When my client, Susan, first reached out to me about documenting their surrogate birth story, it felt too good to be true. As a documentary family and birth photographer, it seemed as if all the storytelling stars had aligned. I think every photographer has a “bucket list” and this was definitely on mine. So, I very eagerly set up a time to formally chat with Susan the next day to go over all the details. At the end of that first chat, she asked if she could share some of her history with me.
Her story just gripped me and had me sobbing behind my computer screen as I read through her words. IVF, a preterm birth, miscarriages and finally a still birth of beautiful triplet babies at 21 weeks… suddenly I began to feel an incredible sense of responsibility. I promised her that I would tell her upcoming surrogate birth story with beautiful imagery that would not only honor the children she lost, but that would also honor her, her husband, their daughter and their new baby.
We stayed in touch over the next three months. I would text to let her know I was thinking of her and her surrogate. She would send me updates and we’d oftentimes discuss her very valid fears. I tried my best to reassure her that she’d soon be holding a healthy baby in her arms!
As the due date approached and baby reached 37 and 38 weeks, it seemed her fears subsided a little, yet, I still sensed the pain when she would say things like, “Until Noah is safely in my arms, I won’t relax! If I couldn’t bring him home for whatever reason, I would be done. This is as close as I will ever be…”
From there, all I could do was continue to hold space for her. It felt as if I was holding my breath every minute of every day. The day of delivery finally arrived and with it, a deep pit in my stomach filled with a dichotomy of conflicting emotions. Responsibility and hope. Courage and fear. I was feeling it all.
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On the way in to meet their surrogate, I walked past three little children statues that I have passed by countless times before but on this day they stopped me in my tracks. For you see, on this day, as Susan and her family were making the three-hour drive to this hospital where her surrogate would soon deliver her rainbow baby, there they stood. Almost as a sign. Not just three children statues. But instead, two boys and one girl. The exact sexes of her triplet angel babies. I felt peace.
Crystal, their surrogate, was radiant and looked almost angelic to me. Soon, Susan and Alex arrived. Full of hope and positive energy. This was their day. It was finally here!
The way the three interacted was beautiful and touching. Labor took up much of the day yet the mood was lighthearted and happy. Yes, even Crystal’s. Susan was celebrating not only the imminent arrival of her son but also her own birthday! Since labor was progressing at a slower than expected rate, Susan and Alex briefly left for a birthday lunch. Their 3-year-old daughter arrived in the afternoon with family. It was so touching to see the wonderment in her eyes as she touched Crystal’s belly or tip-toed to peek into the warmer.
Towards evening, Crystal’s family came by to show their support as well as more of Susan and Alex’s family. Next door to Crystal’s delivery room, was Susan and Alex’s postpartum room. It quickly became a makeshift waiting room for their family. Susan visited them frequently but just briefly before always returning to Crystal’s side. Even to rest. She needed to be near her son.
There was so much excitement in the room when it was time for baby to be born! Susan held Crystal’s leg as Alex watched on up near the head of the bed by me. Everything seemed to be going perfectly. The baby’s head emerged. The cord was wrapped around baby’s neck. Crystal was told to get the baby out with next contraction. Susan started having a panic attack and I was asked to quit photographing and to pull the emergency response cord behind the bed. The baby was stuck. Shoulder dystocia. Time stood still. Susan was hyperventilating as she took a seat. The room filled with personnel. I have never prayed so hard in all my life. “God, please! This can’t happen to her again. Please spare this family.”
Nurses continued to press down on Crystal’s stomach to dislodge the shoulder as the doctor skillfully delivered Noah. I couldn’t watch anymore. They took him to the warmer and after what seemed like forever, I heard him cry and the OB exclaim, “Mom, he is okay! You can breathe now! Just breathe!”
I have no words for the moment when Noah was finally placed in Susan’s arms. These are her own. “The nurses placed him on my chest and I just closed my eyes. I wanted to feel him breathe. I wanted to savor every sensation. I wanted to isolate each feeling and memorize it. I wanted to focus on the warmth of his small body against mine, his breathing against my chest and his body shaking while he cried. I wanted all of it”
Susan reports that “Surrogacy has been an incredibly beautiful and emotional journey. Now that Noah is here, I am at peace. I’m happy and so in love. Everything is finally right where it should be. The sunshine is back.”
It was a true honor to document this surrogate birth story. Susan’s infinite strength to carry Noah in her heart for nine months, her family’s courage to grow their family this way and Crystal’s priceless gift to this family’s tree will stay with me for a lifetime.
Guest post writing and images are from photographer, Sannetta Marsh
About Sannetta Marsh: Sannetta is a sibling to twelve, a wife to one good man, a mother to her one and only gorgeous boy + Child of the King. Being all of these things fulfills her! She’s low maintenance and lives a minimalist lifestyle. She is most happy at home being mom.She is second most happy creating “unscripted art” for her clients. Emotive, meaningful and timeless art. This energizes her. She does life in Springfield, Missouri but dreams of one day living where there are no winters.