Hi, this is John Pottenger writing to share my experience capturing this incredible story. 🙂
I have 2 children, Lexi (6) and Max (almost 3) and seeing them come into this world was simply the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed. So when Michelle and Clayton e-mailed me with the idea to film their home birth, I jumped at the chance. After all, what could be better than the beauty of a new person entering this world, then to artistically capture the process on film!
After a failed attempt 2 years ago to film a birth for the family due to a super fast delivery, Michelle contacted me again this year to try to capture her next upcoming birth. I of course said yes, and on September 16th found myself driving over to their home at 10:30pm.
Upon walking in as I unloaded my gear, I could hear Michelle fighting through some contractions and it suddenly hit me that no drugs were being used and I might be in for quite a different experience than I had seen with Lexi and Max… though I should point out that my wife Amy was a rock star and basically delivered Lexi with no pain killers as they had all worn off, and Max was basically pushed out through her own strength as the contractions decided to stop late in the process. Yeah, my wife is pretty much a rock star! Perhaps it was these memories that refocused me on the task at hand, and I quickly set up cameras on a few tripods.
My plan was to set up 2 cameras (a wider shot and medium close up shot) to capture the birth itself, which would free me to move around the room and shoot faces and reactions with a 3rd camera.
In the weeks leading up to the event, I had thought a lot about my approach. I was going to be filming a person in excruciating pain, likely she’d be sweating, upset, making faces that she wouldn’t like to remember and to top it off, larger than her ideal size for a video shoot. Clearly I had my work cut out for me. It was with these hurdles in mind that I decided to focus on the little things, hands, feet, movement, a comforting massage and support from her husband Clayton. My goal you could say was to show Michelle’s face sparingly, and try to avoid showing her in focus at times. I wanted to show the process in a way that she would not cringe while watching it.
Sound was also a consideration. I decided early on that I’d like to have sound, but only in small pieces. I wanted to show struggle, but just the right amount. I also toyed with the idea of having the whole video finished in black and white. In the end however, I felt that with the shots that I captured, Color was better and could still be “Rated G”. That’s was another thing, I REALLY wanted to share this video, and I knew there had to be a “Rated G” version that could be shown. I had talked with Michelle and Clayton about this in advance and we had discussed the idea of giving them a “private” version, and then I could post a “public” one for my portfolio. They were both very gracious and trusting with me about all of this, and gave me full permission to film every part of the process. In fact they specifically requested that I film the actual birth and not hold back.
After setting my cameras up, I began to film some setting shots. Michelle at this time was working through contractions which were getting stronger with each round. It was only minutes after I arrived that their Midwife, Yolanda was called and on her way. The next 15 to 20 minutes were rough. Michelle was getting close to pushing and the midwife had not yet arrived. Once she did arrive though, her calming manor and leadership helped Michelle focus. At this point Michelle transitioned to the tub and began battling the worst of the contractions. Another 20 minutes or so passed, and near the end of the process, the kids were woken up and brought in.
The birth was very straightforward, and strangely for me, (after only being in hospitals for births) I was very calm and not nervous about the process at all. I thought I would be nervous about not being near a doctor, but I was impressed at just how in control, calming and experienced Yolanda was. I was told later she has delivered over 3000 babies! She actually had a ton of medical gear with her… more than I expected which for me added to the calm of the situation knowing she was a pro.
Michelle was incredible throughout the entire process, constantly going from extreme pain and fear to praying calmingly to God for help. I was impressed with her faith through this process, and her dependence on God through it all. More than once I saw sheer panic turn into 100% trust in God through Prayer. WOW! The focus and faith she had at those completely awful moments was simply inspiring.
After the birth, the family took turns holding the baby while Michelle cleaned up and moved to the bed to rest. It was wonderful to see their other kids be involved (even at 12:15am awakened from sleep) and to see them interact, each in their own way.
Lastly I wanted to comment on the music. I spent a lot of time finding music. I wanted the feeling to be that of excitement, anticipation and mostly a positive uplifting feeling. I felt this would help the viewer see the pain as something beautiful and worth suffering through. Finding the first song actually was pretty easy, but finding a song with lyrics that were applicable was VERY difficult. I must have spent over 2 hours just looking for the right songs.
In closing I thought I’d share Michelle and Clayton’s thoughts on the process. I asked them for their feedback as I had never done this before and was so curious to know what their perspective on the process was. Here is what they wrote.
“I thought that night went well. For me I was mostly concerned with when to have you come, I didn’t want to have you come too early and be there forever if things didn’t move along. Now looking back I would have had you come maybe an hour earlier, especially since you were probably waiting for our call anyway. When you got there things were moving along, some of the less intense labor might have been nice to capture before I zoned out. But after seeing the video I don’t feel it was all that important. Once you were on your way I was able to let the whole thing go, I was able to release that part and just focus on what I was doing. I knew you had arrived and were setting up but it was just stuff that was happening it didn’t affect what I was doing, it was very much in the background for me. I know you were there but looking back it is hard for me to see it because I don’t think I was even registering it that night. Beforehand I thought the camera equipment would distract me but they could have been lamps for all I noticed once they were set up.
For me I thought you did an excellent job being there but not being in the way. We do have a nice set up for that with the room being fairly large so that worked in our favor. I love the video! I was a bit apprehensive to watch it, not knowing what to expect but it was very sweet and touching. I wish I had videos of all my kids being born. You have a real gift for putting all the footage together and making something beautiful. Clayton said last night after we watched it that you are really good, you could have taken the same footage and made a horror film 🙂 I really like the songs too, especially the second one. Watching the video makes me sad its all over and so grateful to have it captured. Thank you!”
“I think for me, meeting John beforehand was VERY important. It is a very personal and private experience and I think it relieves a lot of pressure/anxiety. If he pursues taping home births as part of his business, I feel he should insist on meeting the entire family at some point a few weeks before the due date. I was shocked at how much equipment there was. It really didn’t matter, I just didn’t expect so much. So, during the preliminary “meeting the family interview” it could be mentioned. 🙂
John was very courteous and “invisible.” I feel he was very respectful of what was happening. He double checked with me on issues regarding interacting with Michelle, as well as what we wanted recorded. He got a feel for where people would most likely be and when before he set up. He didn’t leave until he spoke with both of us and made sure he captured everything we expected. I didn’t know he was there most of the time. I didn’t expect many of the shots that he actually got. The video was very well put together.
I would do it all over again!”