Birth of a Baby. Birth of a Mother. Birth of a Portrait Photographer. Birth of a new Life Chapter.
Before I got pregnant with Ellie I felt like I had a pretty good grip on my life. I had been a commercial food and product photographer for several years, and had big plans in the works. I did family portraits occasionally, and I always thought birth photography and portrait photography were beautiful, but I didn’t feel like it was the right fit for me because I had been focused on other subject matter for so long. I was excited about the direction of my work, but I was also content and not pushing very many boundaries. I was settled in. Adam and I got married in a perfect sunset wedding on the beach in Charleston in 2015, and then moved to Tennessee for a new adventure. The only piece of our puzzle that seemed to be missing was a baby. We were ready to grow our family – everything else was working out just the way we wanted it to.
Well. The universe has a way of course correcting us when we’ve gone a little adrift of what we’re meant for. Oprah’s quote comes to mind here.
“Life whispers to you all the time. It whispers, and if you don’t get the whisper, the whisper gets louder. If you don’t get the whisper when it gets louder, I call it like a little pebble — a little thump — upside the head.. The pebble or the thump upside the head usually means it’s gone into a problem. If you don’t pay attention to the problem, the pebble then becomes like a brick. The brick upside your head is a crisis, and If you don’t pay attention to the brick upside your head, the crisis turns into a disaster and the whole house — brick wall — comes falling down.” — Oprah Winfrey
It was time for a metamorphosis. And I had no idea it was coming. I had ignored the whispers (they were there when I think back). I had shaken off the thumps. The universe decided that I needed to be torn down to get this one figured out. We thought getting pregnant with Ellie would be easy. Everyone warns you throughout your entire teen/young adult life to be careful not to get pregnant! So much as look at a boy wrong and you’ll end up with 5 kids and all your dreams tossed to the wind. So the first few cycles of trying were fun and exciting. Then things started to get tense and confusing. Why wasn’t it working? Why were my cycles suddenly crazy and irregular. Then the doctors started throwing around terms like “extremely low progesterone” and “luteal phase defect” and “potential pcos.” After a year they start throwing around “unexplained infertility” and “let’s look at treatment options.” Infertility treatments are not typically covered by insurance, so we switched to a doctor who was very experienced in infertility, in an effort to do anything we possibly could before getting referred out to an infertility clinic where money would become a much, much larger concern. I scheduled my appointment with her and we planned to talk about initial medications and first steps that would happen at a clinic.
I didn’t sleep the night before the appointment, and got up obscenely early that morning. All morning long I kept getting this feeling like I should take a pregnancy test. I was annoyed by the thought, because, by now, I had taken so many that just looking at the box gave me anxiety. But the feeling was so strong I finally gave in. I had one test left. And guys. It was positive. I stared at in in total disbelief for a good 45 minutes. I was honestly emotionally frozen. Was it a false positive? Was it right? I waited SO anxiously in the Dr.’s office, and when she finally came in and dove headfirst into big scary words and treatment options – I interrupted her and gave her the news. I thought she would smile. Or laugh? I thought she would be excited for me. She wasn’t. With a very low voice and a serious face she said “Even if it is right, your hormones are in such bad shape that they’ll never support a pregnancy. I’ll run some tests, but I would advise you not to tell your family about this. Not your parents or your husband. This will probably end in a miscarriage in the next week or two. I’m sorry.” And she walked out of the room.
I didn’t miscarry. But what followed were weeks upon weeks of emergency ultrasounds, bleeding, confusing reports, and frightening phone calls. I stayed bedridden for the first trimester, terrified that I would do something wrong. I stopped working. I stopped socializing. My husband and my parents knew what was happening but no one else. The depression was so low and the anxiety so high, that I was entirely lost in emotion. I disappeared. At the end of my first trimester I had had enough of that Dr. and their horrendous tests and confusing results and terrifying ultrasounds where I couldn’t see the screen and the technician wouldn’t look me in the eyes or tell me what they saw. I switched to Baby and Company in Nashville and told them my situation. They took me on, and let me know that, whatever happened they would support me through it. They weren’t scary. They were empathetic. At my first ultrasound with them, Adam and I walked numbly into the room. As I lay on the table fully expecting the same horrible experience we’d experienced time and time again for the last 12 weeks, suddenly an enormous screen flashed on in front of us. And the technician, with the happiest of voices, said “there’s your sweet little baby!” We saw her little heart beating for the first time. Adam and I collapsed into each other in tears on the elevator ride back to our car.
From that point on everything progressed normally. As far as Baby and Company was concerned – we had a healthy baby and everything was right on track. We found out the sex of the baby at 15 weeks, in an attempt to make it feel more “real.” It helped and we chose a name together to give our little girl. Everything got happier. Everything got sunnier. We bought baby clothes and had a baby shower. We decided we wanted photographs of her birth and found a birth photographer. But I think we were both still on guard. At every check – up appointment Adam played our good luck song for Ellie “Here comes the Sun.” I put off doing her nursery until the last few weeks of the pregnancy. And buying her things still sent me into an anxiety attack if I wasn’t in EXACTLY the right frame of mind. I think I was protecting myself just in case. And I never reopened my creative side. I did what work I had to to bring in money. Other than that I was closed off to everything. No more big plans. No more ideas. Just one foot in front of the other.
Her birth was so beautiful. I did Hypnobabies and started my self hypnosis tracks at about 5pm on March 6, 2017. Her birth happened fast. We made it to the birth center just after 8:00pm and Ellie was born at 10:28. Adam said that he looked at my face as Ellie was coming into this world, and that I looked straight up and my pupils went to pinpricks. He said it looked as though my soul left my body for a moment. I think he was right. Throughout her birth I felt like a passenger in my body. My body was totally in control and I was separated out into my awareness. When she was born I think my soul split into two pieces and part of it left with her. She is a part of me after all.
They laid her on my chest and I remember being so in awe of her. She was crying and so real and so present. That first night she nursed well and Adam and I were so filled with joy and relief that she had made her way safely to us. We took her home at 4:00am.
Now this next part is hard for me to talk about. It makes me feel guilty I think. They tell you that as soon as your baby is born you will be madly in love and blissful and rosy. And I did LOVE Ellie with every fiber of my being. But Ellie had colic. Such bad colic. And she started screaming the moment we got home and didn’t stop for 6 months. I loved her because she was my baby. But I didn’t feel like I knew who she was yet. She was this tiny, angry stranger that I loved but that I didn’t know how to help. I was sleep deprived to the extreme. My milk didn’t come in and my nipples were bleeding and sore. My whole body felt broken and I felt broken and she looked broken. They told me I would know what to do when she cried. That I would be able to comfort her. That I would be all she needed. And that I would be infatuated with her. The reality was I didn’t know anything. I couldn’t make her stop crying and I didn’t know how to make her feel better. I felt inadequate. I loved her but there was no time for infatuation. I was just trying to survive.
Over the first year of her life I grew into an entirely new person. Ellie and I learned each other. My milk eventually came in, and she thrived. When the colic waned and my post partum anxiety tapered a bit, I moved out of survival mode and started to learn about my new self and my amazing little girl. At 6 months I remember looking at her and thinking “Oh there you are baby.” And at 8 months I remember thinking “Oh here I am.” It took me a long time to find both of us. To get to know both of us. And then at some point along the way I thought “THIS is the bliss. This is what they were all talking about.” It didn’t come to me the second I laid eyes on her. No that was an intense, protective, binding love. But definitely not bliss. Bliss came later. After bliss, everything opened up for me. It wasn’t like a door opening; it was bigger than that. It was like every door and every window of a house was opened on the brightest of sunny days and I was filled with light. I knew I wanted to start creating again, but I knew that everything was different, so my work would be different. I was so affected by my recent life events and experiences, that I became, not only infatuated with my relationship with Ellie, but also with the relationships between all parents and children. With the incredible power of women’s bodies and minds. I put everything I had into starting a new business that focused on new mothers and new babies and young families. The photographs I have of Ellie, and of Ellie and Adam and I, when she is so very small are my greatest treasures. It’s hard to remember the little details when you’re in the survival mode of new parenthood, so I felt called to start photographing those moments for people and turning them into tangible memories that they could carry with them and pass down to their children and grandchildren.
The universe knew that, to correct the direction of my life, I was going to have to go through a body and mind metamorphosis. So on March 6th, 2017 a beautiful baby girl was born. A family was born.
And I was reborn.