It’s with huge pride and excitement that I’m sharing with you the single most amazing thing I’ve ever photographed.
I’ve always wanted to photograph a birth – even if I wasn’t a mother I’d know that this would be an unbelievably special thing to document… but having twice gone through the process of bringing a life into this world with my own children, I know first hand how unbelievably life-changing, dramatic and meaningful it is… how much it transports you from the world you’re used to into a strange other dimension where nothing else exists but your own body and the life inside you. It’s entirely other-worldly. In this fast-paced, high-tech, developed society we’re in, labour and birth sends you straight back to that raw, primitive space where nature completely takes over, time becomes fluid and warped, you become the simplest version of yourself, full to the brim with so much pure biological sensation, impulse and instinct that you’re forced to shed almost everything that you usually carry with you. You are simultaneously both the weakest and the strongest that you could possibly be. There can surely be few things more wondrous and magical than the arrival of a new human on the planet.
I first met Holly when she asked me to come and photograph her wonderful family a couple of years ago – her, her husband Kiwi and their then-baby daughter Florence. We hit it off straight away and have become firm friends ever since. I’ve returned several times to photograph them, a Day In The Life shoot last year, and then a maternity shoot when Holly was pregnant with Rudy (who makes his dramatic entrance here!) They are just a wonderful family. Flo is such a character, sensitive, inquisitive and kind, Kiwi has such a dry sense of humour and never fails to make me laugh and Holly is an absolute powerhouse of a woman – a tender and loving mother, an inspirational entrepreneur, a loyal, thoughtful friend, full of kindness. The bonds between them all have been a joy to photograph over the years – they all share a wonderfully wicked, down-to-earth sense of humour and it’s always tangible and heart-warming how much they are each others’ champions, how much warmth and affection there is between them and how much they laugh together.
From our first family session when Flo was a baby
Holly knew I’d always wanted to photograph a birth and when she came to me in the later stages of pregnancy to ask if I’d consider documenting her imminent birth I was insanely excited. Logistically it’s pretty tricky to commit to doing it 100% – nature has a pesky habit of being entirely unpredictable, and as a single mother I knew I’d not be able to drop everything and rush to the hospital at any time of night or day. I promised I’d be there if I could but made it clear that there was a very distinct possibility that childcare (or lack thereof) and a couple of other important work/life commitments that I couldn’t reschedule might scupper things and prevent me from being there. But we all crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
As it turned out, nature didn’t disappoint and Holly’s labour happened at pretty much the single most tricky time it possibly could have done for me that month. But determined to be there, after a million frantic texts and phone calls in the middle of the night, lots of panic, very little sleep and the kind support of friends and family (in particular my dazed and confused fella who bless him after a few scoops with the lads and 2 hours sleep made a 2am taxi journey over to Manchester from Liverpool), I managed to make it there, called in as Holly began established labour at the hospital. She’d already been labouring through the night at home and by the time I reached her early the following morning I could see she was well in the grip of it.
From our Day In The Life session last year
From a technical photographic point of view… I’m not going to lie. It was TOUGH. Once they’d moved downstairs into the birthing centre, the light was pretty much as horrendous as it could be – and with photography, light is everything. The room had almost all light shut out with blinds (THAT WERE BROKEN AAAGGHH), and the only lights in there, that no-one, including the midwives, could figure out how to turn off, were a bright yellow neon light and a lava lamp that helpfully switched from GREEN to MAGENTA (cue collective gasp of horror from photographers) to red to blue to white every few seconds. There were a few short minutes when they moved into a tiny slither of light filtering through a break in the blinds (hallelujah!) but other than that, they were in muddy low light or near darkness. Obviously given what you’re photographing, there’s no way you can start to ask them to move into better light. You just have to make do. Luckily, the single most important factor of a photo, other than light, is MOMENT…. and bloody hell these just came at you non-stop. Spine-tingling moment after spine-tingling moment after spine-tingling moment. So the light might not have been ideal, but these heart-stopping moments just overpowered that every time.
From our maternity session a month or two before Rudy’s arrival
So, to summarise the experience with standout aspects for me: the complete tenderness and devotion from Kiwi, the way he looked at Holly with such intense concern, love and pride… the snippets of giggles and laughter between the contractions… the time when “I’M JUST A LOVE MACHINE” (courtesy of Love Machine by The Miracles) blasted out from Kiwi’s iPod playlist just as Holly was in the grips of a mammoth contraction (all four women simultaneously stopping what they were doing to look at Kiwi – literally one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed)… Realising that Holly’s midwife (who ended up delivering Rudy) was the same midwife who looked after me when I was pregnant with Huey… Holly’s heroically unaided and inhumanly fast power-sprint down the stairs from maternity ward to birthing suite (I have literally no idea how she did this, she couldn’t have gone faster if she was on rails)… the HANDS, so many times there were no words but the hands said everything… that absolute heart-stopping, unspeakably overwhelming moment when suddenly there were no longer four people in the room but five… Rudy’s suspicious little eyes as he surveyed his new kingdom… Flo arriving to meet her little brother (and checking to see if there was a baby in her belly too)…
Rudy was, and is, absolutely perfect. A great whopper of a lad, he announced his own arrival with volume I’d never have thought possible from such tiny lungs. He was just beautiful and he’ll always have such a special place in my heart. But truly, the star of all this was Holly. I had huge affection and respect for her before, but as for after? She’s my hero. She was an absolute warrior and I am completely in awe of her. (It should also be illegal to look that good when you’re in labour – this is the only thing I don’t like about her haha). Sharing this experience with them has created such a special bond between us that gives me butterflies whenever I think of it. Holly I cannot thank you and Kiwi enough for allowing me the complete honour and joy of being there with you that day. I will honestly never forget it.
So, without further ado… here is Rudy’s birth story…