Back in November I had shared with some fellow birth workers about a birth documentary project I wanted to work on for the coming year. It outlined various focal points each month surrounded around birth; one of which was surrogacy. It was during that time that I had the privilege to meet Stephanie, who shared how she was carrying another families baby, and was due for early June of 2019.
I was in absolute awe of her! I had reached out to share what my hopes where for the project, and asked her if herself and the family might be willing to allow me to document their birth. Luckily for me she was interested! I marked her down on my calendar and told her I'd touch base to check in and schedule a formal meeting come spring.
In March we both attending the Birth Without Fear Conference in Hartford Connecticut. Erika had actually shared the same harmony circle as her and was eager to learn more about surrogacy after meeting her. She also mentioned how we should offer to photograph her birth, to which I replied, "I'm one step ahead of you! I just have to touch base!"
The following day I reached out to see if they were still interested in having a birth photographer present. She was so excited that I was still willing to offer my time as she was worried that they family might miss the birth. You see, Stephanie wasn't just carrying a baby for anyone, but for a man Elio from Italy who'd longed to be a father for a very long time. For her these portraits would allow them a chance to see their child's birth, even if they had missed it physically.
Luckily they made it just in the knick of time! The morning after they landed here in America, her water broke.
Stephanie had her friend and doula Melissa Duenas of Mama Warrior Doula there to help support her through the process, just as she had in previous births. Melissa reached out to me at 11:17 to let me know that Stephanie was only 4cm but that she was contracting regularly. I lived about an hour away from where she was delivering, and given her previous birth history we decided I should make my way up.
When I arrived Stephanie greeted me with a smile. We hadn't had a chance to meet in-person prior, but you'd never know it, she was like meeting an old friend. She had her room already filled with her amazing support team, which consisted of her doula Melissa, friend Carla and Cousin Jessica.
Along with them I was happy to find, was Elio and his wife! He had dressed up to the nines, eager to meet his son for the first time in his very best.
Stephanie's contractions spaced out a bit so her doula offered the suggestion on going for a walk through the halls to keep things moving.
Stephanie smiled at everyone she passed and made conversation. She was even doing squats between contractions at one point!
Whenever she needed to stop and let one pass, her girls where right there to help support her through each one.
While we walked the halls, Elio and his wife waited anxiously. At one point I looked down and saw his hands and snapped this portrait. You can see the angst in them as he fiddles with his ring. As the day unfolded I noticed that hands seem to be a steady part of this birth story. Everyones hands told their own story of their role in this birth. From the intended parents anxious hands, to Melissa's supportive ones, to Stephanie's as she gripped for any form of relief against the contractions.
Because baby was in an OP (occiput posterior, a fancy birth word for the babies position inside of the pelvis) She was having quiet a bit of back pain. Melissa would apply counter pressure at her sacrum for relief with every contraction.
She then started pulling out all her tips and tricks to try to get this little guy to turn and give his mom some much needed relief.
By lunch time the excitement in the room was buzzing. We we're all stating to take bets on what time he's make his grand entrance, the latest predication being 4pm. His parents waited eagerly and watched on. Taking moments here and there to step out and make a phone call to update their loved ones and snapping photos and video in-between their coffee runs.
Stephanie was becoming more and more uncomfortable, so Melissa suggested she try the tub for some relief. She hadn't had a chance to use one with her previous delivery's but had an opportunity to do so this time if she'd like, so she decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
Carla and Melissa helped her into the tub, and she settled in. While she got comfortable, Melissa fetched a cup so she could pour warm water on her back while she rested.
Elio's wife joined us soon after. You could tell by her expression she was at a loss. She could physically see what this selfless woman was going through after the past 9 months, just to give them the son they've longed for. Yet there wasn't much she could do. So she stayed by her side, offering her a hand to hold and any support she needed.
It seemed like things were moving quickly and had picked up intensity. She then said, "If i'm gonna have this baby in the room, I need to get out of this tub!". So we hurried her out of the tub and back to the room. To all of our surprise though, she hadn't made much progress and was still only around 4cm.
Melissa suggested she try some nitrous to offer her some relief, and hopefully allow her to get some rest. It offered some, but not a whole lot. So Melissa went back to work with all her tricks, determined to help her friend get any sort of relief.
During this time, you could see how much they were both struggling to watch her go through this just for them to have their son. They just wanted to help her, but there wasn't much they could do.
There was really only one thing left that could offer her some relief, and that was an epidural. However due to a previous issue with one it was something we were all trying to avoid. Melissa could see she needed some relief and rest though, so she took a moment to sneak out and talk to some of the doctors and nurses on the floor about the possibility. Luckily the Dr. she ran into happened to be one she had a long standing relationship with and trusted deeply. He also just so happen to know Stephanie and her history. After speaking he had assured her he could prep Stephanie in advance to help ensure a repeat emergency situation didn't happen again.
While they administered her epidural the the majority of us stepped out to grab some dinner before the cafeteria closed for the evening. When we returned she was finally getting some rest. Elio and his wife relaxed a bit more now that she wasn't in agony, and settled in to read while they passed the time.
As the evening continued on, she enjoyed a FaceTime call with her son, updating him how her Belly Buddy would soon be here.
Her mom arrived around that time and the excitement in the room started to pick up.
Stephanie started to get super uncomfortable around around 9:30. She was feeling a lot of pressure despite the epidural. Her team decided it would be a good time to check and see if any progress was made since she had a chance to rest. To our amazement she had gone all the way to an 8!
Their was no doubt that she was ready to get this baby out so everyone could finally meet him, and Elio could finally hold his son. We may have tried every trick in the book thus far, but Stephanie had one more in mind. It was time for Elio and his wife to talk to their son and tell him they were ready to meet him! She encouraged them to feel him, and give him some encouragement, and they spoke loving words of encouragement in Italian and bits of english to him.
I have to say it was probably one of the most beautiful moments I have ever had the privilege of witnessing!
Just a little over an hour later, Stephanie got the urge to push and we soon learned it was because she was fully dilated and ready to bring her belly buddy earth side to meet his excited parents!
In just a few quick pushes, Francesco made his debut and greeted the room at 11:07 pm. He was just as perfect as his parents has imagined and they were overcome with joy! The whole room could feel the emotions radiating off of them, I don't think there was a dry eye in there.
A quick cut of the cord and then the nurse turned to ask Elio if he'd like to do skin to skin with his son. His face lit up and he started ripping his suite off as fast as he could! He held his son and just beamed down at him, speaking lovingly in Italian while his wife watched in awe.
After he and his wife spent a few tender moments taking in their new baby, they walked across the room to thank Stephanie for all she'd done for them, allowing her a moment to love on the little boy she had carried for the past 9 months and labored to bring into this world for them.
Stephanie, you are one of the most selfless women I have ever met. Your strength and desire to bring something so beautiful to another family is inspiring. Thank you so much for allowing me the privilege to be apart of your surrogate journey.