The Other Side

2020 was full of new experiences, and the global pandemic was probably the smallest part in my personal little world! When it started, the first thing they did was send my “child” back to her mom in Spain. (I totally understood, but it was heartbreaking. Marina was a perfect fit to our family, I adored having her here, and miss her everyday.) Step two was that Nick and I went on a diet (easy when you have to cook at home, and no longer have to feed a “growing” teenager ;), started taking daily walks, and began learning Spanish. As of today I’m on 303 consecutive days of learning/practicing through an app called Duolingo! We had fun virtual happy hour dates with my friends, and played lots of games. Since we already work from home, it wasn’t a huge adjustment.

Then June came and it was time to get back to work. With my job I only see a maximum of 6 people a week, which kept our potential exposure low, and we felt good about it. Mid-June I started with “symptoms”… Nick immediately jumped to pregnancy, meanwhile I was stuck on… “could be cancer”? We stuck to our prospective theories for a couple of weeks, I dismissed the first “test” because the line was so faint it couldn’t possibly mean anything… A week later, still no sign of the nausea, food aversions, or “chest” pain letting up, I sucked it up and took another one. Much harder to dismiss.

Here’s where things got hard. My dad and sister were coming to visit and I don’t have a stellar track record for keeping secrets. However, I wasn’t ready to believe this myself, let alone share. Being 38 and never having done this before was no joke. They put the fear of god into you right from the start… from the odds of your child having Down Syndrome or other chromosomal abnormalities having skyrocketed over your last ten years, to conditions like diabetes and preeclampsia. And as petty as it sounds… what on earth would I do with a boy?!

So I kept it to myself and hoped no one noticed my lack of alcohol consumption. Made it through the visitors without them noticing things that were red flags in my head, my lack of appetite, no alcohol, and the crazy number of times babies come up in conversation! Made it through my first ultrasound where they show you this alien parasite with a heartbeat inside you… completely bizarre and out of body. Whether it’s a stick or a person telling you you’re pregnant, it’s still just words. It took a good amount of time…months of time…for it to become “real”. I had genetic testing done to check for problems… and gender. All came back well! But not without plenty of worry and weighing of options.

Around 18 weeks when those tests came back, it was time to tell people. As any good photographer would do… I made a plan. I had set up one of the rooms in the house as the beginnings of the nursery and recorded peoples reactions as an announcement and keepsake. (You can find it on my Facebook page if you’re inclined.) At this point the whole process starts its accent into completely overwhelming. Dealing with your own emotions on a huge change is one thing, but having to juggle other people’s emotions, reactions, excitement, while being told or expected to feel a certain way, becomes far too overwhelming. For the record, not everyone jumps for joy at this news. Just as not everyone sees it as a death wish. Pregnancy, motherhood, birth all come in a range of a million feelings and everyone gets to experience it differently. Also… they will change. And you have no one to answer to. I wish I had understood that in the beginning instead of being made to constantly feel guilty.

For the record, I ALWAYS wanted a big family. I just never had rose colored glasses about being pregnant or giving birth. I love babies, but struggle with “children”, and then adore the teen/young adult part. If I’ve learned anything from pregnancy (I’m 38.5 weeks today.) it’s that things/feelings will change and grow, and I’ll be able to find the positives even in the middle of my innate realism. I will cherish the baby days beyond measure, but I will relish in the excitement of her learning new things, just as I still love to learn. As for another baby, who knows. But my dream of a big family won’t stop here, fostering, adopting, and hosting exchange students hasn’t been set aside.

Then it happens. You feel this baby move. At first I could only compare it to an involuntary muscle twitch, like under your eye or after a tough work out. It was weird and it didn’t register. I was still just a carrier of an alien being. A couple more months and then one day it just hits you… or maybe it had been building… but I remember turning to Nick one night on the couch and saying “there’s a human in there.” The kicking had become real, no longer just twitching muscles. I could SEE a baby all twisted up in there trying to stretch out. I could feel a piece of myself growing (literally and figuratively) and the saying “your heart is walking around on the outside of your body” becoming a more literal statement. I started talking to her. I say good morning and good night. I play the piano for her. I sing to her and we dance. We are in this together.

Not long after that is when the emotions become the crying pregnancy thing they warn you about. I haven’t been a cryer for many years. I’ve been ridiculed for my lack of empathy. And it was definitely another first for me…

Now you’re all caught up to where I thought this was going to start! Pictures! Many moons ago I ran across an underwater maternity session and was mesmerized. I thought “If it ever happens to me… this is it.” Over that decade I had lost my resolve that it was going to happen to me, and the idea faded. Around 6 months in, I started considering a maternity session. I’ve never had professional photos taken (not married remember) and a few years ago I realized that if I were to get married that I was the photographer I would want to hire. So that leaves things in a bit of a conundrum… what do you do when you like your own style better than others? This isn’t meant to be conceited, it’s just that if it wasn’t my personal style, why would I shoot/edit the way I do?!

I knew I was not meant for the beauty shots. I was not meant for bare belly or sex appeal. I was meant for bright colors, sunshine, and go big ‘out of the box’ amazingness. That being said, accomplishing this in Michigan in December or January wasn’t going to cut it. In comes Adam from Adam Opris Photography,ย he has been nationally and worldly featured for his underwater work. He has the experiences that I dream of… so I sent off the inquiry.

Everyone has their own set of criteria, of choosing what’s important to them and making decisions based on priority. Style, cost, time… and still in the middle of a pandemic, the risk? I went through the pro/con lists of ‘Do I NEED these?’, ‘How can I justify the cost?’, ‘What am I going to do with them?’… Again, as a photographer you would think that it would just all come out as a resounding YES, but it didn’t. I’m logical, and, a lot of the times, cheap. (We can call it thrifty ๐Ÿ˜‰ Having Nick give me the ok… that I should do it for me… was the definite boost I needed. I appreciate him nearly every day, but it’s moments like that I’ll never forget.

Adam gave me the name of this amazing lady that rents maternity dresses, DD Maternity Gowns, in Miami, which made the cost and variety a more real possibility, as well as the ease of packing! (These things are HEAVY! And my suitcase already unfailingly comes to 49 pounds every single time!) Miami was important for a couple of reasons and the dress rental was a seriously added bonus! Sunshine, heat, palm trees, this perfect setting (The Secret Gardens), blue sky… things that make me happy. One of the immediate feelings I did have upon finding out I was going to be a mom, is that I need to get out of Michigan. This child needs the happiest life with the happiest mother… and that’s going to mean a change of location.

The other thing that came with a trip to Miami was a few days with my dad and Pam. Though Marathon, Florida isn’t my personal favorite, there is a lot to be said for any place you can go that gives you time to just BE. I appreciated a place where there wasn’t anything I needed to do, where I wasn’t neglecting a dirty house or work or preparations that need to be done. I appreciated being with people that didn’t make me feel bad, be it guilt, or worry, or invalidated, or like I wasn’t a part of this process, just a carrier of a child for other people’s enjoyment.

The day came and I loved it. I loved the other side as much as I love what I do. I loved the weather, the energy, the location, the company… I loved working with another professional. I loved playing dress up. What I did not love, I now have a stronger respect for and will keep these thoughts and feelings in mind for my clients going forward. One, I tried too hard. I thought too hard about my face and looking a certain way, without letting myself just be ME. (There are a few where you can see “me”, but not as an overall whole to the shoot.) Two, the looks… I knew I wanted something extra, I knew I wanted color color COLOR, which is what I always try to steer my clients towards as well. I wouldn’t allow clients to have done what I did with 4 of the “same” dresses… but I also don’t shoot 6 looks in one location. Being plus size and pregnant, knowing my body type, I needed to steer away from any naked belly looks, or flowy gowns. If there’s ever a time to embrace every curve you have, it’s when you’re pregnant. (Also, I’ll sport a dress for you with a flowy skirt in an upcoming post, don’t worry ๐Ÿ˜‰

That’s where this next look comes in. I have a whole post about my love of bathing suits, if you’re interested, and why I chose it. It’s the most ME look I could dream up, and it’s where my personality appeared. The hat is my go-to when we head on vacation, it’s almost always on the plane with me, and it speaks to the adventure I had to have these done.

And third, it was so so SO much harder than I had ever expected! Sure, I can stand. I can remember, shoulders back and down, tummy out, back arched, weight on back leg, arms out from body… on land. I paid for it for the next few days, the muscle pain was REAL, but I could do it. I knew opening my eyes underwater was NOT going to be an option, but what I was not prepared for was that as a contact wearer, I always close my eyes a little tighter. When I thought I was relaxed, I most definitely wasn’t. And that breathing out underwater causes bubbles and is also a big problem. Add that to pregnancy and not having the lung capacity you’re used to, and I have a crazy high respect for every person who has attempted this, and done a much better job than I!

So I know you’re thinking “but these are beautiful” and you will never see what I see because we see different things in photos of ourselves than in others. But I’m going to be honest… it’s the power of editing. For the most part, this is it, it’s as good as I was able to do in the circumstance. The color was enhanced, the “pool” edges taken out, but it’s not dramatically far from the original. You don’t see what I see because I had to put my eyebrows back where they go!

The disappointment IN MYSELF when I got these back had absolutely nothing to do with Adam and his beautiful work. I had this gut wrenching feeling that I had failed this baby already. That I couldn’t get my shit together enough to control my face, be myself, show the love and joy I have for her. I failed myself at the one thing I’m supposed to excel. I’ve made a life out of photography! How can I be such a hypocrite? Do as I say, not as I do? I was not prepared. I don’t know WHAT I expected to feel… I am not one to typically jump into pure delight and joy, I have been an analytic my whole life. I weigh the good and the bad. To be honest, I do this with all of the sessions I shoot too… I go into editing thinking sessions were horrible and unsalvageable all the time! But in the end, when I remove the poor ones, there are a a hundred beautiful images and everyone’s happy.

Now that I’ve had these for a few weeks, I have a new perspective. When the ones that I didn’t LOVE were removed, and I’m left seeing all images that I do LOVE, then it was beyond successful and is everything I wanted and needed this shoot to be. We can call my initial feelings an over reaction, but no less valid. I hold myself to a high standard, I just didn’t know that it was going to be as high on the front side of the lens as it is from the back.

One of the ways that I justified this crazy adventure, is that I have LOVED underwater sessions for a decade. I have been interested in learning the photography skill side of it since the first time I saw it. (More so than being the one in the pictures!) Moving to Michigan to start my business was the wrong direction to be able to add this as a viable option. But like I said, I am hoping and praying that a few years will take us to a place where it can be. The difficulty level of what this entails does not scare me off. It gives me the knowledge of the patience level and editing skill it’s going to require.

So there it is, if you made it this far, you know a little more about me and this journey. Both pregnancy and being on the other side of the lens ended up being much bigger emotional arcs than I was prepared for… but both were just a glimpse into what is sure to come. I know no one is prepared for parenthood. I know that the thought alone of someone calling me Mama is beyond comprehension. But I have jumped into adventure with little to no preparation more than once in my life… and this time… and hopefully all times ahead, it’s good to know I will have someone with me. <3