Monday, June 24, 2013

A Stop And Read

The pictures you will see on today's blog are some very moving photos.  Feel free to skip the story and scroll straight to it, but I don't recommend it. :)  It's such a beautiful story and really makes these photos even more inspiring.  But I might be biased!  

 A few months back, I received an email from a mother, Jenn, who was expecting her own child via surrogacy. She needed a photographer to document some of the upcoming milestones, baby shower, maternity, birth, newborn.  I remember turning to my husband with an excitement I had never felt before! As many wonderful emails and stories that have come my way over the last two years since starting this journey, I have never met, in person, another surrogate or intended parent.  My heart was about to burst. One funny side note, Jenn contacted me because she loved my photos, she had no idea that I was also a surrogate. Before I could respond to her email, she had written again telling me she just realized I was a surrogate and that she was a follower of my story already!  It was destiny!  

When I first met Jenn (IM/Intended Mother) and Lauren (surrogate), I was smitten. I did not want to leave either of their sides. I over stayed my welcome, I am sure, and just sat by them.  As the birth drew closer, I began to get more and more excited. I love photographing births, but this one would be extra special.  Jenn was going to help deliver her own son, as Lauren pushed him out.  Teamwork from the beginning all the way until the birth.  

                              Lauren (Surrogate, pictured left) and Jenn, (IM, pictured right) the day I met them.

A little back story on how Jenn and Mark got to where they are today: Jenn and Mark have two sons already. Collin who is 8 years old, and Jack who is 4.   When Jenn got pregnant with Collin it was a surprise. She and Mark were in the process of starting an adoption when she found out she was pregnant. They had chosen adoption because Jenn had had unstable type 1 diabetes for 22 years. During the pregnancy her kidneys started to fail and so Collin wasn't growing. 

The doctors tried to get Jenn to terminate the pregnancy but Jenn knew Collin was a fighter and she continued on. He was born at 26 weeks weighing 1 pound 4 ounces. The doctors thought maybe Jenn's kidneys would come back after Collin was born but they didn't, so 5 weeks after Collin's first birthday she had a kidney and pancreas transplant. After the transplant Jenn went on the website and this is where she met Lauren. Jenn and Mark knew they wanted more children but didn't want to go through another life and death situation for mother and baby.

Lauren and Jenn talked off and on for a few months until Jenn's doctors told her it would be ok for her to get pregnant again since she now had new healthy organs. But in week 11 of the pregnancy Jenn's organs started to reject and again they were faced with a life and death for their baby. Again Jenn fought for her baby and won having Jack at 32 weeks. He was 4 pounds 6 ounces and she thought he was fat! As over the moon she was with her little family Jenn just knew it wasn't complete.

She continued to talk with Lauren and other surrogates on and pray about this big decision and eventually discovered that not only did Lauren live in Washington state, but she literally lived right around the corner from Jenn! It was an answer to prayer! They arranged to meet and not only did Jenn's heart connect with Lauren's, the boys bonded to Lauren's two kids. For the next 3 years Jenn and Lauren continued to talk about surrogacy but weren't sure it was going to happen with everything else going on in their lives. Lauren had another child of her own and Mark and Jenn moved, but their friendship grew and their love for one another and their families grew. 

Finally last May, Mark and Jenn knew they were ready and Jenn took a pregnancy basket over to Lauren to tell her they were finally ready. Though the pregnancy wasn't always an easy one, as Lauren had to be on bed rest for a number of weeks in the beginning due to a bleed and she went all the way to exactly 40 weeks when they thought she'd deliver earlier, Jenn felt like they went through the pregnancy together. Lauren might have been doing this FOR Jenn and Mark, but it felt like she walked side by side with her through every step of the way. It was a beautiful emotional time.

Although Jenn and Mark had considered adoption in the beginning and were huge advocates for adoption as they have a cousin that is adopted, after having their own children and getting to see one another in those children's faces and actions and personalities it seemed like surrogacy was the best option for them and their family.  Baby Will was due June 14th, 2013. 

I got the call ON baby Will's due date and rushed down trying not to speed (I drove six miles per hour over the speed limit, shhhh).  I arrived right as Lauren was getting her epidural in.  She has given birth three times before and has never had one.  Needless to say, she was enjoying the rest of the birth on a whole new level!   The room was full of people, Jenn and her husband, Mark.  Lauren (of course) and her husband Erik and their 8 year old daughter Jo Jo. Two nurses, myself and the spectacular earth angel midwife, Gretchen.  To me, it did not feel crowded at all, it felt like family, every one of them.   

When it came time to push, Gretchen and Jenn assumed the position. Gretchen lovingly guided Lauren as she began to push baby Will down.  Mark and I stayed hidden in the back corner, recording video and photographing and pretty sure holding our breath (at least I was!).  I could tell the baby was almost out because Jenn's face  morphed into this beautiful expression of love that I could never describe yet only able to recognize as love I have felt for my own children the first time I saw them.  Her face genuinely describes that feeling.   The photo of her helping deliver her son, gets me ever.single.time.

I still cannot believe I was able to witness such a beautiful miracle.  To me, a truly once in a lifetime chance to see and photograph a birth like this. I am so in with love my job, and the people that have continued to bless it with their presence and the stories and memories they share with me. 

                    Jenn (intended mother) holds her son, Will, a few days old. With her friend and surrogate, Lauren, that      
                                                                     carried Will for Jenn and her husband Mark.

The past two years have opened my heart to so many beautiful things in this world.  Surrogacy has not just changed me because I was a surrogate, but because of the community it brought me into and the ways it has opened my eyes and my heart (remember, I used to be anti IVF and Surrogacy!).  I invite everyone to look deeply into all the ways we build families these days and to rejoice in the love that is used to make these families.  Because the rest doesn't matter.  Just the love.  Just the love. 

  As always, I love reading your thoughts.  What did you feel when you saw these photos? How has surrogacy changed and affected you?  I would love to hear from you and thank you for stopping by.  

With love,