I am Melissa, the photographer of Melissa Cate Photography. I am passionate about documenting birth and the transition into Motherhood. I am blessed to be a birth photographer in lovely Southern Oregon. Documenting the birth journey of women and babies is one of the greatest joys a photographer can have, and we respect the beauty and sanctity of the moments you chose to have us document.
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Why Birth Photography? by Melissa
I had my first daughter eight years ago. It is a day that will forever be close to my heart, evoking some of the most powerful emotions of love, triumph, and euphoria I have ever known. At the time I did not know birth photography existed. I wish I had. I was lucky to have a nurse take photos for us as our daughter was entering our world. And I love the photos - I looked at them hundreds of times in the months after she was born. I studied the time stamp to understand exactly when moments happened. I looked carefully at each photo to remember the conversations that took place, what I was feeling in the moment. It was easier to piece together little details by looking at the photos. I still look at them and soak in the amazing moments we experienced meeting our daughter for the first time. But they were shot with a little point and shoot camera, and even though the photos I do have are so precious to me, I wish I had more. So much more.
As I learned from first hand experience, hiring a birth photographer is usually not the first thought that comes to mind when thinking about birth plans, and the thought of someone photographing such a personal and private moment can be intimidating. But once that amazing little miracle is in your arms, the overwhelming desire to freeze each moment in time takes over.
Your birth team does not have to worry about fumbling with a camera, or worry about missing out on first moments because they are behind the camera. Let a professional document each moment, tastefully and discreetly. Someone who has years of birth work experience, and will attend your birth calmly and quietly, documenting the first look, the first time you examine tiny baby fingernails, the first moment you smell the perfectly new baby smell.
In the wee hours of the morning one warm Summer night, the call came in that one of my sweet repeat clients was hot and heavy in labor at the birth center. I jumped out of bed, wasting no time, and made the 40 minute drive over the mountains to the Birth Center as quickly as I could (or should)! Mama labored calmly in the water, and brought her baby boy earthside just 50 minutes after I arrived. There is a special sweetness that fills the room when I get to photograph a former birth photography baby becoming a big sister or brother, when just a few years before, they were the tiny baby being introduced to the world!
(By Melissa, originally written in December of 2014)
I have four children. Three beautiful, healthy children here with me. And one child born still on December 23, 2013. Christmas was so heart wrenching that year. We found out on December 6th that our baby’s heart had stopped beating, and our sweet “Baby G” had silently slipped away just a few days earlier. Our entire Christmas season was spent waiting for my body to release him.
There were many nights I spent sitting by the light of the Christmas tree, crying silently for the little boy I would never nurse to sleep or see his bright eyes, never hear him call me “mama.” The cheerful Christmas music played everywhere I went but I felt drained of life. I went through the motions of Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, attending Christmas services, all while holding my head up and staying strong for my girls and those around me. But inside I felt part of my soul had died. I had lost a part of me. I went to ultrasounds confirming the “fetal demise” as the paperwork put it, and sat in the waiting room beside heavily pregnant women, glowing with the joy of carrying their live baby. I had to continue to attend and photograph births – all while knowing my child was dead inside of me. And my body hadn’t even gotten the memo yet. Like a cruel joke, I had to wait. Walk around all month with him laying lifeless inside of me, like I was his tomb. But I held my head high – smiled brightly at all the new moms I photographed and congratulated them. It’s like the saying, you don’t know how strong you are until strong is all you can be.
The entire experience impacted me so deeply, I don’t think I can actually put it into words correctly. But the trauma of losing a baby is so painful, it’s something that doesn’t fully go away, even with the birth of a perfect, healthy, prayed for rainbow baby.
I didn’t think the next Christmas would be hard. I had birthed a healthy rainbow baby just weeks before and expected to hug him close all season and be profoundly thankful for his presence. And I was! Oh how far I have come in healing from the loss of Baby G. The grief I feel now feels so much safer, so much calmer. Welcomed and healing. The pain isn’t so raw and fresh anymore – but some of the pain and loss still remains, as I suspect it always will. And in a way, I want it to always be a small part of me. Because Baby G was my baby, too. Even though he isn’t here with me, he matters. His life mattered. I am his mama. I carried him his entire life. The pain that is forever etched into my being reminds me that he mattered. But I didn’t expect to grieve for him deeply again the next Christmas as well.
When we brought our tree home and set it up the year after we lost him, I was caught a little off guard. I had a hard time blinking back the tears as I carefully unwrapped his “First Christmas in Heaven 2013” ornament and hung it on our tree. He had no “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament, but he had a special ornament none the less. Because he mattered. And I don’t want him to be forgotten. So I told our oldest daughter we had an ornament just for him, and she thought it was very special. Because she went through it too the year we lost Baby G. She was at the ultrasound when we saw his unmoving, lifeless body. She cried and asked if we could pray for Jesus to send him back. On the way home from that awful ultrasound, she cried into her hands and said over and over “I really wanted the baby to be born.”
When the sun set in the evening, and only the light of the tree shone in our living room, the feelings of Christmas 2013 came rushing back. And I started feeling the deep rooted pain only a mother missing her child can feel. I so clearly remembered the first night I knew of his passing, sitting on the couch by light of the Christmas tree, watching the snow fall, and alternating between tears and prayers until 3am. I remember holding the “Baby’s First Halloween” bib I had bought for him and crying until my face burned with the salt of my tears. Because there are so many specific decorations and music and traditions attached to the Christmas season, they will probably always somewhat remind me of Baby G. I was so exhausted and weary that Christmas season – simply trying to put one foot in front of the other and waiting for my body to release him. I spent that Christmas Eve on the couch, my uterus finally expelling what had been Baby G’s home for 12 weeks. Weak and exhausted, loosing blood, I couldn’t fill my daughter’s stockings. I had to lay there and tell my husband which stocking stuffers went in which stocking. I couldn’t even get off the couch to go read my girls The Night Before Christmas. I started worrying why I was still bleeding so much the night after I had birthed the baby and called my midwife again. We were trying our hardest to not make a Christmas Eve ER trip. Thankfully, after some rigorous fundal massage, I passed my placenta, which I hadn’t realized was stuck, and it never came to making an ER trip. I have a lot of trauma attached to that year’s Christmas season – both physical and emotional.
After letting my mind wander to those memories, I gathered my sweet, amazing, 5 week old son into my arms and nursed him by light of the Christmas tree. I grasped his little hand in mine, and he squeezed my finger as if to say, “I’m here, mom. Your rainbow made it. And Baby G is in Heaven waiting.” After I nursed him to sleep, I slipped into a hot bath and cried until I felt better. Until I felt some darkness lifting. Until I realized – it’s okay to feel grief still. Just because I still miss Baby G, doesn’t mean I’m feeling sorry for myself. Of course I am filled to the brim with love, elation, and gratitude that my healthy rainbow is here. And feeling grief confirms Baby G cannot be replaced, and that is a comforting feeling. Baby G is still a loss that will take up a part of my heart forever.
Despite the emotional and physical trauma of a miscarriage, the emotion that overshadows all the rest is gratitude. In fact, gratitude is not a big enough word to describe what I feel. I could sing my thankfulness from the mountain tops and it would not be enough. I’m thankful for the time we did have with Baby G, for the time he spent growing safely and for the joy he did bring to our family. I’m thankful my husband and I freely feel the grief when we need to, because it reiterates that the son we lost still has a place in our hearts and in our family. I’m thankful for the blessing of having another baby after our loss. I love my rainbow son with every fiber of my being, and his life is so precious. He is God’s amazing gift to us – the healing we needed after losing Baby G. I know many people have to wait much longer for their rainbow baby – sometimes never having a rainbow baby at all. I don’t know why or how it happened so fast for us – but it did. I am feeling every bit of that amazing gratitude. And while feeling the gratitude, I am learning it’s okay for me to still feel grief for the loss of Baby G, for he was my child too, and I love all four of my children.
One of the popular debates in the birth community recently is delayed cord clamping after a baby is born – the theory (and supported by research) is baby can benefit greatly from the last of the blood transferred from the placenta to the baby via umbilical cord. Some benefits include more optimal oxygen transport and higher red blood cell flow to vital organs, reduced infant anemia and much more! If you have ever watched a cord change as it transfers the last of the blood to baby, it’s easy to understand why it should be allowed to finish it’s job. Over the years I’ve photographed a few cords in various states, from the thick, full cord, to the limp empty one after all the blood has been transferred.
Cords have many different looks. Some are tightly spiraled, some are very loosely spiraled, some have a repetitive spiral pattern and some have random spirals – some have no spirals at all! They seem to be as unique as the babies attached to them. Cords can also vary greatly in length – if a baby does get tangled in it’s cord during gestation, the cord will actually grow longer to prevent it from being pulled too tightly as the baby descends during labor. If a cord is too short, it can cause distress during birth as the baby tries to move down. I’ve seen a cord that was just 16 inches, and a cord that was 4 feet long ! (Which the midwife joked could have been used as a jump rope.). Can you guess how many times that 4 foot cord was wrapped around baby? Twice around her neck, and a few more times around the rest of her body.
Umbilical cords are pretty amazing sustainers of life, as you can see in this small collection of photographs I’ve taken.
This baby girl’s cord has beautiful spirals in a consistent pattern. The cord is still busy transferring blood to her.
This baby’s cord is starting to finish it’s job, it’s starting to go limp and losing it’s deep blue/purple color.
A common fear among soon-to-be mothers is “what if my baby is born with the cord around it’s neck?” It seems as though everyone has a mother or aunt with a frightening story about their baby being born wrapped in it’s cord and blue because of it. In the stories it’s always a very dire situation, like the cord caused a near brush with death. While a cord wrapped too many times around the neck or a short cord wrapped around the neck CAN pose a problem for descending during labor, being born with a nuchal cord (cord around the neck) is not usually an issue at all. In fact studies indicate it can be a natural protection against cord prolapse, which IS a dangerous issue. (Cord prolapse is when the cord slips down beside or past the baby’s head during birth and is compressed – stopping the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby). Babies are naturally born a blueish/purple color because they do not breathe air in the womb. When they take their first gulp of air after birth, their skin begins to pink up quickly. When a baby is born in distress they are born gray or white. If a baby presents with a nuchal cord, a care provider usually helps the baby be born right through it.
This baby (Twin A!) is born right through her nuchal cord, you can see how the midwife helped her slip right through it.
Another baby being spiraled through the cord around their neck. (And notice the natural blueish/purple color of her skin – exactly the color she should be the moment she is born!)
Another baby born with the cord around the neck – this baby’s cord was a very tight nuchal cord, and the midwife almost had to clamp and cut it as the head was born, but she was able to spiral her through without cutting it.
Another baby with the cord around it’s neck at birth – you can see the cord is still full of blood and doing it’s job well, despite being around the neck.
Sometimes the cord is wrapped around the lower extremities as well.
Sometimes babies are born with true cord knots, which likely happens as a younger/smaller gestation baby swims through and tangles their cord. If the cord gets pulled too tightly in a knot, it can be a very serious issue and lead to fetal death. When sufficient amounts of Wharton’s Jelly is present inside the cord, it will prevent the cord from being pulled too tight, therefore keeping the baby safe. As any pregnant mama knows, the thought of an umbilical cord knot is quite terrifying! Here are two true umbilical cord knots, both which ended in healthy full term babies because the cords were long enough they did not present a problem as the baby moved down and the Wharton’s Jelly prevented the cord from being pulled & compressed too tightly.
What a lucky baby!
Another true cord knot – baby was just fine, but you can see this cord was probably cut too early, as it’s not totally limp and white. The blue arteries and veins still have blood in them.
This little girl was born with a beautiful tight spiral to her cord, which is almost done transferring blood. Grandma is feeling the cord pulse faintly.
This cord has no spiral to it, and is still pulsing faintly, as the mom has a chance to feel it.
This cord has a few loose spirals, and is starting to go white & limp.
A beautiful big cord that nourished this baby girl! Notice the color, indicating it is finishing up it’s job!
A nearly empty cord, still attached to the baby as the Mama gets out of the birth tub.
Empty cord, attached to it’s placenta
The placenta is birthed and floating in the bowl, with the cord still attached to baby. Once the placenta is birthed, the cord is completely done and ready to be cut.
Melissa Cate Photography was founded in 2010 with the dream of someday being a full time birth photography company. With an entry-level DSLR camera and a small bit of knowledge of photography, I dove into the world of photography. It quickly exceeded my expectations in growth and popularity. Since shooting my first birth 5 years ago, I have shot 115 births, 30+ newborns, and countless baby bellies (With weddings, families, and children thrown in the mix as well). I’ve also had 2 more children of my own. I’ve loved this career of documenting births. It’s the main part of my business, and continues to be the central focus of Melissa Cate Photography. It’s time consuming yet rewarding.
For two years, I have been formulating an idea to add another photographer to the business. Adding another photographer means we can take on more births, and it also means I can take time off if I need it. And how much better are two photographers than one?! Of course, it’s not easy to find another birth photographer with the time to dedicate to being on call and the skills to put into learning birth photography. I feel so lucky to have found a second photographer to add to my expanding business. I started taking her to births with me in 2012, and she filmed the birth of my third baby in October. (If you want a videographer for your birth, she’s your girl!). Nothing will change if you are a client of MCP – you will still receive the same style and edited photos as you always have. You will book one of us, and the photographer you book will be the one to document your birth. (In other words, we don’t take “call shifts”, we take clients and stick with them) I am proud to introduce Melissa Cate Photography’s second photographer, Krystle Bowen.
Krystle is very excited to join the Melissa Cate Photography Team. She is the Mom of three spunky boys, including a set of twins, and has been married to her best friend for 12 years. Outside of photography she is passionate about teenagers and enjoys volunteering at church and at the local teen Mom home. The first time she attended a birth, she was hooked. It is one of the most magical experiences a photographer can experience and she is honored to be a part of the birth photography team at Trillium Waterbirth Center.
I know, I’m terrible at actually blogging. I try to add it to my to do list each week, but something always comes before it. I’ve been lost in my own blissful baby land for the past 5 months with my newest little guy, but, the time has come to hit the ground running again. MCP has some exciting new things coming up for 2015, due to be announced mid-Summer. We are growing and expanding, so we can serve the Rogue Valley better! With that little tidbit of info, I present, the births of 2014!