreal. Next push my body is like girrrrrrl let’s get it! I push harder and the cheers get louder. The head is almost out! I asked if I could touch her, and they let me. Gahhhhh so cool! Next thought, “Oh... shit. That’s the Ring of Fire. Yep, Ring of Fire. That’s the Ring of Fire. That’s the Ring of Fire”. If you don’t know what that is take a Google trip and then come back.
I knew the only way to get the Ring of Fire extinguished was to push her out. Another contraction. People chanting and counting. I hear “EIGHT! NINE! ANNNNND TENNNNNN!” I’m still pushing. I can hear the most comical pause. Everyone’s like (I imagine), “has this lady never seen a movie with a birth in it? You’re supposed to stop pushing at ten. We said nine, ten. Why is she still pushing....” My body wanted to go to thirteen ok! I had no control. I just did what felt right. I remember hearing Ryan telling me to breathe. He told me later he thought I might pass out lol. Well her head came out, cheers of encouragement, body came out, and last push, Dr. Harry Potter pulls out her feet and plops my baby girl onto my chest.
I see dark wavy hair. Someone exclaims, “Look how pink she is already!” Then I just start bawling. They gave me the Golden Hour, some of which I remember and some I don’t. I was bleeding a lot and needed some stitches so the doctors worked on me while I discovered Esmé."
• • •
I hear the lullaby song play over the intercom. Crap. I knew what that meant. Chenae's mom was livid. She desperately wanted to be in the room for the birth and was not a happy camper that they had kept her in the waiting area after all. I could see someone coming through the windows on the door. I grabbed my stuff and we (Chenae's mom & daughter) headed back to the room.
• • •
"When they did let my mom in I remember looking at her. She’s standing there holding Isabella’s hand and I’m sobbing, “Mom, I had a baby!”
My mom told me Isabella saw me crying and kept saying, “Mommy, don’t cry! I told you not to cry!” LMAO.
Jennifer was able to start shooting.
Daddy got some skin to skin time as they finished working on me. I’m so happy he was able to be there.
Yesenia finally got in and I remember Ryan looking at her and saying “11:56!”, and they both just bust out laughing.
• • •
I hated that the staff decided to not allow me into the birth room in time to capture the actual birth even after they determined it wasn't an emergency and the parents wanted me in there. That said, I was thrilled to be able to document just minutes after so I could still preserve those first moments for them! It's always an honor.
• • •
"So from start to finish, about 16 hours of labor. Four of those were active labor. Three-ish pushes. 26 minutes from arriving at the ER to Birth. Lots of organized chaos. The end result, though - exactly what I wanted. Drug-free, spontaneous, natural childbirth and the most important part - a healthy baby girl.
I feel like Esmé was listening to everyone saying all day that she wouldn’t come before midnight. I imagine her thoughts: