When Shannon Waters went into labor before 36 weeks, it was clear that her second daughter's birth was not going to go according to plan. She and her husband rushed to the hospital when her water broke at home, but she was informed they didn't do deliveries before 36 weeks, so she had to be transported to another facility. Luckily, Shannon's cousin, a paramedic, was in the ambulance transferring her, which was a source of calm in the midst of the chaotic beginning of her daughter's birth story.
Once at the hospital, Shannon's husband — who had gone home to pack their things with their 6-year-old daughter — stood by her side, and she used his presence and any fear she had over her baby's early delivery as inspiration to get through her labor. Although baby Atira's birth was a bit of an emotionally charged blur, Shannon's birth photographer, Ashley Marston, was able to capture the most stunning images of Shannon in her raw state.
"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 . . . " Shannon told the Huffington Post. "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."
Shannon continues, adding that she felt completely overwhelmed by everything that was happening, but she knew she had to keep going no matter what.
After about five or six pushes, she came! . . . I got a chance to hold her for like a minute before they asked the pediatrics team to take her and check her. . . . 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.
Although the details of Atira's birth may seem hazy to Shannon now that her healthy baby girl is home, the stunning images taken by Ashley are a reminder of the emotions of that night. "I'm so, so grateful that we have these birth photos," Shannon said. "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. . . . I was strong and it all turned out OK."
Ahead, the beautiful photos from Atira's birth.