When Shannon Waters delivered her first baby six years ago, it went exactly as she’d hoped ― a calm, quiet home birth surrounded by her husband and midwife. The 40-year-old physician dreamt of having a similar experience with her second. Instead, her water broke six weeks before her due date while she was snuggled next to her 6-year-old before bedtime.
“All of a sudden, the blankets were wet. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what happened?’” she told HuffPost. When Waters—who is a physician— saw pink in the liquid, she realized she and her husband needed to get to the hospital right away.
Ultimately, Waters did not have the birth experience she’d hoped for, but she did end up with a healthy, happy baby girl she named Atira. And the experience was captured in a raw set of images by British Columbia-based birth and family photographer Ashley Marston that have helped Waters let go of any residual fear or trauma from going into labor early and under unexpected circumstances, allowing her to have a bird’s eye view of her own strength as she pushed her 5-pound baby into the world.
“It’s empowering to see these,” Waters said, “and know that I did everything I could at that time to help bring our girl into the world.”
Here, in her own words, is her daughter’s birth story.
"Once I got to the local hospital, it became clear I would have to be transferred. You have to be at least 36 weeks pregnant to deliver there — and I was also group B strep positive
. Before they transferred me, they put an IV in my arm and my six-year-old, who was already so excited and overwhelmed, actually passed out in the assessment room. So my husband was rushing to help her, and they were getting me ready, and it was just kind of chaotic."
"I was scared about going into labor early, but it turned out that my cousin, who is a paramedic, was my driver in the ambulance to the other hospital. It's about an hour south. That immediately made me feel a lot better, like, this may be happening in a way I didn’t plan, but maybe we’re being watched out for. My cousin doesn't normally work nights, so it really was a surprise that she was on. I told my husband he could go back home and pack up and deal with our daughter, because I would be fine going with my cousin. As we were driving down to the second hospital, I chatted with her. Every once in a while she’d ask, 'Are you having any pain?' Eventually I was like, OK, yes, I’m feeling a little bit of tightening down below. By the time we got to the hospital, my pain was maybe a two on a scale from one to 10. When we arrived, the doctor I saw told me that they wanted to induce me. I told my husband to go get our stuff and get ready—we were going to do this. I asked him to help me sit up, and that's when the contractions really started."
"There were probably about 13 people in the room, because it was a teaching hospital and they also had a pediatric team ready, because the baby was early. But once things started getting really intense, I just completely focused on my husband. I couldn’t have told you if anyone else was there."
"Things hadn't been that intense—not as intense as they felt with my first—but then during the second major contraction I had once I was fully dilated, things changed. It got really intense and painful. And that's when I kind of realized it was actually happening—I was pushing this baby out, and I was early and it didn't matter that my head wasn't wrapped around what was happening; my body was doing it. I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed, like I couldn’t do it. I swore really loud, I was like, 'F*ck, sh*t, I can’t do this!' But then I was like, 'OK Shannon, get a hold of yourself.' It was happening whether I was ready or not."
"After about five or six pushes, she came! We didn’t know if she was going to be a girl or a boy. I thought she was a boy; my husband thought she’d be a girl. It was a total surprise."
"I got a chance to hold her for like a minute before they asked the pediatrics team to take her and check her."
"My husband went with them and he told me later that he felt like he could barely walk over, because he was feeling so wobbly and overwhelmed. After about three minutes in the delivery room, they were worried that they heard something wrong with our daughter's breathing, so they took her off to the NICU."
"I was worried, but I knew we were in a good hospital and she looked good when I held her. So I tried to stay calm and sat there with the physician as they were stitching me up. It was probably about half-an-hour to 45 minutes before they asked if I wanted to go and see her."
"It was an incredibly emotional moment when I saw her in the NICU, which I think you can see in Ashley's photos. I'd just gone through this extremely intense experience—my water broke around 8:30 at night, and I think the baby was born a little after 3 a.m.—and then I saw her in an isolette."
"But she was healthy. She stayed in the NICU for two weeks and needed 48 hours of antibiotics because I was Group B Strep positive. She was 5 pounds, 3 ounces—so small, but not tiny."
"I'm so, grateful that we have these birth photos. It all happened so fast and seeing these photos has been incredibly healing for me, my husband and my daughter who had hoped to be there, but couldn't be. Even telling this story now, four months later, the intensity of the experience has faded a little bit. But when I look at these photos, I'm immediately back there. It's empowering to see these and know that I did everything I could at that time to help bring our girl into the world. I was strong and it all turned out OK."
"Atira's name means 'earth mother,' and it definitely fits her personality. She smiles and laughs a lot, especially with her doting older sister. We hadn't planned to have such a big space between our daughters, but it has actually worked out really well. Our 6-year-old is such a good big sister. People always say that Atira hardly cries, and it's true. She's such a sweetheart. We're very blessed."
Captions have been edited and condensed.