There is no single moment more special in the life of a parent, than the birth of their child. A mother bringing her baby into the world is the ultimate symbol of life. The force of all things. It doesn’t get any deeper, more real or raw… And for a photographer like me, being able to photographically document such an event is the greatest privilege and honor I could ever imagine. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time; and, this past summer, that dream finally came true. I was given the opportunity to step into the sacred space of a home water birth, and capture in photographs the birth of a very special soul, to a very special family. Meeting Amanda and Richard Strange (and their whole family, actually) thanks to my friend Jessica, felt like destiny. I could not have imagined a more perfect couple to share this experience with.
Today, Amanda is sharing the Birth Story of her baby here on the blog, which is also filled with photos I took that night, along with a few extra from her personal collection. Please be advised that due to the nature of this subject, photos may contain graphic material and some nudity. This content is for a mature audience only. Please note that all photos were reviewed and approved by my client prior to being published. (I would never publish photos of clients without explicit permission.)
Okay, now on to Amanda’s beautiful story… (Grab some tissue; you’re going to need it!)
“I have wanted to have children since I was a small child; motherhood was always my ultimate career goal! When my partner, Richard, and I decided to start trying to get pregnant, it was like a dream come true. After only one cycle, I found out I was pregnant and was incredibly excited.
As a doula, I had a very specific vision for my birth, and so we hired a midwife and started planning our home, water birth. We decided not to have any ultrasounds unless absolutely necessary (and it never was)… so, we didn’t know the sex of our little bun; though, a couple months in, we became convinced that it was a boy, somehow. The next nine months were intense and extremely challenging in so many ways, but were mostly SO damn blissful.
As I approached 40 weeks, I started getting anxious. I was so excited to meet my baby! I couldn’t wait to find out if it was a “him” or “her,” and see their little face; to find out what he/she looked like! I loved being pregnant, and it had been so easy for me. It was like my body was made for pregnancy, and I felt better than I ever had before. I’d managed to avoid a lot of the more unsavory pregnancy symptoms, and never even felt a Braxton Hicks contraction… So, when I woke up at 8am that Thursday with some very light cramps, well, I thought to myself that this just might be something!
I didn’t want to get too excited and so I went about my day. I ate breakfast and took the dogs for a walk; but, as I moved about, I noticed the cramps slowly getting more intense. It just so happened that my 40 week prenatal appointment was that afternoon. And, so, I called my mom–and she came over–and then I called Richard at work. He decided to come home early and be there for the appointment at 2pm, just in case. When my midwife, Kathya, arrived, she did a cervical check and pronounced me a whopping zero centimeters dilated and only 50% effaced! She said I was most likely in pre/early labor, and it could possibly be another couple of days! Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed, but still excited that I would be holding my baby so soon! Kathya left, telling me to keep her updated and call if anything changed, and that was that.
We called my sister, Yvette, and she, along with my three nieces – Audrey, Ava, and Josie – all came over for dinner (Thai food, YESSS!!). All the while, my cramps became more and more intense, and everyone was convinced I was now in labor. I tried to stay calm and keep my expectations in check, as Kathya had said it could still be a couple of days, and that had stuck in my mind. So, we watched old episodes of The Office, ate Pad Thai, and laughed… and, then, things suddenly changed – my cramps turned into full on surges!
It was around 6 PM now and my surges were about six to eight minutes apart, and lasting about 20 to 30 seconds. I was able to keep laughing and talking for awhile, as I grabbed my birth ball and began moving into the different positions I’d practiced and employed with so many clients. I called Kathya, and she listened to a few of my surges. I was having a much harder time talking and laughing now. She said I sounded good, but that it might still be awhile; and that, maybe, I should try getting some sleep before things got too crazy. We hung up and I kept on rushing.
My mom, also a doula, pretty much never left my side; always ready to get me anything I needed (i.e. Clary sage, lavender, and tons of water). Richard fluttered back and forth with his sweet, nervous, excited energy, trying to get things ready while rubbing my back and letting me hang from his shoulders. My sister and nieces kept right on laughing and being silly, which kept all of our moods light–thank goodness! And, we were really having a good time! This is exactly how I had hoped my labor would be. Things were getting more intense by the minute, and my surges were getting stronger and longer. Richard started to blow up the birth tub and assemble all of our supplies; meanwhile, low moans were all I could really muster at this point. I paced back and forth between the dining and living rooms, stopping with each surge to lean on something and focus. All of the sudden, everything became too loud and bright for me out there near the TV; and, so, I moved into the dark sanctuary of my bedroom.
I crawled into bed with that sleeping thing on my mind that Kathya had mentioned, but my body had very different plans. Surges started coming closer and closer together, as I tried my best to relax and surrender myself over to these INTENSE sensations. My mom and sister had followed me into the bedroom, and took turns rubbing my back and whispering words of encouragement. My mom was timing my surges and I remember screaming, “It’s coming,” before each new wave descended upon me. I could tell they were closer and longer without her saying anything… and, then, the next wave came, and I felt a small gush of liquid rush from between my legs. “I think my water is breaking!” I shouted.
Each new rush brought more water, and, so, we called the midwife. Richard and my mom explained to her what was happening, and she asked what color the water was. I was handed a towel and, when they looked at it in the light, the liquid was tinged green. I knew immediately what that meant: Meconium. I started worrying as I heard my mom explaining the color to Kathya. All I could think was, “I’m going to have to go to the hospital!” and I was both scared and disappointed. It was then that I heard Kathya say that it was all okay and that she was on her way, so I could get into the tub if I wanted. SWEET RELIEF! It was all okay, and I didn’t have to go to the hospital–THANK FUCKING GOD! Shortly after that, I realized that we needed to call our birth photographer, Gina, because, obviously, it wasn’t going to be a couple more days. Someone called her and she headed out, while I continued rushing in bed. More water came and I started to feel a pressure and urge to bear down. “I feel like pushing!” Holy shit, this was going so fast!
I moved slowly between surges from the bed to the tub in the dining room. Richard had been filling the tub the entire time, checking in with me periodically, and it was almost full as I stepped in. The warm water felt amazing and the weightlessness was beautiful! My huge, round belly floated in the water and things relaxed a bit. Someone turned off the light and I floated alone with my soon-to-be-born baby for awhile, and it was so nice. My surges were still coming, however, along with that pressure… and, so, Richard decided to get into the water with me. He held me as I knelt, and things started picking up again. The pressure was intense and I realized that my baby, moving down, was moving some other things down as well. I whispered in Richard’s ear that I thought I was going to poop, and he told me to go ahead and do whatever I needed to do. Well, guys, it’s not like I could really stop it– and, so, I pooped. Right there in the water with Richard… and he didn’t even flinch. That right there is true fuckin’ love! I, in the spirit of birth, just announced to everyone that I had pooped; and, so, my mom and sister got right on it, grabbing the handy-dandy fish net that had so conveniently been included in the birth tub kit we bought, and started scooping.
Shortly after that, my midwife arrived, and it felt so good to see her face. She whipped out the doppler and listened to the baby’s heart rate, which was great; and, then, she did another cervical check. I was 10 centimeters! No wonder I had felt like pushing. She quickly began setting up all of her equipment; while I continued rushing in the tub, pushing gently, moving my baby down the birth canal. I had adopted a position leaning against the side of the tub with my legs open wide.
Gina, my birth photographer, arrived soon after Kathya, and we were all so relieved that she had made it! She also began setting up her equipment and taking photos. She was so sweet and excited, and her energy was so uplifting. Margo, the assisting midwife, arrived shortly after Gina, and got started on making chamomile tea for after the birth. My entire birth team was here and I was ready to do this thing!
Richard was sitting in front of me, rubbing my legs and staring into my eyes. He told me I was beautiful and that I was doing such a good job. He was so incredible. My mom sat in a chair next to the tub, near my head, and kept a cold cloth on my brow, giving me sips of water between each surge. My sister and three nieces were all along the right side of the tub, watching intently and offering words of encouragement now and then. Kathya periodically used the doppler to listen to the baby’s heartbeat, and all the while Gina was snapping photos.
With each new surge, I could feel myself opening as my baby’s head moved further and further down. “Fuuuuuuuck, holy shit, it really hurts you guys!” I found myself uttering after each rush. Everyone laughed, which made me smile, and I thought how amazing this whole experience was! I was pushing with every rush and, finally, the head could be seen! “Oh, my god! The hair is so dark, and there’s so much of it!” someone exclaimed. What a surprise that was, as even though Richard and I have darker hair now, we were both blonde and pretty much bald as babies. I always thought my babies would be blonde! Kathya asked Richard if he wanted to touch the head and, of course, he did. (He was the very first person to touch him/her!) She then asked me if I wanted to and, of course, I did! I reached down between my legs and felt this incredibly soft, squishy thing! It was so beautiful and amazing… that was my baby! The surges continued; and the head moved back and forth, back and forth, gently stretching and easing further out. Finally, the head wasn’t retreating anymore, and Richard told me his/her hair was floating out into the water. We were getting so close now.
Kathya listened to the heartbeat again with the doppler, and told me that I might want to get up on all fours, because we needed the baby to come out now. The heart rate was dipping a bit, and that might be a better position for me to push in. Just as I was about to move, my body was seized by another surge; and so, I pushed, and pushed, and pushed.
Finally, the surge was easing off, but the head still wasn’t out; and, so, Kathya asked if I could push, just one more time. I gathered all of the strength I had left, and pushed as hard as I possibly could… POP! … the head, almost immediately followed by the rest of the body, was out!
Richard received our baby into his arms, and quickly transferred the tiny body to my chest. I looked down into the most beautiful face I had ever seen and I was stunned. This was my baby… that squirming thing that had just been inside of me was finally here. I marveled at the beauty of my child, and fell, instantly, into the deepest love. I looked up into Richard’s smiling face, and we shared a moment of complete awe. We kissed, and were so lost in our bliss, that I forgot to check to see if our bundle was a ‘he’ or a ‘she!’
My mom finally asked what it was, and I looked down between the legs. I had so fully expected to see a little penis, that I had to do a double-take and actually feel it to realize that my baby was a girl! “IT’S A GIRL!” I announced loudly, and my eyes were wide with surprise. Everyone cheered and talked about how crazy it was. Ava loudly proclaimed that she had known all along! Everyone cried and smiled; we were all filled with such tremendous joy! Our little girl was here, our little Astrid Belladonna Strange.
Soon after she was born, I moved out of the tub and onto the floor to deliver the placenta. Richard sat next to us near my head, and I held our daughter in my arms. Once the placenta was delivered and placed into a bowl, we commenced the cord burning ceremony.
The small wooden box we had bought–just for this occasion–was brought out, and her umbilical cord was placed along the divots. My sister and Richard each lit a long, white, tapered candle, and held the flames on each side of her cord.
After a few minutes, there was a loud pop that extinguished the flames, so the candles had to be relit. The entire ceremony took about ten minutes, and then her cord was severed. The tie that had bound us together and sustained her life was cut, but our journey together was just beginning.
Astrid had to be suctioned with the bulb syringe for about 30 minutes because she had swallowed some of the meconium; but, thankfully, it wasn’t inhaled and, therefore, none had entered her lungs. Kathya and Margo administered her some oxygen as she grew pinker and cried harder, inflating those little lungs to their full extent.
We moved to the bedroom, and I got cleaned up as Richard and Kathya took Astrid and weighed and measured her…
She arrived on Earth weighing 6 pounds, 8 ounces and was 19.25 inches long.
That day was the happiest of my life, and motherhood is everything I hoped it would be. The most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
It’s hard to believe that nearly four months have passed since Astrid’s birth. But, even so, it feels like she’s been here all along. We look forward to watching her grow, and will cherish each and every moment with our baby girl, for the rest of our lives.”
(Amanda Strange is the mother of Astrid Belladonna Strange, and a doula serving the greater Las Vegas area. Through her work and together with her mother, Wendy Fenton, the two act as advocates for expectant mothers, helping them make more empowered decisions regarding pregnancy and birth, and providing support and comfort before, during and after birth. For more information, check out and “like” their Facebook page, Maiden to Mother Doula Services.)
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