Ally and I had started our initial conversation about photographing her pregnancy and birth story one night close to midnight after I got home from a call out to hospital for a baby's birth. Adrenaline was still rushing through my system, so it would be a while before I could fall asleep and she, being heavily pregnant already, was not getting much sleep anyway. We discussed plans and I promised to send her the quote before heading to bed. I had no idea what adventures would lie ahead of us.

The maternity session was scheduled for a Wednesday just 3 weeks before her due date and as the day came closer we watched the rainy weather with some dismay. I love rain. All day. Every day... except for the 2 hours before sunset when we photograph our maternity sessions in a field between the mountains. The rain came pouring down and we decided to postpone the session to later that week, but when the weather didn't change in Nelspruit we packed our gear and headed for Sabie Sabie - a private game reserve bordering the Kruger National Park about 2 hours away. It was cloudy but we got some beautiful images of Ally and Stef as they laughed and chatted near a water hole. Ally was glowing!

Two weeks later it was time for Olivia's birth - which turned into quite an ordeal. Their gynaecologist was going away for a well deserved holiday and she ended in the rooms of dr. Richard Joubert as her substitute doctor. Since they lived so far away from the hospital, Ally asked to be induced to avoid the risk of a roadside delivery. Everything went fine. She was merrily walking up and down the halls, bouncing on a ball and mobilising as much as possible to assist with the baby's progression. Things suddenly turned around after an examination. Dr Joubert felt something that made his heart drop to his stomach. The umbilical cord had dropped through the open cervix into to birth canal ahead of the baby and with every contraction the cord was squeezed between the baby's body and the mother's pelvic bones. There was a very real danger that the baby's blood supply could be reduced, leading to loss of oxygen to the baby - a condition called Umbilical Cord Prolapse. He calmly but very urgently told them what was happening and ordered a c-section.

Ally and Stef rushed to theatre as I sped through traffic to get to the hospital in time to photograph the birth of their precious baby girl. Amazingly they arrived at the theatre complex between procedures and were taken into the operating room immediately - a miracle in it's own. There were no time for spinals or pleasantries. Ally was put under general anaesthetic and the c-section started. I ran into the room just as Olivia was handed to the paediatrician, who was still sweating from rushing to get to theatre. I snapped photos as fast as my shutter would allow to capture as much as possible. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the little baby girl screamed healthy cries and her dad cried tears of relief and joy. In the baby room we all looked at each other with big eyes and remarked what a miracle it was that this baby was alive. In most cases of umbilical cord prolapse the baby dies. It is not something that happens often. Some of the doctors remarked that they had only seen it happen 3 or 4 times over a career of 30 plus years in which they assisted the birth of over 7000 babies. This baby was special and God had miraculously intervened to protect her from harm.

The somber atmosphere soon changed into one of celebration as nurses and doctors checked Olivia's vitals and saw how well she was faring. She was doing so well that her dad could do Kangaroo Care or skin-on-skin, a bonding exercise in which the naked baby lies on her daddy's chest and is warmed by his skin. It is only allowed once the baby's oxygen absorption levels are high enough and the paediatrician is satisfied that she has adjusted to life outside the womb. Stef held Olivia and breathed the smell of her deeply. He would die for this kid. I am pretty sure the whole roller coaster ride took a few years off his life.

Dr Joubert came by to check on the new baby girl as soon as surgery was over and collapsed on the floor, laughing and shaking his head in grateful relief. He was exhausted from the stress and only then did everyone realise just how close they had come to disaster.

Ally was wheeled to her room, still groggy from the anaesthesia, and held her baby for the first time. Tears of relief and joy and a little sadness washed away the stress of the day as she cuddled Olivia to her chest. This little girl is loved beyond words.

As always, we love being part of people's stories, but a birth like this makes the photos so much more valuable. We make our plans and we try to execute them, but life happens the way it wants to and all our carefully crafted ideas sometimes get thrown out the window through no fault of our own. Ally sent me a message a few days later saying: "you have given me memories I never had!!!!! I’m a mess but a good mess!! I will phone you tomorrow so I can thank you ... because this is something I cannot even put into words...."

Congratulations Ally and Stef... and Olivia - welcome to the world, baby girl, welcome to the world!


Lizelle and Charlotte