For years, HuffPost Parents has shared the beauty of the birth experience through the lens of talented photographers. In a new series, we’re focusing on one story at a time, honouring the many different ways babies come into the world and the beauty of every family’s story.
This week, we’re hearing from Ashlee Wilkenson, 29, who had photographer Rebecca Walsh (working for Denver-based birth photographer Monet Nicole) shoot the birth of her fifth baby, at home in Colorado.
In her own words, Wilkenson describes how unpredictable childbirth can be, no matter how many times you’ve been through it.
I have five children. My eldest is 6 years old, and then I’ve had four babies in the last four years. It’s been interesting!
I had my first baby in a hospital, and then all of my deliveries after have been home births. With my first, I labored for maybe 24 hours and I think it would have taken longer if I hadn’t been given Pitocin. Then with my second, I had probably two hours of active labor. My third was maybe three? My fourth was 14 hours long and extremely painful from the beginning.
Because of that, I went into my most recent birth knowing to expect the unexpected, but also with a clear sense of what I hoped for, if possible. I wanted my husband to catch the baby. And it was really important for me to try and have some peace and quiet right after the baby was born.
I was fully expecting to go to 41 weeks, because that’s what happened with my first and my third, but I’d also been feeling pretty labor-ish from 36 weeks onward.
At 39 weeks, I went to bed like usual and then woke up maybe 45 minutes later to a giant contraction and tons of pressure. I felt like the baby was right there.
I do have a history of some really fast labors, but I’ve also had some long ones, so I felt like I didn’t know what was happening. I woke my husband up and he was kind of like: “Are you going to have a baby right now?” My contractions were three minutes apart. Right when he asked, I had a contraction hit and I started shaking. I thought, “Oh, my goodness, did I basically wake up in transition?”
He called the midwife right away, and told her I was shaking. She kind of said: “OK, here is how you catch a baby.” My husband is military — he’s an engineer — so he was really calm. I have some medical experience as an EMT and I’m a doula. Because I’ve had some fast labors before, we’d talked with my midwife about what to do if things went quickly. So we had this moment of prepping to do this on our own. But thankfully, my midwife — who is about 45 minutes away — got there in time and we didn’t have to.
My contractions were super close together and I remember thinking to myself, “I need them to slow down, because I cannot do this.” I was still preparing myself for the idea of doing this for another 14 hours after my last labor, even though everyone else seemed to understand how close I was.
I hopped in the bath. I was still thinking I was just in there to slow my contractions down, and my husband and midwife were kind of like, “Sure, Ash, whatever you say.” In the water, things did space out a bit, but then the contractions got really intense again. And it was clear they weren’t dilation contractions. They were get-the-baby-out contractions.
I got out of the tub, and he was born within a contraction and a half. My husband was able to catch him, and then I just held him and looked at him for a while.
Yes, I had my baby on the bathroom floor. After a while, I was able to stand up and walk over to the bed holding him. It was really peaceful.
He’s such a chill baby. I love that I can see it in these photos, even though he has that little pout face. He has such a sweet demeanor, and he has had it since the very beginning.
The kids slept through the whole thing. We had a friend here who was planning to watch them if we needed it, and we were open to them coming in if they wanted to — or staying away if that’s what they preferred. But they ended up waking up maybe four hours after the baby was born.
They were excited to say “hi” to the baby, but then they wanted to go to my sister’s so they just kind of took off. I got a nap.
Now that I have done this five times, I have definitely learned to expect the unexpected and to be OK if absolutely nothing seems to be going the way it’s “supposed” to go. It’s kind of like having so many kids close together. Sometimes we’re like, “Oh, my goodness, this is crazy!” But our hearts are full.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.