Today was quite possibly the most surreal, craziest day of my life and I loved every second of it.
4.30am wake-up time. Alarm goes off. It’s bitterly cold outside. The desire to pull up the covers and call the whole thing off lingers, but I got bigger fish to fry.
Up. Shower. My outfit is all laid out. Camera is loaded with fresh batteries and memory sticks, snacks, water, comfy shoes. I’ve done my research the night before; I feel prepared, calm, excited.
Quick breakfast – double cream yoghurt topped with generous sprinklings of muesli. It feels like a dream, it feels so long ago, and yet it was just this morning.
The drive to Fourways is long, I feel the lack of sleep clawing at my eyes. Luckily the 2 degree weather outside keeps me cool enough to focus. Arrive at the hospital. Walk past the reception, I know where I’m going. First a bathroom break – I’ve specifically arrived early so there’d be more than enough time to account for potential lost-ness, searching for parking and taking a second to breathe.
Outside the maternity ward I really have to fight to convince the security guard I’m allowed in. Only husbands and grandparents he says; but I’m the birth partner I say. Eventually he relents.
I make it through into the ward, and down the passage to Room E. My client is a favourite – one whose maternity shoot I did only a few weeks back. She’s tucked up, with her mom and a friend waiting with her. Her friend turns out to be my lifesaver for the day – see, it’s my first time doing birth photography, and while I’ve done my research, her friend is the actual surgical assistant joining us in the theatre for the morning. She talks me through the run-through, where I should stand, what I should shoot. I breathe a sigh of relief knowing she’s going to be there, but my brain is cotton wool, calm but empty. I can’t even imagine what the mom-to-be is thinking, though she appears so level-headed and collected I am bowled over.
Minutes feel like seconds.
The porters come through, soon after the anesthetist leaves the room. It’s time for a few quick snaps before being rolled on through to the surgical section of the hospital. I grin nervously at the mama-to-be, and she grins back! What a thing she's about to do!
The surgical assistant friend and I find our way into the change room - it doesn’t take long to don our scrubs (me, in scrubs! Ha!), and head into the theatre. It’s a big room, with bright fluorescent lights, and a fairly large window letting in natural light. I breathe the tiniest sigh that I may just be able to shoot in this arena, but I’m so worried about stepping on doctor’s toes (literally and figuratively!), or bumping up against the wrong thing, and even more so, missing that crucial shot that I’m there to get.
It feels like the shortest time – we’re chatting with the mom, the anesthetist is administering the epidural, the room quickly fills with doctors and nurses and sisters. I sit just above the mama’s right shoulder. I’m worried about passing out – I just don’t know how squeamish I am (and this doesn't feel like the right moment to find out!). I have to keep it together – I can’t be on the floor right now. Mere seconds pass and I realize she’s already been cut open – the surgeons working away like a well-oiled team. A breath later and this tiny mucky face emerges – this tiny mucky perfect face, meeting the world for the first time. He’s pulled out from inside his mom, and held high above her so she has full view. It’s an incredible moment, and it only takes the barest of seconds for him to locate his lungs and learn how to use them to full affect – the first screech of life is glorious and awakening.
Moments blur from one to another as I snap – a tunnel vision created by my camera, which keeps me focused on my work, and I completely forget that I was worried about being squeamish. It’s beautiful and incredible, and the mom-to-be is now a mom, transformed in a second into a head-over-heels completely-in-love mama.
There's tears in her eyes, and the biggest smile I've ever seen anyone smile.
I jump from the weighing station back to the mama, back to the weighing station, dodging doctors and tubes, but the team is very encouraging - the paediatrician suggesting alternate angles to shoot from, the midwife folding back layers of towelling so I can get a closer pic of the tiny little baba's face, and the anaesthetist even volunteering to snap a pic of us together!
They all seem incredibly proud of their work, and of this miracle we all get to be a tiny part of on that special day.
It feels like I could be dreaming. It’s the most amount of magic I’ve ever experienced.
Happy birthday, little baba, they all say. It's your first day on this big wide world. And forever today will be remembered as your birthday.
It’s finally an exhale removing the scrubs. A new little baba has come into the world, and I can tell it’s going to take me days to go through the images and even start to feel like that moment I witnessed was real. I feel like I watched a movie.
We head back to the room, mama and baba so entranced in each other, so perfectly attached, so wonderfully connected. The grandparents gush over their first grandchild, excited and enraptured within minutes.
I have to tear myself away eventually, feeling the time had come to allow mama to rest, and fall more and more deeply in love with the tiny little creature nestled on her chest. It was a perfect morning.
**Please note all images have been shared with the mama's consent. I only ever share pictures online from photo shoots with client consent.