This one may be a little wordy because I was with Ashley and Tim Murphy for 11 hours as their baby daughter came into the world. It was the day before Hurricane Hermine was to make landfall on Florida, around 2:00 P.M. Ashley messaged me that she thought tonight would be the night. She kept me posted throughout the afternoon, noting she was enjoying an apple and getting caught up on some light vacuuming as her body was exhibiting very real signs of labor. Around 7:30 she told me they would probably arrive to the hospital by 8:30 and I was so nervous of missing a single moment of my first birth session, I arrived to the hospital by 8:15. I beat the Murphys there by about 2 hours.
Once I was able to join them in their very swanky private birthing room, the energy was clean and bright, aside from one tiny detail. Ashley’s birth plan was to do it all naturally. Over the course of her laboring, the sack containing Sloane had ruptured, but never completely “broke.” This put Sloane at risk for infection, the longer she stayed put inside. For this reason, Ashley very reluctantly agreed to be administered Pitocin. This drug helps urge the baby to get a move on. But here’s the deal, Ashley’s body down below isn’t necessarily expanding at the same rate that the baby will now be pressing on, because this drug has changed the game.
Ashley was the most comfortable balancing on a rubber ball, and Tim and I were the most comfortable draped in heated blankets because it was beyond frigid in that room. Toward the peak of her laboring, she was on fire and Tim would fan her with his hat while trying to keep her somewhat covered up as she unconsciously let her gown fall off of her. I wore a hoodie.
I feel like it wasn’t until around 4:30 A.M. that I found myself breathing in the same beats as she and Tim, feeling helpless and dumb for shoving a camera in her face as she made very focused, deep groans. This is when time stood still. Tim Murphy was Ashley’s missing puzzle piece. He would tell her on the second, to remember to breathe. He would tell her that she has this. And most of the time he would include himself in the statements, proclaiming that “we” have this. He held her hand, he sat down when she told him to sit, he rubbed tennis balls stuffed in a sock against her lower back. He even let a nurse show him how to do it properly by allowing the nurse to practice on him. He looked into Ashley’s eyes when she would have a tough moment, and he kept her so strong.
There were several very difficult exams prior to the birth, the last one seemingly agonizing. She begged Tim and the medical team both to cease on the necessary probe, and this was absolutely the only time I saw Ashley panic. Even through this excruciating moment, she held on, low and strong in raw beauty.
Ashley and Sloane shocked the shit out of the entire floor about four minutes before Sloane made her entry/exit. The nurses thought we had at least 1 – 2 hours before the real pushing would commence. Around 6:30 A.M. it was just the three of us in the room. Ashley looked at Tim and said, “She’s coming.” At first she said it plainly, but immediately following her first announcement, she said it again more fervently, and one more time, at an even higher pitch. I left the room to gather help and this was the beginning.
I didn’t stop shooting frames. The spotlight was flipped on, the medical team assembled in a rush, gowning each other in robes and gloves. Ashley’s legs were flipped upward into the stirrups and Tim held her close and by the back of her neck. A nurse knew of my own personal birthplan, to stand behind Ashley and shoot from her perspective. This nurse created a spot for me in this gush of energy, behind the machines and tubes, and I am totally grateful.
I hear from Tim, “You got this. You got this.” He’s staring at her in magnetic focus, but with so much empathy and real love. He is holding whatever parts of her body that seem to grab the most toward him. I don’t remember Ashley making much noise, she instinctively grabbed my left hand with her right, and held tim close with her left hand. No joke, that baby girl’s beautiful little melon was half way out before I fully realized it was time. In less than a minute she fully emerged and I feel like everybody must have been crying. Ashley is in disbelief as she says over and over, “I did it. I did it. I fucking did it.” And she did it with no pain medicine. Nothing. She looks at Tim and at me and then straight toward Sloane who is being spot checked.
Ashley is in an expected glow and has returned to the woman I recognize. Prior to the actual birth, Ashley had morphed into this birthing warrior. Perfect really because Sloane’s name means, “warrior.” Ash was focused as hell, determined, poised, seemingly rational in what felt like a very irrational situation. Her strength was inspiring and I have never seen anything like what I saw that morning.
Sloane was placed on Ashley’s chest for her first skin to skin contact. She immediately sought out her food source. There were a few very sweet moments I was able to document between the three of the Murphys, as both parents got the chance to look over their creation. Tim could not stop smiling. He held Sloane’s tiny hand with his finger as Ashley took a few breaths and took in what had just transpired.
Clearly, this is my story and my memory. Tim’s story and Ashley’s story and Sloane’s story would all roll out individually, and speak from their own perspective, and all be totally different stories. I love so much that they let me do this.
Here are (finally) a few of my favorite images: