Signe's arrival was the first live birth I've photographed. I wasn't sure how my brain and body would react to witnessing this, but I was really excited. This was the fourth time I'd been on call for a live birth, and each time prior had ended with a c-section. I was hopeful that this was the time.
On a Saturday evening in April, I got a call to come up to Vancouver. Jen was in labor. I grabbed all my gear and went over to her house, where she, Tyler and their midwife were determining that she was only at 5cm. I stayed for awhile to set up, get an idea of what Jen had in mind, and spend time with Tyler's sister over dinner. When the midwife sent us home, she told us to keep our phones handy--it would probably be early in the morning when we got the next call.
4:00am-ish, it came. I stashed the PJs, donned the jeans and quickly made my way back to their house. Jen was on 16+ hours of active labor and so ready for little Signe to make her way out. They had abandoned the water tub in favor of a bed birth, and used a birthing chair to encourage Signe to come down faster.
And so began the ancient ritual of childbirth. It felt so significant in its age--I kept thinking about all the women before us who sat with these same hopes, pains, fears and excitement. What an honor to be there. Right then. Seeing this. My whole body felt wrapped into this experience. My brain apparently knew how to deal with it--it was absolutely fascinating and exciting.
Jen was AMAZING. Witnessing another woman coping so well with overwhelming pain was humbling. She pushed through so much, gripping Tyler's hand and bruising her eyelids with so much effort. During the rougher contractions, I found myself gripping my camera too tightly, tearing up and encouraging Signe to make her appearance.
Watching a baby crown and be pulled into the world by a midwife? WOW. It happens so fast when it finally comes time. Lots of hair, a tiny grey/blue head, all followed by a little baby body. There she was. Only through the photographs can I experience each individual moment. It's so sudden, so violent, so foreign, so beautiful. She slowly turned from that grey/blue to baby pink, everyone talking to her and touching her. The midwives had to help her breathe--evidently quite normal when some fluid is aspirated during birth. They took her to the hospital to make sure she was okay. I stayed with Jen into the early afternoon.
Two days later, Signe was still in the NICU. The fluid had been no big deal and easily dealt with. Another major problem had been discovered. A life-ending problem. Suddenly, she only had days to spend with us. I visited them all in the NICU for photos. They waited to hear about the results of an MRI before taking her home to spend the remaining time peacefully. My heart broke.
The next day, I pulled back up to the house where she'd been born. Friends and family had been invited to stop by and meet Signe Katharine. There were soft blankets, cute clothes, Kleenex boxes, lots of laughs and so many tears. I took portraits of Signe surrounded by dogwood blooms, wearing her adorable purple tutu. She would grip the flower branches in her tiny hands. She was so beautiful. SO beautiful. So tiny. So perfect.
After the portraits, I photographed family and friends meeting, cuddling and enjoying little miss Signe. One of the very best and very hardest moments was grandpa, dad and uncle all surrounding her as grandpa cradled her in his arms.
I left their house with a headache brought on by crying and trying not to, wishing this had been so different, yet so, so glad I had the opportunity to share and document this story.
A few weeks later, Signe passed peacefully. She leaves behind a month of memories. I think of her every day, seeing her in the pink flowers around my house and in the little dogwood branch on the dashboard of my car. Just before she passed, I visited Jen & Tyler to deliver their photos from maternity through her trip home. I held her for the last time, snuggled and kissed her little cheek. I will never forget her.
To Jen & Tyler, two of the bravest parents I know, I give my love. I have rarely seen such strength, hope, love and joy from two people going through so much.
Jen & Tyler's friends set up a fund to help with Signe's medical expenses here at GoFundMe. If you feel like contributing, I know it would mean a lot.