At 4:30 AM on December 8th, 2015 my wife woke me up to tell me that she was in labor. It was 6 days passed the official due date and Shiloh Gray was coming. As I got out of bed I noticed that Noelle had made her way into the room. She had a feeling it was a time.
Kat hopped in the bath while I phoned my parents to tell them to make their way over to the house. They were going to watch Noelle until I could get back home. After I called them I called Margaret, Kat’s doula, to let her know we were on our way to the hospital. It was still dark outside as I turned on the van, waiting impatiently for my parents to arrive.
They arrived around five and we left immediately. Kat was scheduled for a water birth and I wanted to make sure we didn’t hit any rush hour traffic. In Atlanta, rush “hour” is more like rush “morning.” It usually spans from 5:30am to 9:30am. Based on the contractions rapidly increasing, I had a feeling we couldn’t afford to get stuck. The drive to the hospital was supposed to be 45 minutes. Without traffic.
Back when Kat got in the bath the contractions were about four minutes apart. By the time we got in the van they were 3 minutes apart. 3/4 of the way to the hospital they were 2 minutes apart. We were rapidly running out of time.
Thankfully we didn’t hit any traffic. I got Kat into the check-in area around 5:50am. The next issue was paperwork. Margaret arrived shortly after we did and started working with Kat while I filled out all the forms. When I went back to be with Kat she was laying on the hospital floor.
I ran downstairs to park our van which was still sitting in the drop off area. I pulled around the side, into the parking deck and found a spot. I grabbed my camera bag from the back and started the jog back to the second floor.
Kat was aiming for a completely natural birth. At Noelle’s birth, Kat got an epidural and that birth was a nightmare. I didn’t know what to expect with no pain meds. Jogging back into the hospital I remember feeling calm. But it was the type of calm where you have no idea what’s going to happen. The only thing I was sure of was that all hell was about to break loose.
Right as I stepped off the elevator and rounded the corner, I saw Kat and Margaret. She was being wheeled out of triage toward the birthing rooms. Margaret said, “she’s complete, the baby’s coming now.”
Holy shit. That was fast.
It was 6:10am.
They wheeled Kat into a room that was already occupied while repeating, “don’t push.” They had to back her out of that room and find the room they were supposed to be in. Heading into the *right* room, they almost wheeled her into the door frame.
We’re off to a great start.
Once they got her in the room I threw down my camera bag and ripped it open. I put on the 35mm lens knowing there wasn’t much space. I switched to Aperture Priority, f2.8ish, and ISO 3200. The lighting in these places suck.
I snapped one photo before realizing they still hadn’t taken off Kat’s clothes. They needed help. We were able to get her dress off while she was pushing for the first time. Her water still hadn’t broke so the midwife cut the sack.
Once she was good to go, I stepped back and started taking more shots. She pushed again. She was close. One more push was all that was needed. At 6:30am, we got to meet Shiloh Gray.
She was curled up on Kat’s chest, covered in vernix. She let out a cry. I remember thinking, “this is going so much better than Noelle’s birth.”
Spoke too soon.
They put an oxygen saturation monitor on Shiloh as Kat was holding her. The saturation was low. It was in the 70s and low 80s. They needed her above 90. She was breathing fine, but the oxygen wasn’t getting to the lungs. Something was wrong.
The nurses called in a respiratory specialist who took Shiloh off to the side to work on her. Every time they took her off oxygen support, her sat would drop too low. The specialist called for a transport and told us that Shiloh was going to be taken to the NICU.
That’s a tough thing to hear. Jogging into the hospital I was thinking the birthing process was going to be the war. It turned out that was the smoothest part. It was all supposed to be over at this point, but the war was just beginning.
Kat stayed in the room and I went with Shiloh to the NICU. It’s a depressing place. There was nothing I could do but watch them hook my baby up to a bunch of machines and start running tests on her. They weren’t offering much in the way of information. All around me there were machines beeping, alarms going off, and babies crying. Some of them looked to be about 3 pounds.
The consensus was that Shiloh likely had fluid in her lungs. Kat was GBS positive, so there was a chance that Shiloh had bacteria in the fluid that was irritating her lungs, causing inflammation and making the situation worse. They needed to do a blood test to see if that was the case. They also did a chest X-ray.
Doctors are so reluctant to tell you what they *think* is going to happen. Any time you ask a question about prognosis, they give you doctor-speak. “Well, we just have to wait and see.” “We won’t know more about this until more time passes.”
Come on doc, I know there are percentages to these things. What is the chance she’ll easily recover versus the chance that something is seriously wrong?
They don’t really want to answer those questions, lest their answers be held against them at some point.
Once Kat got up to the NICU she asked the doctor a great question, though. It’s a question I’ll use all the time going forward because it gives you the best answer possible when it comes to prognosis in these types of situations. She said, “Are you concerned?” His answer didn’t completely assure us, but it did provide an opportunity for calm at the time. “Not yet.”
A sense of calmness doesn’t last very long in the NICU though. Even with 60% oxygen support, Shiloh was struggling to stay over 90. They wanted to take the cannula out of her nose and put her in an oxygen tent. They were having to run more oxygen through the cannula than they liked. To my untrained eye, this was a step in the wrong direction.
Not long after they put her in the tent, the X-ray results and blood work came back. There was no sign of an infection yet and only her left lung had significant fluid in it. That was good news, but it still left us with questions. Why, after many hours, had this fluid not significantly cleared? Based on their earlier concerns, it shouldn’t be taking this long.
The theory was that because the birth was so fast there wasn’t much time for transition. The transition was happening *now*, in the NICU. So back to the waiting game we went.
She’s coming home.
Thankfully, Shiloh started to make improvements. They took the hood off and went back to the cannula. I went home to feed Noelle and put her to bed and stay with her overnight. Kat sent me updates. They were able to slightly reduce her oxygen support overnight. The next day they were reducing it every few hours until they were around 20%.
Late that afternoon they took Shiloh completely off oxygen support and felt comfortable transferring her to a regular room with Kat. In the morning, they’d check her saturation again and if all was good we could take her home.
That’s exactly what happened.
Kat and I want to thank our friends and family for their amazing support. We love you all.
For those who like know the setup for the shots…
All of these images used the exact same lighting setup. One Einstein 640 in a 50″ Apollo Softbox camera left with an LP160 bounced off the ceiling at camera right for general fill. Here’s a behind the scenes shot of the setup…
Obviously we pulled the couch away from the wall for the main shot. So that’s it—pretty basic stuff. If you’re interested in gear, click here.