A hot summer evening at Bartram's Garden

I met Erin & Kyle back in the winter when they interviewed me to be their doula & birth photographer. Earlier this month we explored Bartram's Garden together and you would never know by looking at these photos that it was over 95 degrees and SO SO humid outside! But, it was well worth it because they were a pleasure to photograph! Such a sweet couple, I'm totally inspired by their authentic love for each other (& their dogs).

A mother blessing & why every mama to be should have one...

Not sure about you, but I generally hate baby showers. The forced gift giving, the awkwardness, the stupid games, I'm simply not a fan (no offense)... But, luckily there is an alternative for every mama to be & it's something that every guest is guaranteed to enjoy. Maybe you've heard of it, maybe not. It's called a mother blessing, also known as a blessing way, & this gathering will leave you pretty speechless. "A mother's blessing is an intimate party inspired by an ancient Navajo ceremony called a blessing way. The ceremony is held to prepare an expectant mother for her upcoming birth journey—to shower mom-to-be with love, support and encouragement."

Mother blessings are not about getting gifts, it's a celebration of the mama to be, to let her know she has a village of strong women behind her to support her, to make it known that she is amazing and loved! No matter how many babies a mama has had, each pregnancy should be celebrated! Seriously, whether it's your first or fifth baby, you deserve a blessing way!

The mama to be does no work in preparation for this ceremony besides deciding who she wants to be apart of her day. It's best to keep the ceremony intimate so I suggest having no more than 15 women. Ask that every guest bring a potluck dish to share and something like a bead for a necklace, a candle for her birth space, and/or a flower to create flower crowns. Each mama is different so I like to plan a mother blessing that will reflect the personality and interests of the mama to be.

All mother blessings are different, because like I said, they should reflect the personality and interests of the mama to be. I usually start by gathering in a circle and having everyone introducing themselves, we then go around and present the item that we have brought for the mama and a story of how you met the mama and why she's special to you or words of encouragement to go with it (this is usually when the tears start flowing), we then do a craft (creating an empowerment banner, make flower crowns, decorate a candle, make a necklace, etc) while the mama gets pampered with something like a foot soak, a massage, or henna, before we get ready to feast on the delicious potluck dishes we give the mama to be our best wishes for her birth & this new journey! 

You will leave a mother blessing feeling refreshed, empowered and uplifted. There is nothing to describe the sacredness of these ceremonies. All of the emotions & the beauty of having a group of women get together to support a mama to be is quite a powerful and rare experience in today's modern culture. I hope that you would consider giving the gift of a mother blessing ceremony to a mama to be. I am sure she will remember it for a lifetime!

The photos below are from a mother blessing ceremony that I had for my friend Erika last weekend. Erika has become one of my dearest mama friends, she is apart of my village and I'm thankful to have her in my life. As always, there were tears & lots of laughter! It was a beautiful day celebrated and surrounded with a group of beautiful women (& babies). Check it out!

All photos are owned & copyright by Wanderlust Birth + Photo 2017. Do not use without permission.

 

The Waterbirth of Enzlo

It's been quite a while since I've blogged a birth since I've been so insanely busy attending them. Anyways, I'm hoping to get back in the swing of writing birth stories again and this is one I definitely want to share.

A mutual friend tagged me in a Facebook post of a young mom to be who was hoping to go natural and looking to have a water birth. I got in touch with Hayden and sent her some resources, encouraged her to watch The Business of Being Born, and invited her to my upcoming birth prep class. A few weeks after taking my class Hayden and her partner, Lorenzo, decided to hire me as their doula. I was excited & eager to work with them because I felt I could relate to them in some ways. They were a young couple, with a baby on the way, hoping to do things "alternatively" with not much support or encouragement from their families (regarding the birth aspect). 

Around 11pm Hayden texted me that she was having some contractions that felt pretty intense and I encouraged her to rest if she still could. I got a few hours of sleep and in the middle of the night Lorenzo called and said they were headed to the Elmer hospital. 

I arrived at 4am to Hayden in her zone and Lorenzo helping her through contractions. They were listening to Pink Floyd and everything was totally peaceful. Her uncle was there photographing the birth as well, and we both sat quietly in awe of Hayden and her strength. 

When Hayden's mom arrived I could tell she was emotional to see her daughter in pain. I knew that she was bit nervous about Hayden giving birth naturally at first, but she immediately picked up on the vibe in the room and supported Hayden in any way she could. There are some births where the mamas need a lot of hands on support, but Hayden's birth required me to hold space. Lorenzo and Hayden's mom supported Hayden physically through the contractions with the power of touch, while I emotionally supported her and did my best to create a calm environment. With this much love and support Hayden's oxytocin was flowing. 

At 5:15 am the midwife checked her and she was 8-9 cm dilated and the baby was at a +1 station.  After this, Hayden and Lorenzo just laid in the bed together, cuddled up as one unit and there was no doubt how totally in love they were with each other. Hayden started to cry as the music kept playing and it was just one of those moments that leaves everyone in the room speechless. 

Around 6am she got into the tub and felt the urge to push. At this point nothing was comfortable and she was ready to meet her baby. The sun started to rise and filled the room with fresh light. At 7:40am Hayden birthed her beautiful baby boy the exact way she wanted to in the birth tub. Lorenzo and Hayden's moms eyes were filled with tears as soon as they saw him. 

I was so happy for Hayden and Lorenzo to have the exact birth they had envisioned and plan for come true. It was an honor being apart of their birth team for such a beautiful birth. It fills me with joy knowing that they will inspire their friends to learn about the benefits of having a natural birth and how much of an empowering experience it can be. 

All photos are owned and copyright by Wanderlust Birth + Photo. Please do not use or copy without permission. 

Doula bucketlist birth, VBA2C

As a doula and birth photographer I have a bucket list. For instance, attending a birth on my own birthday (Yup, did that, my 21st birthday!), natural twins (Yup), VBAC (yup, three times). A VBA2C (vaginal birth after two cesareans) was one that had not been checked off the list, until now.

Jackie called me just a month before her due date in a super last minute search for a doula. She explained her story through the phone and I immediately knew I wanted to take on this birth. I then met Jackie and her husband, Ryan, at a nearby Panera and we hit it off! They were awesome! Just an hour later Jackie said that she wanted to hire me as a doula. I was so excited to work with them and I had a good feeling that this mama was going to have her vba2c!

Jackie's first c-section was what her care provider considered "failure to progress" after an induction. Her second c-section was due to a heart condition that her son had and would need to be operated on immediately following birth. But, Jackie felt that her body was not broken and she wanted the experience of having a vaginal birth, or to at least try. She had never gone into labor on her own and was nervous that she wouldn't be able to.

Her OB/GYN practice gave her an extremely hard time and strongly advised against it. There were two doctors in the practice that said they would allow her to at least try, but the other doctors were pretty adamant about her scheduling a repeat cesarean. One of the doctors in her practice told her that she better not go into labor while he was on call. But, Jackie and her husband weighed the pros and cons, and decided they would do whatever it took to have a safe vba2c and if another cesarean were to happen, it would because of medical necessity.

Jackie had been calling her practice to ask questions and schedule appointments with the Ob/Gyn's that she felt most comfortable with, but they were not returning her calls and kept scheduling her with a nurse practitioner who was unable to answer her questions about the delivery. I suggested to try and find a more supportive care provider and consider switching. Even though she was about 35 weeks, I wanted her to have the support she deserved. She met with another Ob/Gyn in the area who was extremely supportive of her choices and said that he thought she had a really good chance of having a vaginal birth. But, unfortunately he could not take her on because the practice that backed him up refused to do a VBA2C.

This mama was determined. Which is why I had such a strong feeling that she was going to get this vaginal birth, one way or another! She was doing everything from chiropractic, acupuncture, eating dates, drinking raspberry red leaf tea, going on long walks, etc. The more information she read the more she felt confident. As her due date got closer, so did the pressure from her doctors. She refused to schedule a repeat cesarean and had to sign legal documents from the office saying that she was going against medical advice.

Jackie was 40 weeks and had been doing acupuncture daily to try to induce labor. She was getting exhausted and a little nervous she wouldn't be able to do it, but still stayed strong.

At 40 weeks and 4 days she texted me and said she thought she was having contractions and had her husband drive her to acupuncture that day. Throughout the day she kept saying she was contracting, but nothing serious yet. Until the early evening. She texted me and said, "These are getting intense. I'm going to have my mom come and get the boys now." Not long after she texted me that her water broke and they were off to the hospital.

I started putting my baby down for bedtime and her husband Ryan texted me and said she was 3cm, I told him to let me know when they wanted me to come. Not even 20 minutes later, Ryan calls me. 

"Hey Sam, Jackie wants you now if you could come. The pain is really intense. She wants an epidural." (I hear Jackie GROANING in the background) It certainly didn't sound like she was 3cm, that sound was quite familiar! She was bearing down, so I quickly got the rest of my things together and was turning on my ignition when Ryan called again, "Sam! Come quick! She's pushing!" "She's pushing ?! I'm on my way!" I sped to Virtua, and ran up to labor and delivery. She had just enough time to get an epidural and was close to crowning by the time I had gotten up there. Guess who was on call? The Ob/Gyn that said, "You better not go into labor while I'm on call." But, that baby was coming and it wasn't via cesarean!

Just a few pushes and baby Avalon was born! I don't think the epidural even had time to kick in. Jackie was in complete shock. It was so intense and ridiculously fast, but she did it! Ryan and her were over the moon, ecstatic (and of course I was too)! Having a VBAC, let alone a VBA2C at Virtua Hospital is RARE, but Jackie proved that it is possible & so worth the try! A few weeks later when I did my postpartum visit with Jackie she still couldn't believe she did it & Ryan was in shock of how amazing a vaginal birth could be! It was a total different experience for him to be apart of. 

Thank you Jackie & Ryan for letting me be apart of your journey.  It was a beautiful birth and I was so happy to have made it!

The birth of Francesca 8/15/15

I met with Darlene & Joe shortly after I delivered my son. Darlene was the first to inquire about my doula services after my maternity leave would be over in September.  I could not wait to work with them after leaving our consultation! Even though she had a great experience for her first birth, she knew how important it was to have a doula and was also looking forward to the birth photography. Darlene had wanted to switch to Elmer Hospital in hopes of a water birth, but was unable to because of insurance reasons and had to make the best of Virtua hospital in Voorhees. 

I wasn't even on-call yet and I heard my phone vibrate around 3:30am on August 15, 2015. Luckily, I was awake! To my surprise, it was Darlene, who wasn't due for another 4 weeks...

"Samm... contractions are about 4 mins apart for the last hour or so. Calling the hospital now." 3:38am

"They are intense now. Difficult to breathe through and I am needing to remember to relax... and its taking a lot of effort to do that." 3:58am

"Heading to virtua soon..." 4:09am

When Darlene checked into triage the resident asked her multiple times if she wanted pitocin or an epidural even though she had made it clear she wanted to go natural from the beginning. She was afraid that the medical staff was going to be unsupportive since she was unable to develop any time of relationship with a care provider prenatally. But, after she got upstairs and into her labor & delivery room they left her alone for most of the time.

Once I got to the hospital I saw that Darlene was doing an amazing job. She was able to hold full conversations in between contractions and she was in control of her birth space. Her labor progressed beautifully and although she was exhausted she stayed strong. The support from her mother & Joe was unbelievable and I was able to do more photography. 

Darlene's mother was a doula (no, she wasn't a certified doula, but she was definitely a natural), she knew exactly what to do and what to say and what she needed throughout the entire process. It was beautiful seeing such a bond between mother and daughter. In all the births I've been to, I've never seen anything like it!

Around 11:00 am or so, Darlene asked to have her water broken artificially after being 6cm for a few hours. After her water was broken the contractions got much more intense. An hour later she started having the urge to push, she started pushing uncontrollably in hands and knees on the bed. When the nurse checked Darlene she asked her to stop pushing since she was only 7cm and did not want her cervix to swell, but Darlene could not stop pushing. The nurse looked at me and said call the doctor! But, there was no time... Darlene pushed her baby out & into the nurses hands within a matter of minutes. It was the nurses first catch ever!

It was great being back in the birth world and such a beautiful birth to be apart of. Thank you Darlene & Joe for letting me be apart of your big day!

Monika & Bart, Sunset Beach Cape May

Last weekend I headed down to Sunset Beach, Cape May to shoot my doula clients, Monika & Bart's maternity session. They are expecting their first little one in a few short weeks and I am so excited to be attending their birth. We got there just before sunset & I am so excited with the way their photos turned out. They just loved on each other on the gorgeous beach and I just happened to be there with my camera, shooting away. The weather was beautiful, the sunset was beautiful, everything was beautiful! One of those evenings that I remember just how much I love what I do. Here are some of my favorites from their sunset session. 

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World Breastfeeding Week 2015 featuring Nicole K

"World Breastfeeding Week means that we have a week to focus on getting out information to the public as to why breastfeeding is normal and natural and the preferred feeding method for all children.  If we can help to normalize breastfeeding just a little bit and un-do some of the damage done in the United States with views towards public breastfeeding then we have achieved a lot!"

" What I love the most about breastfeeding my little girl is the bond that I know we have.  At 10 months old now, although very distracted when we are out and about, she gets so excited when her she knows she is getting her "milkly!"  I also love that I know she is getting so much nutrition everyday" 

" I think the most important thing is to be confident and nurse in public to help normalize breastfeeding.  Also, the support from healthcare professionals is crucial!  Doctors, nurses, etc need to support and educate on the importance of breastfeeding and get proper training and be able to recognize that they are not the breastfeeding experts and always defer to the experts (Lactation Consults) in the hospital.  Also, any mom who is breastfeeding in the hospital should be scheduled before discharge with a lactation follow-up with an IBCLC of their choice. "

"The greatest challenge was the first few weeks of nursing as my baby had a posterior tongue tie and nursing was extremely painful.  I was 100% dedicated and determined and I did not care how much pain I was in in order to provide the best nutrition for my child.  After all...I just got through natural child birth!" 

World Breastfeeding Week 2015 featuring Lara B.

"World breastfeeding week is a way for everyone (not just breastfeeding moms) to come together to recognize and support the awesomeness of breastfeeding. I think so much more needs to be done in the U.S. to support families who breastfeed. Dads, grandparents, siblings should all be celebrated because sometimes in a breastfeeding journey, it really does take a village!"

"I absolutely love the bond. The quiet and peace I feel when she's in my arms nursing is something I can't describe to people and am so grateful to have experienced. I had to have an emergency csection and didn't get to hold her for over 12 hours and couldn't nurse her for 24! But the second I held her skin to skin and she latched, she looked at me like "hey, I know you. I like it here". I love that I can comfort her in a way that no one else can. "

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"I can't stress enough how important I think paid maternity leave is. I had to return to work at 10 weeks...to a job as a nurse, working 12 hour shifts overnight. Keeping up with pumping while taking care of patients was incredibly difficult. I had to start supplementing my daughter way before I was ready because I just couldn't keep up with my supply while being away from her for so long. I think more women would continue breastfeeding longer or exclusively breastfeed longer if we allowed women to be with their babies for longer than 6 weeks!!"

"My "baby" turned one yesterday! I never had a goal and I'm glad about that. I always thought we would do it as long as it worked for us and I'm very happy to say it's still working for us!"


World Breastfeeding Week 2015 featuring Kate & Sheree

"To me it means the opportunity to have our voices heard. The more people talk about breastfeeding, the more people see other moms breastfeeding, the more normal it becomes. Some people claim to be offended by mothers breastfeeding in public but are more than okay with women walking around in bikinis. I'd like to challenge that idea and get people thinking a little more."-Kate

"World breastfeeding week has become very important to me now as a breastfeeding mama. I have come to realize the importance to normalize breastfeeding in the world today and to make it acceptable and comfortable for everyone. To have a week where moms around the world can promote such a special, healthy, and natural experience has become so inspiring to me. No breastfeeding mother should ever feel uncomfortable or judged for providing the best possible nutrition for their child. Helping to educate the public in normalizing this has become a huge inspiration for myself during world breastfeeding week. "-Sheree

"The first 6 weeks were so challenging. I had a 36 hour labor where I was pumped full of fluids which I believe inflated my babies birth weight. Birth weight is the "magic" number as far as weight gain goes for breastfed babies (according to MOST pediatricians). They like babies to get back to birth weight as soon as possible but it took us 4 grueling weeks to get there. Those weeks were filled with weight checks at the doctors office, constant stress about my supply, and of course, LOTS of support from the lactation consultants at South Jersey Breastfeeding Center. In fact, I saw them the day after I was discharged from the hospital before most of my friends had even met the baby."-Kate

"The best advice I could give, is don't compare yourself to others and don't give up without a fight. Breastfeeding doesn't come easy especially in the beginning when you are getting an hour of sleep. Also, every mom and their body is different, so don't compare yourself to everyone else and trust in your body. There will be bumps in the road but as long as you do the best you can that's what matters most!"-Sheree

"Have realistic goals. Make sure you understand that it can be very challenging for some moms and babies. Have a prenatal appointment with a lactation consultant and follow up as soon as you can after discharge from the hospital. While in the hospital utilize the LC that they have. ASK FOR HELP." -Kate

"Now almost 7 months in, NO! I never thought I would make it this far. Before giving birth I was so scared I wouldn't be able to breastfeed. I was scared that it would hurt too bad. I was scared my milk wouldn't come in or that my baby might not take to breastfeeding. All my friends who have had children only breastfed for short periods of time and so I set myself up for the same kind of journey. But now almost 7 months in on my own journey I was completely wrong and have found a huge support group of strong and supportive moms that have been so supportive to one another." - Sheree

"I love that it's natural (and FREE!). I love the special bond and alone time it gives me with the baby, I love when she's eating and just stares in my eyes. Lately she had been unlatching just to smile up at me. It is the best." - Kate

"I love that I am able to be the one to provide my child her nutrition in the most natural and healthy way!" - Sheree

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World Breastfeeding Week 2015 featuring Jenny M.

"World breastfeeding week is a celebration of all women, globally, who choose to nourish their babies in the most natural way possible.  For some cultures there is simply no other way, but for women in the United States breastfeeding is somewhat controversial." 

"Breastfeeding aids in the development and growth of a baby with residual affects that last for years. Breastfeeding provides nourishment and antibodies that protect against diseases while enhancing intellectual stimulation. Most importantly though, is the bond that breastfeeding creates between a mom and baby. Breastfeeding gives me an overwhelming sense of joy and love and pride."

"We need to educate people on breastfeeding. I have co-workers that think it’s completely unfair that I get to take breaks to go pump milk for my baby. I am questioned as to why I have to pump at 10 am and 3 pm, and not during the scheduled lunch break.  I’ve tried to explain the physiology of breastfeeding, the supply and demand aspects, and of course the unwavering benefits of continuing until my baby is 1 year. Despite my efforts it is still the opinion of my co-workers that I’m just taking a leisurely break and enjoying myself. Thankfully I have the law on my side. Why can’t we support each other though? Women have dual roles. We give birth to and nourish babies and we are a part of the workforce. We need support from our co-workers…from our fellow human beings. A baby needs special attention that only a mother can provide."

"I set a goal to breastfeed for at least 6 months.  Well, I’m 2 weeks shy of my goal now and there’s no end in sight.  I know without a doubt, I will continue breastfeeding my baby for at least the first year of her life."