Hello Baby! - Baby Rausch's Arrival - October 5, 2019
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
I was connected to Crystal earlier this year through a mutual friend. We met in the spring and over the course of the summer I was able to get closer with Crystal and spend time filming her, her husband Matt, and their hilariously charming daughter, Olivia.
Crystal had told me about the birth of her daughter Olivia, nearly three years ago. Olivia arrived at 34 weeks and it was a pretty crazy experience for Crystal and Matt (and that’s probably an understatement, but that’s not my story to tell). Because of this, Crystal and I had been on guard about her delivering earlier than her September 29th due date. In fact, I think we both had it in our heads that this baby was for sure going to arrive in the first half of September.
So you can imagine the irony of it all that Crystal’s due date came and went with no baby. I had had my baby bag packed since September 7th, sleeping with my phone on loud for the entirety of September, and no baby. If my friends texted me after the hours of 10pm or before 7am (this happens, actually), my heart would race and I would think IT IS TIME (like Rafiki, from The Lion King). And yet, it was never time!
I checked in with Crystal weekly, but I was especially eager to hear about her 40-week appointment. After some back and forth, I learned that we were crossing our fingers for an induction on Sunday the 6th of October. If the hospital was full that day, we’d be shooting for Tuesday, the 8th. Perfect. Obviously inductions aren’t necessarily ideal, but at least for me I could get this on my schedule and rearrange my calendar as needed! I was pretty thrilled.
On Friday the 4th, I met a friend for happy hour in West Seattle. As we were chatting and well into our second glasses of wine, she asked me about how filming births was going. It was going great! In fact, I was on call! I told her about the induction scheduled for Sunday. Still, I said, I should probably just check my phone quickly.
THE PANIC when I saw that I’d received a text from Crystal that had come in FIFTY MINUTES AGO. But as I was going to open it, I was like, you chill. Relax. She would have sent a ton of texts if she was going into labor. There’s only one. Relax.
The text let me know that her contractions were ten minutes apart and were really painful. She was waiting for her doctor to call her back. You guys have to understand that for the entirety of this pregnancy, Crystal and I had joked multiple times, and I had said to her, DO NOT even think about going into labor during rush hour on a weekday. So didn’t it seem appropriate that Crystal went into labor at 3:30pm on a FRIDAY.
I knew she was delivering in Puyallup, and I was in West Seattle with three inches left in my white wine. If you’re familiar with the geography of the Puget Sound region, you will know that West Seattle is about forty minutes away from Puyallup without traffic. At like, three in the morning. This was during rush hour on a Friday.
I texted Crystal back and said let me know what your doctor says. I wrapped it up with my friend and as I was walking back to my car I was like, there’s no way. There is NO WAY I’m going to make it to Puyallup in time. Nope! I frantically drove home – of course the major intersection I needed to use was closed, so it took me almost fifteen minutes to get home. I flew inside to grab my bags and change into some leggings and something comfier than my work clothes. I ran into my stepdad who so politely asked me about my day and I was like I HAVE TO GO THE BABY IS COMING I HAVE TO GO I’M SO HUNGRY I HAVE TO GO! He asked if I wanted him to make me a veggie burger which is something I feel like I will remember forever because I literally was a whirling dervish and 100% did not have time for him to make me a veggie burger, but my god, the sentiment was there and well received.
I grabbed a little protein shake and a Spindrift and my bags and ran out to my rental car. My husband and I turned in our Subaru Crosstrek this week as the lease was up and we’re moving to Australia in a month. So I now have this little Hyundai with no GPS (I have been so spoiled for the last 36 months) and I’m sitting in the car trying to open Google Maps, which my husband so graciously installed for me (does anyone else feel like they’ve really let themselves go, electronically?). And I’m not completely inept but my adrenaline was pumping and oh my god I was so hungry and I was just like I NEED TO GET GOING. So I got Google Maps working and hit the road.
Praise to the blessed Google Maps overlords that took me the “fastest” route. I actually made it to the hospital in Puyallup in only ninety minutes. Which I know sounds like a long time (and trust me, it certainly felt like a long time when you’re trying to get to a birth before the baby is born), but for the situation at hand, it was actually pretty decent.
In August, Matt had drawn me a map depicting how to navigate through the labyrinth of the hospital, so I was able to find the birthing center pretty quickly! As I Tom-Cruise-in-my-socks slid into the waiting area of the birthing center, I saw Olivia! I was like, I know her! I know that 2-year-old!
She was with Crystal’s mom, who I didn’t recognize because I’d never met. I was like, “Hey! I’m Kendall! I’m the birth videographer!” And Crystal’s mom just goes, “Okay, I AM SO CONFUSED!” She then let me know that Crystal had not received an epidural yet and that it would probably be another hour and that NO ONE was happy about it. I was like, okay, got it, I will mentally prepare myself for that!
I got back to Crystal’s room JUST as she was getting her epidural (a happy surprise for Crystal who thought she was going to have to wait another hour at least). By the time I was into Crystal’s room, it was about 6:45pm. Matt was there, as well as their good friend. Over the course of the next few hours, several friends were in and out, as well as Olivia and Crystal’s mom. It was like one big birthing party! It was so clear how Crystal and Matt truly treasure their friends and their relationships. It was so cool for all of us to be there together, hanging out, anticipating this birth.
There was a joke going about how October 4th was the perfect birth date for this baby, as Matt is a police officer. 10-4. Get it? Crystal was at 9cm by 7pm and had a really awesome epidural going. The other thing that’s worth mentioning is that Crystal and Matt had not learned the sex of their baby ahead of time; so this was to be one beautiful, amazing surprise for them (and me, I was stoked).
Around 9:30 or 10:00, we kicked everyone out as Crystal was feeling more pressure and began to start pushing. She continued pushing with every other contraction for the next ninety minutes, with contractions coming every minute, but the problem was that her cervix was not cooperating. Without delving too much into those details, your cervix has to be totally effaced before you can truly work on pushing, and hers just wasn’t quite. So, with the help of her doctor, she kept trying to push. The baby was descending, but it was slow progress.
At 11:30pm, Crystal’s doctor made the call for a c-section. Baby was beginning to not tolerate the pushing anymore, and its heart rate was beginning to dip slightly. It was safer for everyone, at this point, for Crystal to proceed with a c-section. As the photographer and videographer, I was a bit deflated because I thought there’d be no way that I was going to be able to be in the operating room with Crystal as Matt would obviously be going in with her.
It was a huge surprise to me when the doctor brought in a pair of scrubs for me to put on. My adrenaline was up! I couldn’t believe this was happening! As Matt and I got into our scrubs, Crystal was prepped for the operation. This was when everything began to get intense.
Matt and I were directed into a room just off the OR to wait for our clearance to enter. Crystal was with the anesthesiologist and we couldn’t go in until the operation was ready to go. Matt and I waited in silence. It was tense; Crystal had been pushing for so long with such little progress and now here we were, anxiously awaiting this procedure. He and I chatted intermittently, but Matt is also a pretty quiet guy (unless he’s surrounded by his friends and family).
So we waited.
After what felt like an incredibly long time, we were led into the operating room. The head NICU nurse very firmly told me that I was not to take any photos of the baby until I was cleared to do so. Of course, I said no problem. The other lead nurse proceeded to add, “If we are resuscitating the baby, I don’t want any photos.” And I just remember thinking, why would you be doing that? Everything is fine. Everything was fine forty minutes ago. Why wouldn’t it be fine right now?
As Matt stood by Crystal and the procedure began, my heart began hammering in my chest. I stood back, out of the way. At 12:36am, we heard the time of birth called out. But that was all we heard. There was no crying.
Crystal said to Matt, “Matt, what is it? What is it?”
And he said, “I don’t know, I can’t see.”
She said, “Look over the curtain! Look and see!”
Just at that moment, the doctors were moving the baby to the nurses and Matt was able to tell Crystal that it was a boy. As they exchanged, “It’s a boy!” and “I knew it!” to each other through tearful whispers, I was painfully aware that there was still too much quiet around us.
It was then that it really hit me about what the nurse had said. She had known something that I hadn’t. Something had happened in the time that Matt and I were waiting in that side room. It was also at that moment when I felt the sides of my eyes going dark and my head starting to spin. I felt hot and I couldn’t catch my breath. In the last twenty-four hours I’d had one very small meal (for lunch, twelve hours ago) and that small protein shake on the drive to the hospital (with maybe a handful of snacks afterwards). I also do NOT do well with blood or needles or medical procedures in general. And here I was, standing in the OR at 12:40am, with no real sustenance in my body, SURROUNDED BY BLOOD AND NEEDLES. I remember one nurse rushing by me asking for a specific needle at exactly that moment and thinking to myself, “This is when I pass out.”
Matt stood by Crystal, his eyes watching the nurses. He stepped closer but the nurses were blocking him from being able to stand next to his son. We could barely see him.
“Is he okay?” Crystal asked. “Matt, is he okay?”
What could he say? We didn’t know. We didn’t know if he was okay.
“Is he okay?” she asked again. I looked from Crystal to Matt to the baby and back. I still couldn’t really see anything either. I so badly wanted to go to Crystal and put my hand on her head and tell her how beautiful he was and that he was okay. But I couldn’t. I had to stay out of the way of the other ten (at least) medical team members who were in the OR; and I had no idea if he was okay. He still wasn’t crying.
This went on for what felt like ten minutes, but in reality was probably closer to three or four. Finally, finally we heard a small cry. I was so emotional at this point that I was just trying to keep it together so I could do what I was there to do. Matt was able to step up to where the baby was and hold his little fingers in his own. The nurse who’d warned me about the resuscitation beckoned me to step closer and take photos.
I know that I did that, but I don’t remember telling my body to do that. I think every muscle in my body was tight from the intensity of the moment. I remember looking down at my hands and they were white from gripping my camera so tightly.
I don’t remember taking this photo.
It was like I was living so intensely in this moment that my hands just took over and began taking the photos. I barely remember taking any of these photos. I remember VIVIDLY the baby. I remember watching the bubbles come up from his mouth – from the CPAP, the nurses told me. I remember watching his fingers curl around his father’s. I remember the graphics on the scale that told us he was seven pounds, thirteen ounces. There was a cartoon panda and a rainbow and just all these other pointless details that I remember so vividly.
I remember watching tears roll down Crystal’s face as she laid helplessly watching Matt and her son from the operating table. I will never be able to forget her voice asking if he was okay. I remember Matt talking quietly to his son as the nurses continued to work. I remember one of the nurses telling me to move. I did. I remember another one immediately telling me to move again. I did.
But I don’t really remember taking these photos. I do remember thinking to myself, I hope these turn out, I hope these turn out. I was so deep in what was happening that I wasn’t even checking the photos to make sure they were okay until I finally took the camera over to Crystal to show her her son.
The baby was taken to the NICU very quickly, and Matt and I followed. I was told where to stand and was told to not get in the way and was told to not take any photos until I was instructed to do so. I sat in the appointed chair and tried to listen to Dr. Song explain to Matt what had happened.
To put this into another perspective, when a baby is born, it is given an Apgar score. The Apgar is basically used to determine how well the baby tolerated birth, and then again to tell how the baby is doing outside of its mother’s womb. The score is on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the lowest possible and 10 being the highest. A great and normal Apgar score for a baby is 7, 8, or 9. Crystal and Matt’s newborn son had scored a 1. That’s how scary this was.
The nurses and team of doctors who were working on the baby were fantastic. By the time that Matt and I walked out to the lobby where Crystal’s mom was waiting, the baby’s Apgar was up to 7. Walking out into that lobby was another experience in itself. Crystal’s mom had been waiting with no updates, essentially, and had no idea what was going on.
When Matt walked out and told her that it was a boy and that Crystal was okay, you could feel the relief from her mother. That lobby, empty except for us, was charged with a heart-gripping tide of emotion. Matt explained to her as calmly as he could what had happened; that Crystal was okay and that the baby was doing better, but wasn’t out of the woods yet. Matt told Olivia that she was a big sister! That she had a baby brother! It was a really beautiful moment.
It was after that moment that I told Matt that I was going to go. I couldn’t get near the baby with my camera as the nurses were still working. It was just after two o’clock in the morning at this point and I needed to get home and try to get some rest before a shoot I had scheduled for eleven in the morning later that day. I figured there was nothing left that I could do for Matt and Crystal at this point but leave them to be with each other privately.
As I drove home, I reflected on how the last ten hours had unfolded. Certainly not how I’d expected them to. I’d been a part of something that was arguably one of the most intense experiences of my life. While this was not my family, I feel like I was very much a part of their experience and had grown to adore them as a family. But that’s what I love about filming and photographing births. It really is the most intimate thing that you can let someone be a part of.
I stood there with Matt in the silence of that operating room. I watched him wipe tears from his own eyes before he wiped them from his wife’s cheek. I watched him hold the tiny hand of his newborn son. I watched Crystal’s face as she saw him for the first time. That is something no one else in this world will ever get to experience.
The baby, Matthew Lee Rausch Jr. was born at 12:36am on October 5th and is doing much better now, two days later. He is off oxygen and is able to be cuddled by his parents and his big sister. I can’t wait to film their newborn session this coming weekend and share their film with them in the upcoming weeks.
Thank you, Matt and Crystal, for letting me be so involved and be such a huge part of baby Matthew’s entrance into this world.