The moment that changes everything

I’ve had the honor of photographing 53 BEAUTIFUL births. Each one so incredibly special in their own way. I can say without a doubt in my mind that my favorite moment of birth is the moment you meet that little one you already know. That rush of emotions.. Every single reaction is different. Each unique. But they’re always beautiful. I feel so blessed to call this my job. To be able to preserve such an important, life altering moment for so many incredible families.

Hudson fast & furious natural birth in Crestview, FL

Hailey knew what day she was going to have her surprise gender baby and she knew baby was going to come quick! I just didn't realize how quick. Alex messaged me that morning to let me know she was 6-7cm so I took my time and headed her way since she was only 10 minutes from my house. I walked up to labor and delivery with no since of urgency. after all she was just entering transition.. as soon as I walked through the doors I was met by a nurse who asked if I was going to be in the room during delivery, of course I answered... "You better hurry" ... I ran down the hall to her room where Dr Hamby was just walking in! I quickly got to work, documenting those last minutes before her son was Earthside. It's A BOY dad said! The room was full of joy! Just look at Dr Hamby's face! What a blessing to call this my career! Documenting these perfect moments for amazing people! 

A huge thank you to Dr Hamby & the sweet nurses at North Okaloosa Medical Center for their excellent care and welcoming my camera into their space.

Hailey & Alex, congratulations! I am so happy for you and your family of FIVE! Hudson is one loved little boy!

The beautiful hospital birth of Kenadee in Crestview, FL

I love this birth story because it has such a happy ending. My mom works with Nicole! She told me that Nicole's husband may not be there for the birth of their first daughter. I immediately got into contact with Nicole to see what we could do.. WELLL just 4 days before Kenadee made her debut DADDY WAS HOME!  What a relief. After UNDER TEN MINUTES OF PUSHING (I know.. WHAAATTTTTT) Kenadee was born at North Okaloosa Medical Center with an amazing and supportive staff, including Dr Hamby, who is an absolute joy to work with.

So proud of you Nicole, you rocked baby Kenadees birth. It was an honor to be there for you & Steven!

Carter's hospital birth at Fort Walton beach Medical Center

I love telling birth stories through images but the words aren't mine to share. This is Carter's birth story written by her strong, amazing mother.

"I was 40 weeks and 1 day pregnant when I went to my last OB appointment June 12th, 2017 to check my amniotic fluid levels, as they had been dropping for about 2 weeks. 

 Dr. Seaton decided that I needed to be induced that night because my fluid levels were too low to continue carrying until labor started on its own. It was exciting and scary all at once knowing our lives were about to change and our precious baby girl would be here the next day.

I got to the hospital at around 8:30, and Dr. Seaton broke my water at midnight. My contractions started immediately. I had chosen to give birth as naturally as I could with no epidural, and I truly believed I was prepared for what I was about to experience. I walked the hallways, sat on a yoga ball, and moved as much as I could, and eventually the pain was so intense that I could not stay still. I was dilated to 4 cm for hours, and my body just would not progress on its own. Carter's heart rate was dropping, and I eventually 'faced the music" and asked for an epidural . As soon as I had received it, I began to progress very quickly and was able to rest. Before I knew it, it was time to push and bring our baby girl into the world!

 I pushed for approximately 15 minutes with vacuum extraction assistance before Carter Amelia took her first breath. When she was placed on my chest, I could not stop the tears and the love I felt for this slimy little purple thing I had just given life too. I was in disbelief that after 9 long months of anticipation and excitement, and 15 hours & 36 minutes of labor had ended in this one fleeting moment. My pregnancy had just ended, but it was only the beginning of a much bigger chapter in my life: Motherhood.

Her first few moments in the world were just a little bit rough for her, as she had fluid in her lungs and they had to use suction to remove it. She was such a trooper and got through it with no problems!  She was perfect: 7 lbs and 10 oz of cuddly cuteness, 20.5 inches long, 10 little fingers, 10 tiny toes, a pretty little nose, the sweetest cheeks.... She certainly was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life and I had given birth to to her. She was mine!  I could never explain in words the amount of love I experienced that day. Every little bit of her was an answered prayer.

My husband, Richard, and my Mom were there supporting me through the entire process, and I could not have asked for a better support group. I had such an amazing group of nurses and hospital staff at the Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, and I am so thankful for everything they did for me to help me feel as comfortable as possible.

And I am so thankful to my wonderful birth photographer who captured all of those moments, and because of her, I will get to keep them forever. I could never thank her enough for her support and the wonderful job she did!"

Abby Ann's Belly Birth at Sacred Heart in Destin, FL

It was an early morning for me. I left my kids with the sitter and headed to the hospital around 630. Ann & her husband were already there. Waiting. They were in triage, getting ready to meet their 4th child via cesarean. Abby Ann wasn't just the 4th baby, she was a rainbow baby. The anticipation was loud. We were all ready for this sweet baby to be here. Dr. Graham had performed Ann's previous 3 cesareans. All complication free with minimal scar tissue. She was sure Abby Ann's would be the same. 

After just a few hours of waiting, and only being pushed back a little bit it was time to go back. The staff at Sacred Heart on the Emerald Coast are absolutely amazing. I've worked with most of them before so it was a lot of familiarity. They were so accommodating to me in their OR. They respected Ann's wishes of documenting this little ones arrival. 

Finally, after getting everything ready, it was time to pull Abby Ann in the world from her Mother's womb. But there was a pause when they broke her water. Mec. That's all that was said. Dr Graham acted quickly, as did her amazing staff. Soon, the room calmed and there she was. I don't even think Mom knew about the hiccup until after she met her sweet girl for the first time. 

Y'all. Abby Ann is a dream. She hardly cried. She just looked around. Full of curiosity. Then she relaxed. She's an old soul. Eyes full of wonder. She's wise beyond her minutes. 

Her birth was so peaceful. So JOYFUL. I'm honored, yet again, to be welcomed by the staff at Sacred heart. Honored so much more to be welcomed into Ann's birth space. Her & Her sweet husband have a beautiful family full of love. I loved being able to document the older siblings meeting the newest member of the crew!

Blessings to you Heppding Family!!

2014 Home Birth in Crestview, FL

This birth is so special to me. It was one of my very first births I photographed. I had no idea the deep love for Birth that this beautiful home birth would spark or the baby fever it provoked that eventually turned into my third baby. This was the first home birth I had ever been a part of. I'm not going to lie, birth was very much a hospital affair in my mind before this. After witnessing Cindi, the midwife of Gentle Birth Options, LLC in Niceville, FL taking care of my best friend as she labored and pushed and after the baby was born it changed my entire thought process on BIRTH. Birth isn't just about the baby, It's about the mother. It's about the process, which should be filled with love and respect! I can't express the gratitude I feel for having witnessed such beauty.

There are so many things I would go back and do differently when photographing this birth, but I worked with what I had. A manual focus 50mm lens on a crop sensor body. (you read that right, A MANUAL FOCUS LENS AT A BIRTH!) The images aren't as crisp as my work now and some are down right blurry, but the images still tell the story. The birth of my Best Friend's daughter. It's amazing to go back to these images and see how I've grown but also to also see where it all started.

Magical Home Birth in Baker, FL

As much as I love telling birth stories through imagery, nothing compares to the words mom can put together of her life experience. Here's Abel's Birth Story as told by his loving Mama. 

"With baby number 3, I thought surely he would come before 41 weeks. I carried my second to 41 weeks and 2 days and I knew for sure I could not do that again. The misery of it was still too fresh! So 41 weeks rolled around again and I gave up on ever having a baby - I'll just stay pregnant forever. Or at least until Thanksgiving. He was "due" November 12th and it had been a long-running joke that he'd be born on the 24th, his grandpa’s birthday and Thanksgiving day. The morning of Saturday the 19th, 41 weeks on the dot, I went in for a non-stress test to see how baby was tolerating the contractions I was having. My contractions were noticeable but not unbearable by any means and my cervix was 3-4 centimeters dilated. I figured surely we had a few days to go still. So we went home, continued our day as normal, cooked and ate, and just hung out as a family. I spent some time sitting on and leaning over my yoga ball while my husband and our girls watched Harry Potter. They were scared! It was so cute. After we ate dinner I made 2 huge pans of brownies. I was hopeful that if I baked enough for the birth team, they would have to come eat them! We ate our brownies, then bathed our girls and we all went to bed a little early, around 7. I fell asleep somewhere around 8:30 and woke abruptly at 10:00 with a huge contraction. I couldn't lay through it. I absolutely HAD to be on my hands and knees. I tried to lay back down when that contraction was over but a few minutes later another one came and there was no mistaking that this was labor and baby was coming sooner than I had anticipated. Paxton heard me vocalizing through them, woke up, and immediately started rubbing my back. We moved to the living room so I didn't wake up Piper and Paisley and turned on Titanic. He had never seen it and we had been talking about it for days, so I figured there was no better time than active labor to watch it! I tried to rest on the couch, but laying down and leaning back wasn't an option anymore. The contractions were so intense. I didn't time them, so I'm not sure how far apart they were, but they were CRAZY intense. I labored over my ball and leaning over the couch for a couple hours before I called Cindi. A few minutes later I got a call from Kassie (the other midwife) and we decided that since I was a 2 hour drive from her, needed antibiotics, and contractions were so intense, she'd go ahead and head my way. I text Kayla (my photographer) to let her know things were picking up and I would need her soon. Kayla and Kassie arrived minutes apart, around 2:00.

 

After assessing me and baby and checking my cervix to see how I'd progressed (I was 6-7 cm), we started the first course of IV antibiotics. Kassie gave Paxton the job of holding the bag of antibiotics up and gently squeezing as it dripped into my IV. Towards the end of the bag, he squeezed it a little too hard and bubbles rolled up into my arm, through my armpit, and into my chest. I immediately panicked. I've seen way too many episodes of Grey's Anatomy and I just knew I was having a pulmonary embolism! I still joke that he tried to kill me. My chest got cold and I started coughing and my contractions all but disappeared. Once I was talked off of the edge and convinced that I wasn't ACTUALLY dying, things started to pick back up.

 

I labored on the toilet for a little while trying to get back into my "space" but the smell of the air freshener and the fact that my legs were going numb kept me from focusing, so I moved back to my ball in the living room. Cindi arrived around 3:30 (I think) and immediately sent me from the living room to go labor alone in a bedroom. Since the girls were asleep in our bed, I moved into Piper's room. Paxton followed me in and rubbed my back while I labored over the bed. I found a lot of comfort in leaning over in his lap while he sat facing me and rubbing my lower back. Every contraction felt like my back would split open. As it got closer and closer to morning, we realized that Paisley would be waking soon. She usually gets up around 5:30. My labor had finally picked back up and contractions had gotten closer together again and everyone knew that if she woke up, I'd go into "mommy mode" and labor would slow again. So Paxton called his mom to head over and pick her up. Like clockwork, Paisley woke up at 5:30. The sun was not quite up. Nana arrived just a few minutes later to get her. I got to hold my baby for a few minutes and comfort her in her early morning confusion before she left. I didn't want to let go because I knew things would be so much different the next time I held her. It was such a surreal experience to hold onto my tiny girl while my body worked tirelessly to get her brother out. I could remember vividly standing in my kitchen 25 months prior, laboring and waiting on Paisley. 


Once she left, I moved back to our bedroom (Piper is a much harder sleeper) and labored in there a while. This is where things become a blur. I know the tub was being filled, but they were having a hard time getting the water warm enough for baby. When the sun came up, things slowed down again, with contractions 6-7 minutes apart. Piper woke around this time and joined us all in the living room. She sat by me on the couch for a few minutes before disappearing to play in her room.

 

I mentioned my concern with how far apart my contractions were, even though they were lasting a long time and were extremely intense, and Cindi assured me that it was normal for things to slow when the sun came up. She also suggested a few things to get baby in a better position and to get him descended more because he was still really high up. I lifted my belly through contractions to pull him back behind my pubic bone. I stood with my foot propped on a chair through contractions. I laid on my left side on the couch, and thought I would surely be ripped in half by every single contraction.

 

By 7:30, when it was time for my second round of antibiotics, I was totally exhausted and becoming very defeated. I was being told I was doing so good, but I didn't feel like I was. If I had been doing a good job, my baby would be out already! My last labor was 3 hours from start to finish, so the last thing I was expecting was a 10 hour labor. The contractions were intense, the pressure was insane, and I was bearing down with every contraction. I went to the bathroom to labor on the toilet a while longer - excruciating, but effective. It was getting harder and harder to pant through the urge to push, so I had Kassie check me one more time. Some women don't care to know the state of their cervix, but it's encouraging to me to know there's been a change. Almost complete and baby was right there! She said "I can break your water and you can get in the pool now" and I said "let's get this show on the road!" 
It took several tries from both midwives to rupture the amniotic sac. Finally, I had a contraction that pulled it tight enough to get the job done. I stood in the bathroom through 3 contractions to get as much fluid out as possible before FINALLY moving to the pool. I had been dreaming about that warm water for hours, it seemed. I decided last minute, at 37 weeks, to rent a pool again and have another water birth. I'm so glad I did! The water was immediate, although temporary, relief. As soon as I was in I had another big contraction and my body started involuntarily pushing. I got a few seconds of relief before another onecame. This one felt like a train barreling out of my body. It rushed over me and every muscle in my body bore down. It was loud and my body was screaming and all of a sudden my baby was moving down and I could FEEL him. I felt him move back up and thought oh no, I can't do this for much longer. I can't! And I said it. "I can't do this" - and in my head I knew, if I'm saying that, then this is almost over. I've done this enough and seen enough births to know that “I can't” means you ARE.

 

Cindi and Kassie had both reminded me earlier in the morning that I would have to control my pushing so that I didn't exhaust myself and baby get stuck or cause tearing, as both of my girls had gotten stuck in one form or the other, and I had torn with both of them. Somehow, even as fast as things were happening, I was able to consciously remember that and remind myself to not push furiously through the contraction. They were telling me not to push without a contraction, but the contraction wasn't stopping, and I wasn't pushing, my body was. I panted and breathed my baby down through my body. As I felt his head emerging, I told my husband to jump in and catch him. He did! He skinned his socks off and jumped in the pool! He didn't get to catch either of our girls and we had only briefly discussed him catching this baby. I so badly wanted him to. In my head I'm screaming at this point and then I see his hands going towards the baby and I'm terrified he's going to pull on him. My first 2 were both pulled from my body and the pain was so bad. I told him don't pull on him, just catch him. He knew that! But I had to tell him. And then baby's head was out. And then his body followed quickly behind. Daddy guided him perfectly up to me and I pulled him to my chest. My baby, my perfect baby boy, who I had dreamed of my entire life, was finally in my arms. 3 minutes of active pushing, 23 minutes after my water was broken, 10 hours after labor had started, 41 weeks and a day after conception, at 8:03 AM on a beautiful, cold, Sunday morning, my dreamy baby boy, Abel Leonidas Shelton, was finally earthside. 


He was out and his cries filled the air. His lungs were strong and healthy. And he was so big! His hands and his arms were huge. He looked like a little linebacker! A perfect mix of both of his big sisters. I couldn't believe how big he was (9 lbs and 14 oz, after he pooped twice!) and how easily he came out. My mind was reeling at how quickly everything happened. Piper rushed over to the pool to see him and see why he was crying. She was so happy to finally see her brother! 
We got out, got cleaned up, and then Nana brought Paisley back to meet Abel. She wasn't so sure at first, but she has since warmed up to him. And there we were, our perfect and complete family of five :) 


I am so blessed to have been able to birth 2 of my babies at home, and to have been surrounded by such an amazing, supportive Sisterhood of women while I did it. None of this would have been possible without the incredible care my midwives provided me or the unending support my husband has always graciously given. I am immeasurably blessed.

Planned Cesarean in Fort Walton Beach, FL

Gerriane contacted me inquiring about a Fresh 48 and Newborn session a few months ago. I always ask my Fresh 48 inquiries if they're interested in birth coverage and possibly give them some information. She was hesitant as she was having a cesarean. *If you know me, you know I have a birth bucket list. Cesarean is on my bucket list. I've never been aloud back.* We both thought this was the perfect moment for her to get her birth pictures (Third cesarean) and me to gain the experience. She contacted her doctor, the hospital, the nurses and the anesthesiologist for permission to allow both her husband and I back in the OR on Delivery Day. When all of our ducks were in a row, I finally got excited. This birth story is all about Gerriane and Grace, but it was so special to me as well. This was the very first birth FWBMC allowed a photographer in the OR for.

At 9:30am I met Gerriane & Brad outside the hospital. She got checked in in the ER and we made our way up to L+D. The nurses prepped for the C section and we all waited. Waited on the Dr. Waited on the fluid. Waited on the Anesthesiologist. Waited. Finally at 12pm they came to get Gerriane. She gathered her IV line and off she went with the nurses. Brad and I got dressed in our sterile paper outfits and we waited some more. FINALLY someone came and got us, apparently we were lost..... they lost us. ;) 
 

This is my favorite part, we walk back to the OR an open the door. We get the quick "Don't touch anything". As soon as the door opened there it was. They had already started and they were getting ready to make their way through her body to get baby through the sun roof they already cut. 

I quickly got my settings adjusted and started my work. Documenting Grace's arrival. The beauty in this amazing birth. There was so much of it. The doctor's hand worked effortlessly. He was a seasoned professional. He and his assistant quickly got down to baby, they broke her water and if flooded out. Then came baby. Those are my favorite images. Her first cries. They delayed clamping her cord, per parent's request. Finally she was taken to the warmer, checked out and brought to mom.

So. Much. Beauty. BIRTH IS BEAUTIFUL!

After the cesarean was complete and mom was in recovery with baby, dad brought brother and sister to meet the new addition. QUE THE TEARS! Not a dry eye in the house. SO MUCH LOVE.