There is something inherently sweet about photographing a family after they’ve brought a newborn home for the first time. But as I type this, I already find myself looking for a different word – sweet feels a bit too saccharine, like I’m about to talk about their precious fingers and toes and wax on about these little angels and the beauty of childbirth. This is not how these sessions feel — they don’t feel like perfection, and they don’t feel angelic, either. These sessions, to me, feel raw; they feel like a brand new human being brought into a home with parents who are just trying to figure out this new role they’re in, and understand this little person who has become part of their family. What does she like? What does that cry mean? Is she hungry?
I can’t speak to how this experience must feel, nor can I even remotely put myself in the shoes (or slippers, or socks) of the new parents in the midst of experiencing it. But I can speak to what it’s like to witness it — to walk into their home just weeks after they’ve brought home this new baby, and document them with their child.
I’ve known Chelsea and Derek for years — as kids, then as high schoolers, then as grown adults whose wedding I photographed a few years ago. Their dog Yadi greeted me upon arrival, who I had met years before at their engagement session. Every newborn session feels different to me, simply because each set of parents and baby and home is different, and this is a wild time in peoples’ lives, you know? The Hendrick household felt calm and cozy, and there was a sort of ease and gentleness with which Chelsea and Derek carried themselves. Things around their home served as reminders of some of the biggest parts of their lives — wedding photos on the walls, photos of Rorie, the baby girl they had lost the year prior, a dry erase calendar marking big happenings that month, like their due date and doctor appointments and the weddings of their loved ones.
They made their way to Tannen’s room to start, where they cradled their girl, and eventually tag teamed changing her diaper and outfit, and then gave her a bottle in their bedroom. Yadi eventually wanted to join in, licking and nudging Tannen and also wanting to find a spot on one of their laps. They looked at Tanner and each other softly, as if there was no expectation for how this whole thing would go, and that to simply spend a few quiet hours together was enough – as if any time spent with her was more than enough. I know none of this is easy, and that so many more moments beyond the ones I see are spent soothing and crying and feeding and bouncing and wishing for sleep, and I suppose that’s why these moments of quiet feel extra sweet. The days in our lives go so quickly, and they can be happy and sad and monotonous and balanced and frustrating and so many other things, and I will always be a proponent of stopping to take a breath, looking at your partner or your baby or your friend or your parent softly, quietly, and realizing how incredible these seemingly small, day-to-day moments in our lives can be.
Back in 2015, I photographed Madeline and Tate’s wedding. They were sweet and young and fun and kind, and it was the sort of wedding day that stayed with me long after. One of the best parts of social media is that it gives me an opportunity to follow along with what’s happening in my clients’ lives in the years after their weddings, so I virtually cheered on Madeline and Tate as they changed jobs and cities and bought a home and brought a baby girl into the world and then later, a baby boy. I’ve seen their kids’ sweet faces online as they’ve been growing up before all our eyes, and I imagined what great parents they must be. So when Madeline reached out to me about doing a session at their home this past summer, I leapt at the chance to see the two of them and meet Catherine and Daniel.
Though weddings are still my favorite experience to photograph, lifestyle sessions in the home are the next best thing. There’s a comfort that comes with being photographed on your own couch, in the backyard where your kids play, just off the kichen where you make muffins together. We landed a beautiful summer day for our session, so we started outside – the kids were already hanging on the back porch when I arrived, and they proudly showed me their stuffed animal friends, Rocky and Owly, as they made their way to the slide. Mom and Dad eventually joined them, and we hopped inside for a break from the sun after a bit. The cool thing about a session like this is that it’s mostly just me following them around and documenting what happens – Catherine climbed up on the piano bench (which obviously meant Daniel did, too) and they hit a few keys before some couch snuggles and reading and applesauce pouches. After that, the fam changed clothes and we made our way out to the same park where Madeline and Tate had taken their wedding photos years ago.
They picked flowers and held hands and giggled and twirled, and it was exactly what I’d think of if trying to imagine a perfect afternoon. Catherine and Daniel are spunky and curious and sweet, and absolutely none of this surprises me because I already know they have two of the very best as parents. This session and witnessing them all together was as much of a gift for me as it was for them, and I feel so fortunate to have been part of it.
I first met and photographed Ashley and Mike when they got married in 2017 – they were the quintessential picture of ease and laid backness and fun, and their wedding day felt like a reflection of that. In the years since, I feel fortunate to say they’ve started to feel like old friends to me. They’ve kindly referred many of their own friends to me and my business, so I typically (and excitedly) get to see them once or twice a year as they fill seats as guests at some of the weddings I’ve photographed.
So when I found out they had a baby on the way, I was beyond excited for them. Baby Henry arrived around the same time as the start of the pandemic, so they weren’t able to do an immediate “newborn” session. As spring 2020 drew on, we started to discuss how we could safely do an indoor session to document this stage of Henry’s life later that summer, and got something penciled in for July.
As we all know, the early months of the pandemic were particularly surreal. Though now we all feel a bit more like seasoned vets at this whole thing, those first months we were learning as we went and continually trying to adapt to the new understanding of how being around people safely could and should operate. Many of us were staying home and weren’t seeing others, which for Ashley and Mike, meant that many of their friends and extended family members had yet to meet their baby boy. We talked through specifics on how I could safely photograph them in their apartment, and then I got to be one of the few people outside of the two of them who spent time with Henry during those months.
I continually hope and try to not take the honor of any of this lightly – to photograph people throughout the stages of their life is a damn gift, and most days I still can’t believe this is a thing I get the opportunity to do in “normal” times, let alone in a time like the one we’ve been in this past year. So I spent the afternoon with these two new parents, as Mike had created a makeshift office on their kitchen table, and they were both navigating parenthood and life during a pandemic, and they joked about their lack of haircuts and interaction with other adults. There were photos from their wedding day around the apartment – they pointed out the one of them with their wedding party, surrounded by their friends, and I thought about how much they likely missed all of them. And I looked at the two of them on the couch with Henry, also playing with their dog and laughing about each of them, and I loved seeing that they were still those same people who had gotten married a few years earlier – laid back and fun and joking around together – and thinking about how perfectly parenthood would suit them because of this, pandemic and all.
Lauren and Chris are sweetness personified. I don’t mean this in the “aww, you’re so sweet!” way that people sometimes refer to others as, but rather that there is something wholly wonderful about the two of them – something simple and honest and not showy and kind, and it makes you want to root for them.
They first met in high school – they were a couple of teenagers in the same American Legal Issues class, and Lauren was a sophomore while Chris was a junior. They eventually started dating after that, and were together for almost eight years before getting engaged in 2019. I’ve always thought this was an incredibly wild thing, to date someone in your teens and love them enough to grow older and develop into a different version of yourself and realize you still want to be with them after all that time and change. How cool it is to see them grow up and go off to college and pursue passions and jobs and interests, and to know they’re witnessing these parts of your own life, too. Chris went to Macomb, IL after high school to study at Western, and Lauren eventually was off to Davenport, IA to pursue her degree at St. Ambrose, so they’ve been in a long distance relationship since while Lauren finishes her occupational therapy program.
Chris eventually proposed on Summer Solstice in 2019 – he asked Lauren to marry him and had both of their families there to celebrate with them afterwards. Lauren told me she often jokes with him about how great it was that he proposed on the longest day of the year, because it’s a day she didn’t want to end. And in a time now when gathering with our loved ones has had to temporarily lessen, imagining this day for them feels exceptionally rich.
The two of them booked me in 2019 and were already buckling in for a longer engagement pre-pandemic, and I realize how much now I value their excitement to marry one another being at no expense to the time and their patience. And now, we’re nearly here! It’s finally their wedding year, and I have no doubt that it will not only be worth the wait, but also that it will be another day that both of them find themselves hoping never ends.
When I first arrived at Danielle and Joe’s home the day of their wedding, the ladies were all inside in the middle of hair and makeup and hanging out over some lunch. A few of the guys were out front, chatting and greeting one another at the end of the driveway before leaving to get ready at the venue. Joe and Danielle’s dog also came out to the front yard and Joe happily greeted him, too. Back in the house, Danielle discussed the day ahead with her bridesmaids, mom, and future mother-in-law. We were surrounded by pieces of the life that Joe and Danielle have built together throughout the past years: notes left for one another by the back door and photos from the trips they’d taken on the living room wall, in the home they’d been renovating together over the past year.
Danielle’s mom helped her into her wedding dress once they made their way over to the venue, and then she and her father shared a teary first look as he clutched his handkerchief and saw his daughter in her wedding dress for the first time. Soon after, she met Joe outside to see him for the first time that day as well, and the anticipation on both of their faces as they were about to do so was nearly as great as the laughs and the giant grins and the wiping of tears that followed. Their friends and families joined them outside for photos after that, and though we had prepared for a chilly October afternoon based on the prior forecast, the sun came out and gave us all something to be a little extra thankful for.
Danielle and Joe had narrowed their guest list to 25 people due to the pandemic, so their ceremony at Fishermen’s Inn was beautifully intimate. Their officiant recounted the story of how the two of them met — years ago, as teenagers on an Appalachian Service Project trip. They were young and knew each other for a brief week, and though Danielle had a crush on Joe at the time, he had a girlfriend. Fifteen years later, they came across one another on a dating app and reunited, and the rest, as they say, is history. We now were fortunate to be here watching them say vows to one another, witnessing them excitedly committing to a lifetime of being one another’s adventure buddy, fellow dog lover, spouse, and friend.
Having postponed their larger reception for the following year, they opted to have a small dinner with their ceremony attendees that evening. They put a playlist on a speaker in the private room they’d rented and cut their cake in front of their loved ones. Soon after, their best friends and fathers also gave toasts, which were the perfect odes to friendship and being a parent and life and love. Danielle texted me in the week that followed that they had also shared some dances later in the evening, telling me how beautiful and perfect it all was despite it not looking like a “normal” reception. I love them for this — for enjoying themselves and being thankful and loving it, despite it all.
Ceremony Venue: Fishermen’s Inn
Dinner: Tribella Grill
Videography: Avant-Garde Videography
Hair + Makeup: Yes Ma’am Hair & Makeup
Florist: Designs by Janet
Violinist: Katie Yackey
Officiant: Rev. Anne Styx, Rev for Whatev