Two years ago, I had the most incredible and satisfying photography assignment: the birth of our son. The circumstances weren’t ideal. My wife labored with a midwife, our doula, and me in the room, and after a few hours of pushing, our baby’s heart rate would go down with each contraction. Our ideal, natural childbirth became more and more medicalized–first an IV, then an epidural, and finally a Cesarean section.
Over 24 hours into the process, my wife was wheeled into the operating room. I was given a blue, gauzy suit with footies, a jumpsuit of sorts, and a cap. As the nurse led me to the OR, she turned and said “where’s your camera?” I had assumed photography wasn’t allowed in the OR, so I hadn’t considered it. In the space of a few seconds, which felt like minutes, I considered: should I grab my Leica MP and shoot Tri-X, my tried and true system, fraught with the danger of fogged film, botched development, scratches, and everything else? Or should I just grab the digital point-and-shoot and be done with it? I grabbed the Leica.
I stood at my wife’s head, behind a blue curtain intended to shield us from the bloody business happening on the other side. Our midwife was on the other side of my wife, coolly talking my wife through what was happening as she peered over the curtain. I held my wife’s hand and focused on her, trying to be as reassuring as a sleep-deprived nervous wreck of a father-to-be can be.
Suddenly our midwife snapped at me “take the picture!” I brought the camera to my eye, looked over the curtain, and in what I must credit to practice, took this photograph:
Amidst the tears, the smiles, and the sheer joy in the operating room, I was quickly barked at to take more photos.
There seemed to be a hundred people in the operating room, each with a purpose. The one whose purpose was to carry our son to the scale and weigh him urged “make sure to get the weight in the photo!” I dutifully obliged.
Sadly, mother and son were separated for several hours while my wife recovered and our son was taken to the nursery to be cleaned up. Fortunately, I was able to stay with my son while my wife rested. I kept asking “can I take pictures?” at every step, and everyone said “of course!”
I did finally get yelled at (politely) for taking a photo from outside the nursery. Apparently you can only take photographs of your own kid, and shooting from outside the door carries the risk of capturing other infants in the frame.
My experience of fatherhood has been amazing and awesome. I feel privileged to have been able to spend the first few hours of my sons life with him. I changed his first diaper. In fact, we learned much later that many parents buzz the nurses to change diapers and bring the infant back to the nursery so the parents can get some rest. We just stared at the little guy, my wife resting when she could (there is no such thing as rest in a hospital room, really) and me taking more photos and sending the obligatory emails to family and friends. Because of the recovery from the C-section, we were in the hospital for several days. But those days were a wonderful bonding experience for us–our little family in a single room, getting to know each other without having to worry about the outside world.
Stepping out of my sappy story and back into photography, I have to say that I was really happy to develop these films and have them turn out as well as they did. I had been thrown into an intense assignment and I was up to it. My instincts took over when my brain was exhausted and anxious, and I got the shots. Shooting almost every day is good practice. Shooting with the same kit most of the time is great practice.
My son is still my favorite subject. I’m not sure how much I’m warping him, taking as many photos as I do. More than one person joked that he’s only going to know his dad as the guy with the black camera stuck to his face. But now, a few hours before the two-year anniversary of his birth, I can say without hesitation that I don’t regret a single photo I’ve taken of him.
Such beautiful shots! In the cast one you get a glimpse of what the Young Master might look like as a carefree teen.
As I sit here trying to type with my eyes clouded with tears I remember your own birth 40 years ago and share with you the complete joy of Arlo’s birth…and yours. While the experience of a father cannot hope to match that of a mother, my chest swells with pride every time I think of my three children…even though you are all adults now.
Your blog-post is a beautiful tribute to Arlo and to fatherhood. And to this father and grandfather a cause for tears of shear happiness. I cannot imagine that when Arlo is old enough to fathom this post that he would want to replace it with any other birthday gift you could have given him on this day.
I love you David, Arlo, and Kristen. Thank you all for coming in your own way into my life.
Happy Birthday, Arlo.
Being one of Arlo’s far away fans, I so appreciate the photos that you shoot, David. They are stunning and beautiful and very important.
One of my best friend’s sketches his son every night! So, this urge to document is in other fathers, too. I think it’s great.
love to you and Kristen, and Arlo, too (or, two!)