August 26th 2017 @ 4.25am – My phone rings
Antonia: My contractions have started…
Me: I’m on my way!
And so begins this epic surrogacy birth story.
If I’m completely honest I was as nervous as hell that I’d miss this birth. It was a four-hour car journey from South Wales to Manchester (non-stop) and this was Antonia’s third time giving birth. However, Antonia being a midwife was as cool as a cucumber and she didn’t doubt for a second that I wouldn’t make it. Finally meeting Antonia, Paul and Neil in the flesh were all I’d hoped. All our meetings prior to this had been via face-time, email and messenger. I couldn’t wait to hug them all, and so I did!
As soon as I arrived I wanted to quickly go over the birth plan. I asked Antonia “Is there anything I need to know before I start documenting this birth?” she promptly replied “Don’t touch me during a contraction and don’t tell me how well I’m doing”
I adhered to this the whole time!
I immediately felt comfortable and relaxed with everyone and I believe the time spent bonding by email had helped enormously. Present for the birth of Ultan were also two sets of grandparents. You could feel everyone’s excitement building as Antonia’s contractions shortened. Paul and Neil had created a truly stunning environment for Antonia. A huge amount of care and thought had gone into making this such a beautiful space for her to birth.
Every birth that I photograph is different and there are always small details that stay with me. For this particular birth, it was Antonia swearing very loudly in her Texan accent. Honestly, each and every single time she said the word f**k I had more and more respect for what she was doing.
Until that day I had never met a surrogate and I couldn’t help but feel a surge of admiration towards her. I could see how much this mattered and how important this was to her and everyone involved. This baby meant everything!
A little background info:
How everyone arrived at this point was not a straightforward or easy journey. It began with two failed IVF treatments, one resulting in a miscarriage and a financial strain of over £30K. Eventually, Antonia, for the third and final time became pregnant. Everyone was overjoyed and after waiting 20 weeks, Paul and Neil announced that their journey to parenthood had officially begun. They all became known as “Team Fawkes” and logged in weekly to tell their story on the Surrogacy UK Facebook page (link below)
Becoming a surrogate had always been on Antonia’s bucket list. Paul and Neil are a married couple that has always wanted a child to complete their family. When the three of them meet there was an instant connection and Antonia at that moment could not imagine them without a tiny human to share their lives with. In her own words: “ I wanted to help make it happen for them – another adventure greater than their trips around the world and life experiences to date”!
This brings us back to August 26th – in Paul and Neil’s lounge.
Antonia sat on a birthing ball for the first half of her contractions and it was at this point she made a call home to Texas to speak with her mother. This brought both laughter and tears between contractions. I would like to add that her mother swears like a trooper too and this seemed to relax and soothe her.
Eventually, Antonia moved into the pool and I was completely hooked on photographing her – she was seriously gorgeous! Paul and Neil did everything to make her comfortable and reached out to get her through some difficult contractions. As her contractions began to quicken and become more intense she knew that Ultan was moments away. I prepared myself, this was not like any other birth I had photographed. It was vital to get all three expressions. I positioned myself well in advance to enable me to capture these moments.
Finally, the head appeared.
Upon the next contraction and in her own time Antonia birthed Ultan and immediately handed him to Paul whilst still attached to the placenta within her. This image, this moment will always stay with me. Within seconds the Grandparents burst into the room and were immediately smitten by this little bundle of pure joy! It was planned that they would delay cutting and clamping the cord, this gave Antonia some skin to skin time.
It was at this moment I captured Antonia bringing Ultan to her lips and planting a kiss.
Up to that moment, I had never felt a cord pulsating (even though I’ve birthed two babies of my own) and I was fascinated. “Can I feel the cord?” I whispered to Antonia. “Yes,” she replied. I reached out and placed the cord between my finger and thumb. It felt AMAZING!! I highly recommend and urge you try it. When you’re holding the cord between your fingers you can literally FEEL the blood pulsating from the placenta to baby. These are all the moments I adore about birth.
As soon as the cord had stopped pulsing it was cut by Paul and baby Ultan was handed to Neil for much-wanted skin to skin with his son. I remember trying to imagine how Paul and Neil must have felt in that moment, having waited so long for this little baby to arrive and complete their family. Everyone in the room instantaneously fell in love Ultan and no one could resist the urge to touch, kiss and gaze at him. As I looked around the room I was surrounded by smiling faces.
The happiness in the room that day was off the scale.
After a while, Antonia gave Ultan his first feed. I must share with you at this point another extraordinary act of kindness. Antonia had used a breast pump to stock Paul and Neil’s freezer full to the brim with breast milk! She did this throughout her pregnancy and still continues to do so.
Yeah, I KNOW!!
Are you blown away yet?
Eventually, Ultan was weighed and dressed and everyone had a chance to have a cuddle. As I watched these events unfold I couldn’t help but document the exchanged glances, the tender touches and to witness the love that beamed from Paul and Neil.
Finally, they were a family.
The champagne was poured in celebration and I finally had the opportunity to put my camera down and have a little cuddle with Ultan. (perks of the job!) Oh my goodness, he smelt SO good! As the afternoon became the early evening and my heart rate began to normalize, I knew that it was my time to leave. After many kisses and exchanged hugs I walked out the front door. It had been amazing to be part of this transformative journey.
I hope you enjoy my images as much as I enjoyed capturing them.
I would like to give a HUGE thank you to Kate at Surrogacy UK for making this possible and I look forward to future collaborations.
Massive thanks to Antonia, Paul & Neil for letting me be part of their birth story ~ Team Fawkes you were PERFECT!!
P.S Did you spot me?
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Psst, why not download my checklist and find out all the birth moments you won’t want to miss – it’s jam-packed full of ideas!!