As newborn photographers, we’ve heard so many exciting birth stories from the families we work with that we thought we’d heard it all. As it turns out, our own experiences weren’t going to be forgettable ones either.
When we started Bows and Ribbons Photography some 5 years ago, there was really just the two of us, Tim and Yuyeth, a husband and wife team who decided to take photographs of newborn babies. We didn’t have any kids of our own back then, a fact most of our clients were surprised to discover every time they asked. And yet, in their eyes, we were like “baby whisperers”. Apparently we made calming and soothing newborn babies look effortless.
In our line of work, we have had the privilege of meeting and working with so many different families, some of whom have become our friends over the years. And since we mainly photograph newborns, we have also heard our fair share of birth stories, some of which have managed to keep us at the edge of our seats!
We’ve had a mummy recount her experience in some detail about how she managed to successfully deliver twins, naturally and without any pain management. Another mummy wanted to experience a natural birth after a previous cesarean and managed to pull off a rare VBAC delivery. And then there was this other mummy who welcomed her baby in the backseat of a car. One second-time mummy even shared with us how her baby just “popped out” on the delivery bed after a cough—she had just received an epidural and didn’t feel a thing! We’ve heard so many stories like these that we often wondered what our story would be when it was our turn.
That time finally came, and we were pregnant with our first baby. We thought we had some idea of what to expect based on our years of experience and the many stories we’d heard. For instance, we “knew” we were going to deliver at around 38 weeks, based on the average among our clients. We were so ready, with everything packed and our studio closed by 36 weeks. We had also read a number of books on how to take care of babies (our personal favourite: The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr Harvey Karp), as well as watched countless childbirth videos, in the best and worst of circumstances. The latter was just a personal fascination of mine, really.
So we waited for our little boy patiently.
And then we waited some more.
A whole 42 weeks later, our little Enzo was born. And he had to be induced to come out, too. Despite our choosing an enthusiastically pro-natural OB-GYN, Dr Paul Tseng, we really didn’t expect our first little one to overstay his welcome for that long. Apparently, despite 40 weeks being the commonly perceived length of a full-term pregnancy, most mummies of Asian descent tend to deliver at 38 or 39, while our counterparts who are of Caucasian ancestry can expect to hit 40 or 41 quite comfortably. I really didn’t know why I reached 42 weeks, really.
I had always wanted to have a natural and unmedicated birth. I had been told before, by two doctors, that I have a high tolerance for pain, and have had many mummies tell me encouraging things about their natural deliveries. I figured I was up for the challenge, or so I thought! I had actually wanted to throw in the towel when I was about 4cm dilated, until the husband reminded me how much I wanted a natural birth and how I hadn’t even tried the laughing gas yet. So, he volunteered for an impromptu back workout by holding the gas mask to my face. It’s funny how no one tells you that laughing gas doesn’t really make you laugh as much as it makes you nauseous. The gas did work though, and made me so relaxed that I fell asleep throughout the rest of my labour. When I woke up 4 hours later, it was almost time to push.
But while the pregnancy and delivery was a relatively stress-free one, I discovered that I was one of the few women who would suffer from something called a Postpartum Haemorrhage (PPH), which is a condition that affects about 1 in 10 women. Personally, I found the experience of childbirth preferable to the procedure used to treat PPH, which I’ll spare you details of. Feel free to look it up if you’re interested though.
So yes, we now had a somewhat unique birth story to share with our mummies and daddies.
Then, we got pregnant again with our second one, and wondered to ourselves, “What would her story be?” We would have never guessed that she was planning something far more dramatic, to outdo her big brother perhaps, for her grand entrance! Sibling rivalry really starts young these days.
And finally we’re at the part where I gave birth at home. You must be thinking that we’re quite a silly couple for not heading to the hospital posthaste after being exposed to the multitude of birth stories from mummies and daddies we’ve photographed. Yes, I read your mind. However, like most stories, reality was a bit more complicated.
With our first pregnancy, we had a few false alarms and were sent home twice by our doctor, after reviewing our Cardiotocography (CTG) scan. While the results showed something similar to active labour, I was actually only in the first stage of labour (known as the Latent Phase), even though I was already at 41 weeks. We didn’t want an emergency Cesarean Section so we tahan lor! (Singaporean slang for sucking it up.) It was also around the 8th of August 2018 (08/08/18), a particularly popular day to be born on at the time, and two hospitals informed us they had no room vacancies for the next few days.
So after the entire ordeal we went through that first time around, together with reassurances from our doctor that mummies tend to enjoy the same pregnancy duration across their pregnancies, give or take a few days, we were confidently expecting our second little bundle to stay put until we were at least 41 weeks along. Adding to that was the fact that our first baby needed to be induced, too—yes, even after 42 long weeks.
The labour (we only knew it was labour in hindsight, really), came very suddenly. It was the day of our due date at about 3 in the morning when I started experiencing some mild but regular contractions. They were a bit more painful than usual, but nothing I paid too much attention to. I really just wanted to go back to sleep. The pain grew stronger and stronger over the next hour, so I decided to use one of the many contraction timer apps on my phone to help me decide whether it was time to go to the hospital. Tim woke up and saw me logging all my contractions as “Mild”, instead of “Intense”, and asked me whether we should prepare to go to the hospital already. I told him to go back to sleep. Again, we really should have gotten up and left for the hospital already, but I didn’t want to be sent home this time around. I decided to go to the other room to not wake Tim and our toddler up, so I could go back to sleep.
Those first few hours of what I assumed was early labour, turned out to be, pretty active labour. If I hadn’t felt like I had peed all over myself at 7am, I probably wouldn't have gotten up. I was convinced my water had broken, but it turned out to just be some blood. So I thought, “I’d better get into the shower now so I’ll be all fresh for my birth photography session at the hospital!” Yup, I’m vain like that. Tim, meanwhile, was frantically getting all our packed hospital bags to the door, and thinking about what our toddler should have for breakfast (cereal, it’s always cereal these days). Nearing the end of my warm shower, which perhaps helped speed the process up a bit too much, it hit me: We wouldn’t be able to make it to the hospital.
While washing the shampoo off of my hair, I felt breathless. I asked for a glass of water, which Tim promptly brought me. I was screaming in the shower due to the excruciating pain, a scream all too familiar to him. Upon hearing me, he quickly called for an ambulance. And almost immediately, right then and there, I felt strong downward pressure and an urge to push. Seconds later, I felt something I could only describe as a baby’s head. I had watched countless videos of women giving birth at home, inside cars, and in hospital corridors, and thought, “Oh my goodness, no! This couldn’t be happening to me?”
I quickly laid the towel I used to dry myself off from the shower down on the floor just outside our bathroom, and sat down. I didn’t even have time to make myself comfortable. I felt her already trying to push her way out, if that was even possible.
“Sweetheart, she’s coming out!”
Tim was still on the phone with the hospital when we caught our little girl as she made her ridiculously smooth entrance into the world. In case anyone was wondering, I didn’t even need to push. Quite the opposite, in fact. I was trying my best to keep her in until the ambulance arrived.
Upon seeing her little face, I heaved a sigh of relief. I wasn’t going to have to endure another 12-hour labour (or even half that time!) and countless pelvic examinations. She was already here! Tim handed me a fresh towel to keep our baby warm. We mostly remembered what the nurses did the first time around, thankfully.
Now came the umbilical cord. What should we do with it?
Tim was all ready with a pair of scissors, when the hospital staff told him to find something to clip the cord with, if possible, and NOT to cut it. That was it really, there were no further instructions. We were explicitly told not to cut it, and wondered why. The doctors at the hospital would later inform us that we needed completely sterile scissors for that bit. Meanwhile, the husband returns with two identical IKEA sealing clips (the ones you use to reseal bags of food), and proceeded to clamp the umbilical cord; twice, for good measure.
And then came the placenta. Would it just come out naturally? Maybe the paramedics would arrive soon and they could deal with that. Then came more blood. And some more blood. Having watched the entire Game of Thrones series, a particular scene (spoiler alert!) involving Lyanna Stark sprang to mind and started to scare the sh*t out of me! I felt another contraction, I screamed, and poof, the placenta was out.
When the ambulance finally arrived, I was relieved it was all over. Well, mostly. We still needed to see if our little girl was fine when we reached the hospital. The paramedics proceeded to properly clamp and cut the umbilical cord, and we were off to the hospital.
Upon reaching the delivery suite of Thomson Medical Centre, I immediately received an injection to treat my PPH. However, as it had been almost an hour since I delivered both our baby and the placenta, the doctor needed to perform some magic to make sure I was out of danger. As for our little girl, aside from some mild jaundice caused by the delayed cutting of the umbilical cord, she was perfectly healthy.
So that was it, a slightly traumatic but still incredibly beautiful experience, from my perspective at least. If you asked Tim about it, he would probably tell you a slightly different story. But it's a story we will definitely remember for the rest of our lives, as well as one that our little Emilia will keep hearing over and over again.
Needless to say, I think both our babies decided that they should have their own unique birth story to tell, which should also come in handy for us when we break the ice with the mummies and daddies we work with in the future. And yes, in case you’re wondering, the place of birth in her certificate is our home address.
Written by Yuyeth Fernandez
Edited by Timothy Fernandez
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