Even when you KNOW that you yearn for something beyond the beautiful and posed lifestyle photography, stepping out of your comfort zone into the territory of REAL moments and documentary family photography can be downright scary. Chelsea shares her experience, and I share the resulting images.
Sometimes life throws us on a wild ride. When Melissa and her husband decided to have children, they felt like they had themselves and their lives pretty well figured out… they had done plenty of travelling and enjoyed their share of evenings out cultivating truly great friendships. They had a solid foundation on which to build their family.
Yet looking back, Melissa has a feeling that most of us can relate to: that she wouldn’t recognize her former self if she was staring her in the face. It isn’t that any of us were less of a person before we had children, but the ways in which this role changes us are completely undeniable.
As much as we can plan the perfect timing for our big life decisions, the timing of our lives is not really within our control. As Melissa and her husband began to grow their family, they were hit hard with two terminal diagnoses in the family. During their first pregnancy, her aunt was diagnosed with leukemia. Shortly following their daughter's birth, her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
The ordinary adjustments of sleeplessness, being constantly needed, and adjusting from career to motherhood were compounded with questions of how long, with rearranging lives and relocating, all while continuing to live life and anticipating a second child. While they were blessed to enjoy many more months together, they eventually lost both her aunt and her dad during her second pregnancy. The typical moments of joy and anticipation were swirled in a world of more complicated emotions.
It seems that facing the impending loss of your dad would be the worst time to adjust to a growing family, and it obviously wasn’t ideal, but both Melissa and her mother recognize that these children have been their saving grace in this time of struggle. A welcome distraction and ultimately the motivating force to strive to be an even better version of yourself (when the easier route would be to sink into an entirely justified depressive rut). With little eyes and ears absorbing everything, the choice to burden ourselves with anger at the tragedies we cannot control is much less attractive.
Not only have her children provided a source of joy through the tough times and the motivation to keep getting out of bed on the days that it feels nearly impossible; they have also been a reminder of the memories that matter.
When it comes to embracing traditions, Melissa worried that her children would be missing so much of her story in not having a chance to get to know her dad. When she and her husband moved back to their hometown, they ended up missing the window of time that they had left with her dad.
Now, despite not having his presence, she has found that she can enjoy the history of this place in a new way through the eyes of her children. Even memories that she had long since forgotten are reignited as she takes the parental role where her children represent her childhood self.
Driving past the same great big Christmas tree in the town centre that she had once craned her little head to stare at in awe there is a glimmer of a memory...
The memory of her father turning from the front seat back to enjoy her state of wonder. Now it is Melissa watching the same scene from her front seat.
The vintage rocking horse in the living room is the same one that Melissa herself grew up playing with. Their lives are a beautiful blend of appreciation for the past and engagement in the present moment.
These children have given Melissa access to her strongest self and her best self.
In turn, she is giving them a pretty amazing mother, and a childhood overflowing with love and patience and grace. She is embracing the messes and soaking up the crafting. She is loving these children in every moment and giving them the safe space to grow into their own best selves.
The thought of participating in these stories was altogether terrifying at first for Melissa. We are not generally very comfortable letting a stranger into our homes and into the truths of our joys and struggles… Not to mention the world of strangers who will have the opportunity to share in these secrets online.
So what would possess her to open up and share her story? It was the same thing that motivates so much of what we do as parents; to build a story that evidences for our children that they are loved entirely unconditionally and beyond the reaches of their imaginations. It is critical that they know that they are her greatest teachers and certainly her salvation over this past couple of years.
I would love to know...
How has motherhood changed you?
What do you need your children to remember?
It should be obvious that people don’t fit neatly into predefined boxes, but we seem to find it so convenient to stick ourselves and everyone else into such boxes nonetheless. I mean, a test on the internet told me that I am an INFP (I for introvert), and the details the test revealed couldn’t have sounded more truthful. After all, I am shy and quiet and can feel completely drained in large crowds. I have read and loved Susan Cain’s “Quiet” and felt proud to be a part of the introvert revolution.
And then something strange happened... I started reaching out and felt so incredibly energized. I started taking chances, asking strangers out to coffee and made some of the most powerful friendships of my life. I stood up in crowds of people, completely vulnerable, revealing the imperfect images that contain a piece of my soul, and shared the deepest motivations in my heart. And no one laughed at me, (though a few may have cried with me.)
I have felt more alive and filled with purpose than ever.
In my continuing quest for self-knowledge (and having forgotten my result,) I re-took that test and surprisingly came out ENFP... E for Extroverted. Aren't these traits supposed to be definitive and permanent? Aren't Shy and Extrovert mutually exclusive?
I thought perhaps I had subconsciously lied in my answers... and then it became clear:
The difference between an introvert and an extrovert lies not in their confidence or outward personality, but in the source of their energy.
Introverts gain energy from their time alone, while extroverts gain their energy from the time spent with others. I have always straddled this line, drawn to books and baths and quiet spaces of self-reflection… but truthfully drawing so much of my energy from the people I surround myself with (for better or worse). While my circle is often small, it is that circle that fuels me.
Self-knowledge shouldn’t be used as an excuse… it should be a tool for empowerment. That introvert label looked like it fit, and so I slapped it on and ‘accepted’ that I just wasn't meant to reach out and connect. The problem with this was that I needed those connections to fuel me.
So this is the place that has given me the space to step out and take those risks. With age and all that self-reflection, I know that I can go beyond being shy.
Bravery and confidence are muscles that can only grow by bearing the weight of vulnerability.
The Motherhood in the Raw (20 Mothers) Project was fueled by the desire to create a village and foster authentic connection in the modern world of physical separation and superficial connections, celebrating motherhood in its raw and messy beauty. I am so excited to open up a few more of these sessions early this year. You can get more information and apply to share your story HERE.
The truth is, this connection is what fuels every session that I capture, be it a couple learning to love wholeheartedly, an indie-preneur boldly pursuing the business at the heart of her passion, or a woman growing and embracing the worthiness of her body, mind, and soul just as she is.
For both me and my business, the theme of 2017 is CONNECTION. This is not a resolution, it is a guidepost.