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I liked Julie right from the get-go. She was pregnant with her second child. She knew what she wanted for her birth. She researched. She made lists. She was a PLANNER.
I love planners. I’M a planner. But eight years into motherhood, I’ve come to terms with having a plan but being ready to ditch it at a moment’s notice. And that’s the sweet spot with birth.
Have a plan. Be prepared to toss it.
Case in point. Julie and Dave’s first daughter was conceived shortly after their fertility doctor claimed they couldn’t become pregnant without IVF. Miracle Pregnancy #1. When Julie and Dave wanted to have a second baby they followed the same hormone and lifestyle regimen they had implemented before their first pregnancy. Again, the fertility doctor said it was unlikely they would get pregnant without IVF. Three months later. . .BAM! Miracle pregnancy #2.
The fertility doctor had a plan. He had to toss it.
About halfway through her pregnancy, Julie was diagnosed with complete placenta previa. If the previa didn’t work itself out, her doctors planned for her to have C-section. Which was NOT was she wanted. It was not part of HER plan.
At 34 weeks, the previa had cleared. Yay! Now the baby was transverse. Boo!
Julie sought out a chiropractor who used The Webster Technique and she started a routine of inversions to help move the baby into a better position.
At 36 weeks, the baby was head down. Yay!
At 39 weeks, I met Julie at the hospital. She was having some moderate bleeding. Thankfully, everything was fine and the baby was still head down. Yay! We all went home.
Two days later, on New Year’s Eve, Julie notified me that she and Dave were going to the hospital. She thought she was in labor. It was just before midnight.
Do you remember New Year’s Eve 2017? Yeah, it was cold enough to freeze lava. I decided to drive to the hospital BEFORE any party-goers got on the road, having left their wits in a champagne bottle. (Since I was on-call for this birth, there were no bottles claiming my own wits.) I was still driving at 12 a.m., when my oldest daughter sent me an enthusiastic “Happy New Year” message through our walkie-talkie phone app. She has been pumped that this was the first year she was allowed to stay awake until midnight. She can tell time now so there’s no fooling her anymore.
Meanwhile, Julie and Dave shared a New Year’s kiss in the hospital parking lot. Did I mention it was as cold as f#*@?
It turned out that Julie was not in labor BUT now the baby was breech. Boo! This was not part of the chiropractor’s plan. She had never helped a patient flip a baby only to have it flip back. The doctors admitted Julie to the hospital with intention to perform a C-section the following day. I drove home to get some rest.
A scan the next morning showed the baby was back to being transverse. Though her doctor wanted to go ahead with the C-section, Julie asked for one day.
One day and she would flip her baby.
Julie knew what she wanted for her birth. She had researched. She had made lists. She had a plan.
After a day of doing stretches and inversions taught to her by her chiropractor, a scan showed that the baby was head down. Yay! The scan also showed that Julie was hauling around six times more than the normal amount of amniotic fluid. No wonder this baby was flipping so much.
Julie’s womb was the baby’s Olympic swimming pool.
Before the baby had a chance to flip yet again, Julie and Dave were sent to Labor and Delivery, her water was broken (picture Niagra Falls), and a Pitocin drip was started. I joined them shortly thereafter.
I need to pause here for a minute and go back to my initial consultation with Julie months earlier. When we got together to chat she described the birth images she had viewed online: women screaming in agony, resting peacefully in birthing pools, and laboring resolutely in their own homes. Julie wanted a hospital birth. She wanted an epidural. She was concerned her birth images would be. . .boring.
I assured her that no matter how her birth unfolded, boring was one thing it would NOT be.
Birth is the single most moving and visceral of all human experiences. No matter the journey, it is unavoidably unpredictable and arrestingly beautiful.
When I arrived in the L&D room Julie was in her groove laboring along. The contractions became more intense. She called for an epidural. Now here’s an interesting tid-bit.
There was only one anesthesiologist in the hospital that day.
So there was some waiting for that epidural. Once in the room and ready to administer the medicine, the anesthesiologist was called out to help another patient. More waiting. Contractions becoming more intense.
Finally, Julie got her epidural. Yay!
But it didn’t work. Boo!
The anesthesiologist was called back to re-administer. More waiting. More intense contractions. Eventually, he returned and set up his gear to redo the epidural.
A Code Blue rang out throughout the hospital.
The anesthesiologist ran from the room.
More waiting. A bit later, the epidural was redone and it worked. Julie relaxed. Her labor progressed quickly from there and soon it was time to meet her baby.
Julie and Dave hadn’t learned the sex of their child during the pregnancy.
Their faces lit up as they saw their baby for the first time and Julie exclaimed “It’s a girl!”
Miracle baby #2.
Julie had a plan. Her health-care providers had their plans. In some form or another. everyone had to toss their plans.
Because birth is a fickle beast.
As for any concern about lack of excitement. . . Julie's birth images are a lot of things. Boring is NOT one of them.
P.S. If you're an expectant mom, get the FREE printable list of little jobs your visitors can help out with while you nest with your new baby. Because you should be drinking up all that newborn goodness and let someone else handle the cooking and cleaning. Click here to get the printable.
I remember the day my husband and I brought home our firstborn daughter. She was dozing in her car seat. We rested the whole baby bucket gently on our ottoman. We sat down on the couch and looked at her. We looked at each other. We looked at our cats who were watching cautiously from across the room. And then one of us said, “This is really weird.”
And it was. Bizarre, really.
Over the next 24 hours we were fixated on a single mission: keep the baby alive. And we did. Which gave us confidence for the next 24 hours. And so on.
Having a baby in the house became less and less surreal each hour that passed. We were adjusting to a new dynamic. I soon learned that caring for a newborn put a decent dent in the time that I had previously spent on house work and meal prep. I began to feel (as 99.9% of new moms do) OVERWHELMED.
Eventually, friends and family made trips over to visit. It was wonderful to share this exciting time with the people we loved.
Vibes of possibility and reverence drifted throughout our home.
BUT. . .
(and this is coming from a place of love. . .)
The FIRST thing visitors wanted to do when they dropped by (after the thoughtful washing if their hands) was hold the baby. Of course they did! Who doesn’t want to hold a precious newborn baby? It turned out that the ONLY thing visitors wanted to do when they dropped by was hold the baby. Again, I get it. Sweet smelling cherub in the house.
“I’ll hold the baby while you get some rest.” I heard this A LOT.
Now every mama is different. For some, having another person take care of your newborn while you catch some z’s is pure paradise. And that’s absolutely OK. But for me, during those initial weeks, I couldn’t sleep without my baby next to me. It made me anxious to be in a different room than her for an extended time. It felt like I was missing a body part.
Even when I was in the same room and not holding my baby for a while it was uncomfortable for me. When others held her, she ultimately fussed. Often the well-meaning visitor tried to calm her. Of course. Who wouldn’t try to calm a crying baby? But my baby wanted ME. And I knew it.
(BTW, babies are supposed to want to be near their mothers. It’s not personal. It’s biological.)
Do you know what happens when a mama hears and sees her newborn upset? At least, this is how it went for me. I instantly kicked into HIGH ALERT mode. My senses became heightened. A wave of heat started at my face and moved down through my toes. My milk let down and I knew I’d have to replace my breast pads. Not comforting my child became physically painful.
(BTW, mothers are supposed to want to be near their babies. It’s not personal. It’s biological.)
At first I was too worried about hurting others’ feelings and asking for my baby back. Which, in hindsight, was RIDICULOUS. Surely, my visitors wouldn’t have felt snubbed if I said “I’m going to take her back now for some more mama-baby bonding.” The people who loved my family were HAPPY to help us. And I’m certain had I just asked for what I really needed, they would have jumped at the chance.
Because, dang, did I need help. I was moving at post-C-section speed. There were piles of laundry, stacks of dishes, and few groceries in the house. I was in the mindset that I could DO IT ALL myself, but that’s a big fat sham. No one can.
By the time I had my second daughter, I knew more about the mother I wanted to be and that resonated with my friends and family. I was clear to others and myself about what I wanted those first weeks to look like.
Many friends and relatives came to help, REALLY help. I also had a toddler running around and was truly grateful when someone stopped by to play with her or took her out for a few hours. I felt relieved that the necessary housework was getting done and blessed that I had time to get to know and nurture my new baby girl.
For all mothers-to-be who may be lacking confidence in the voice of their mama heart, please, know this:
Your own intuition is your wisest advisor.
You will only have this time with this child once.
Hold your baby.
P.S. If you or someone you know is expecting a newborn, download my FREE Visitor Task List to help gently nudge friends and family towards providing you with REAL help!
"Me with our old dog, Baggins."
That's what my friend replied when I asked her what kinds of pictures she wished she had from her childhood. I asked her that in mid-February.
Fast forward one month and we lost our dear cat Molly who was with us for more than 16 years.
After we broke the news to our girls, we all sat on the couch and looked through an old photo album from when Molly and her brother Desmond were kittens. It was healing and comforting to see them young and bright.
The album pictures came from an era before cell phone cameras and before I had a digital camera. Pages and pages of pictures that were shot on FILM and developed at a drug store. Most of the pictures were of the cats themselves, but the ones I was most drawn to were me and my husband WITH the cats.
Those pictures brought me back to the moment.
Like the photos of Molly resting her head against my husband's chin as she laid on his chest. I saw her do that just the day before she died.
But for all those drug-store snapshots, I came up short when I thought about what photos I have of our girls with the cats.
Because once the girls were here, that's where my photo attention turned. This past year I've been more intentional about taking pictures of our pets (we now have two young male cats in the mix), BUT I've been moved to shoot them mainly when they're in beautiful light or doing something obnoxious. Not necessarily when they're snuggling or playing with the rest of the family.
I wish I had more pictures of humans and pets together.
Your take home message: Photograph the family pet. WITH your kids. WITH you.
If you have a family photo session INCLUDE beloved family pets. If your photographer won't oblige, find another photographer.
These are photos that matter.
And in five, ten, twenty years when you have to say good-bye to your treasured friend, you'll be so GRATEFUL you made effort.
Last week we lost our 16-year old cat Molly. She died during the night in front of our living room fireplace - her favorite spot to rest in recent months. My husband had been sleeping not too far from her on the couch, when she passed. He found her when we woke. We knew her days were numbered. We had hoped for more time. We were dumbstruck when we realized.
Molly and her brother Desmond were our first children. I adopted them as kittens during grad school while living in Oklahoma. I had wanted a dog. I had even checked out dogs books from the library.
Because I was, and still am, all about research.
My then-boyfriend/now-husband convinced me that cats were the way to go.
As usual, he was right. Eye roll.
We named them after the characters in the song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" because The Beatles was one of the few bands we could agree on. We became "Mommy" and "Daddy" to our cats. Don't judge. They were our babies. Before we had human babies. You pet people know what I'm talking about, right?
And if you don't, you're missing out on one of life's extraordinary adventures.
Dear Desmond and Molly,
I remember the day we first met at the Cats Only Clinic. I fell in love with you instantly, Molly, your ears WAY too big for your tiny head. Desmond, you did your best song and dance to get our attention. And I'm GRATEFUL you chose us.
I can't describe the sheer comfort you brought me when I was half-way across the country from my family. You were my safety net, my soft spot, my living and breathing lovies while I was in a strange land with TORNADOES and BROWN RECLUSE SPIDERS (come to find out we have those in Jersey too),
I called your names each evening before bed and you both came running like puppies and leaped onto the covers. We slept cuddled together most every night. Eventually, Molly, you hung out more with Daddy. And when the girls were born, Desmond, you pledged allegiance to the only other male in the house. It's OK. I get it. He needed you.
I held you both and cried into your fur the day the twin towers fell. Together we watched endless replays on the screen in disbelief. It was terrifying being so far away from everyone. I thank the Universe, I had YOU that day.
Navigating new mom life was OVERWHELMING. Times when it felt like too much, Daddy reminded me to "take some Molly's belly." Because burying my face in your belly fur was PURE HEAVEN. The softest material ever. Your dad and I brainstormed ways we could market it should we ever find an unlimited supply.
Everyone who visited us regularly was aware of the "Rule of Molly." Your father instituted this early on.
Molly is not to be moved or caused to move unless it is for the greater good of Molly.
You were much more fickle than your brother in your adult years and for you to sit on our laps was a gift. Perhaps this was Daddy's excuse to not answer the phone, answer the door, make dinner, tend to a human child, etc. But since he practically peed his pants on more than once because he didn't want to disturb you, I'm fairly certain the Rule of Molly stemmed from pure adoration.
We instituted the "Rule of Molly as applied to Desmond" when you both became seniors. It's not that we loved you any less, Desmond. It was that you was so stinkin' LOVABLE. Thank you for letting us pick you up, hold you upside down, and squish you any which way. Thank you for sitting on Daddy's shoulder like a parrot and for not leaving my side for over 12 hours after I had sinus surgery. Thank you for making biscuits on my belly when I had cramps.
You two gave us so much more than we could ever give you in return. We were so DAMN LUCKY to have you in our lives and you will be remembered always.
One of THE biggest struggles busy parents have with booking a professional family photo session is that it's a huge TIME SUCK.
Or so they think.
Here's a quick quiz to debunk the myths involving time commitments and preparation for family photography.
A family photo session must happen at
A. a photography studio
B. a pretty park
C. either a or b
D. anywhere you damn well please
The correct answer is choice D.
Your family is having a pancake breakfast at a favorite diner? I can make AWESOME pictures of that. There's a soccer game at 1 PM and then everybody's headed to the park? I can make AWESOME pictures of that. You're hanging around the house while the kids do arts and crafts and splash in the rain puddles? I can make AWESOME pictures of that.
You don't have to MAKE TIME for a documentary photography session. Because the whole point of documentary photography is to capture your REAL LIFE.
If you stopped life to load everyone in the car and drive to a park and sit on a blanket together and tickle each other, well, that would be. . .weird. Unless that's something you do on a regular basis. In which case, no judgment and I can make AWESOME pictures of that.
The best time for your kids to get a haircut before your family photo session is
A. one week prior
B. two weeks prior
C. the morning of
D. whenever you damn well please
The correct answer is D.
Haircuts are a part of life. Every now and then bad haircuts are a part of life. No one loves their kid any less when his hair is getting a little shaggy and in need of a trim, or when the barber chops off a bit too much, right?
You won't love your photos any less if your kid is having a bad hair day. Because the true personailities of your loved ones are all you will see in your photos.
The best outfit to wear during a documentary family photo session is
A. a white shirt and khaki pants
B. a mixture of textures and colors
C. a graphic T-shirt and jeans
D. whatever you damn well please
The correct answer is D.
Truth time and REALLY hear me on this:
You feel best when you are the most comfortable and confident. When you feel your best, you look your best.
And that shows through in your pictures.
So wear what you like to wear. Let your kids wear their favorites, even if it's a red and lime green top with gold leggings and a magenta tutu. Again, it's the authentic moments and family dynamics that will monopolize your images. And that's a good thing, my friend. That's a good thing.
The time you should spend cleaning your home for a documentary photo session is
A. six hours
B. 2 hours
C. 30 minutes
The correct answer is D.
We are photographing your NOW. And if your now mean piles of dirty dishes and enough cat hair to make a set of throw pillows, that's OK.
I'm not going to document your mess and sell the pictures to a tabloid. And if it makes you feel better, come look at my messes here. Honestly, either I compose an image so that clutter is not front in center OR the clutter helps to tell the story. Either way, you still win.
Thanks for taking the quiz! I hope this opened you up to the possibility of a photo session that doesn't eat into your already too scarce and too precious time.
I'm calling you out, friend. "I don't have time for a photo session" is no longer a valid excuse.
Because when you actually DO have the time, your kids will be grown, and you'll realize that you have little or no visual stories of their childhood. No tangible memories for you or them. And THAT would be a damn shame.