Category Archives: STORY
Birth cannot fully be described to someone who hasn’t seen it firsthand, or reduced down to simple facts. It is easily one of the most powerful things I have ever witnessed, which sounds cliche, I know… there’s just no better word for me to use. Powerful. I hesitate to call it a miracle, since miracles are events that happen outside the natural laws of the world, and there is nothing more primal, and yes, natural than childbirth. It’s defined as the act or process of giving birth to a baby, and what a process it is. Every step is brought forth from action… the conception, the gestation, and the delivery are all work, kinetic in nature. It feels like magic. It feels like some form of miracle. Birth feels otherworldly, even though it is firmly rooted in the natural order of things. It’s possible things like the delivery of a baby prompted people to start using the term “everyday miracles,” I mean, words fall short when you witness what the mama and her team accomplish. What an honor… I want to photograph all the birth stories.
I’ve had the honor of knowing this little girl her entire little life, and I have no doubt that she will continue the work and action that her amazing parent set into motion over a year ago. Happy birthday, Charlotte, I can’t wait to see how you affect thew world.
In celebration of International Woman’s Day, I’m going to shut my mouth and give the platform to a woman with something to say. This is for all the women who mean so much to me, most of all, my wife and daughter.
When I look at you, I see happiness. I see grace. I see confidence, and I see humility. I see a killer sense of sarcasm that’ll knock you on your ass before you even know what hit you. I see beauty. I see strength. When I look at you, I look for myself in your cracks and your flaws, and am bettered by you. When I look at you, I look for myself in your virtues, and am inspired. When I look at you, I see you for everything you are, everything you are not, everything you have been and might become. I see you. But I wonder, what do you see of yourself? I ask this because I must confess that when I look at my own reflection, I’m never quite sure what I’m looking at. Who is this looking back at me in the mirror? Is this really me? Is this what you see? When I was little, I looked at my reflection and I saw fat. I would go to bed at night and pray that when I woke up in the morning, God would melt away the extra flesh on my prepubescent belly and thighs so that I could finally be happy like my skinny friends. But every morning when I would wake up and find a fat pair of eyes staring back at me in the mirror, I cried and cursed the heavens for wishing such misfortune on my innocent soul. When I got a little older, I looked at myself and I saw hideous. The seething, stinking, wicked essence of the baby fat of my youth had spread like a virus, seeping not only into the rest of my body, but into every corner of my mind until I was convinced that I was just as seething, stinking, and wicked as this hideous body I inhabited. During this period of my life, I was afraid to wear clothes that fit me too tightly, because I did not want to repulse anyone. My body was the leprosy that I had fallen victim too, and I felt guilty exposing others to my disease. As time passed, I grew tired. Every diet tried and failed left me tumbling down into the inevitable void of unhappiness that my fatness left in its wake, and in my mental and physical exhaustion, I began to rebel against this inevitable war with my own body. I suppose you could say I had an epiphany, of sorts, one that started like a silent thumping in my ear, and slowly grew louder until its sound consumed my thoughts and pulsed through my veins. What would it mean, I wondered, if the inevitability of my war against myself was not the product of my intrinsic unworthiness, but rather was the outcome of years of exposure to the wrong idea? What if this idea, that fat bodies are not worthy of happiness and love, was a lie? What if the only thing I needed to do to feel happiness and worthiness was to change the way I think? It was at this time that I was introduced to a new idea. Body-positivity. Instead of obsessing over photographs of thin, coifed Caucasian women in magazines, I followed plus-size models and fashion bloggers on social media. Instead of judging other women for happening to exist in fat bodies, I considered the possibility that fat women could be beautiful (and happy!) too. Instead of scrutinizing my reflection in the mirror and numbing my unhappiness with whatever mask I had chosen to wear that day, I stripped down my own layers of self-hatred and ridicule and forced myself to stare at my naked, vulnerable reflection in the mirror. I inspected my fat, my cellulite, my inadequacies, and then I looked into my own eyes and lied to myself- “You are beautiful.” Every morning for years I would wake up and tell myself this lie. I’m not quite sure how it happened, whether it was magic or God or my own wave-like persistence eating away at the shores of insecurity, but one day I looked in the mirror and was shocked to find that something miraculous had happened. I was finally starting to believe it.
Sometimes when I think about this ultimately insignificant journey of mine, I can’t help but feel a little pissed off. My dear friend, why is it that we teach our girls that their truest value is derived only from their aesthetic desirability? I am so struck with the fear that we are nothing more than a polished battalion of dolls, waiting to be chosen. As we sit on our respective shelves, and judge each other across the aisle from behind our tinted panes of cellophane, prospective buyers peer down at us as nothing more than the objects we have become. Pretty dolls. Should one of us fail to measure up, she is thrown to the back of the shelf, to the bottom of the shelf, made to believe that no one could want her, that no one should want her. And if by the grace of God someone decides they do want her, she should count herself as lucky, but nothing more. But friend, when I look at you, I have hope. I’m realizing that for my entire life, I have never truly seen myself. The reflection in the mirror upon which I’ve alternately validated my self-hatred and my self-acceptance is nothing more than a mirage.
The reason that I look at you and am so overwhelmed by your beauty is that I am seeing your power, your radiance, your expansiveness. My reflection, on the other hand, is just a fragment of my self, a fragment that has been craftily distorted by years of exposure to the wrong idea. Upon realizing this, it stands to reason that I too might contain the power, radiance, and expansive beauty that I see within you. I can feel it- when I speak my truth without fear of judgement or retribution. I can feel it- when I sit by the river with my best friend on a hot summer afternoon and watch the sunset, in awe of how small I am in relation to the glorious natural world. I can feel it- when I nourish my body with good food and good company, when I use it to ride my bike to school and to do good in my community, when I use it to traverse the globe and to embrace my friends. I can feel it- when I feel sorrow, the kind that knots itself up tightly in my stomach and wrenches tears from my eyes, reminding me that I am alive and that life is precious. I can feel it when I love, and am loved in return. In these instances, and in so many others, I can see my truest self, a self that is much larger than my physical form, but which is at home in my body. And boy, am I beautiful.
So my friend, I ask again- when you look in the mirror, what do you see?
AOIFE (EE-fa) is an Irish name that means beautiful, or radiant, and she was known as the greatest woman warrior in the world. All alliteration aside, If her mother’s zen-like determination during birth is any indication, the planet is getting itself a new warrior. This is my first birth story, and although I have two kids of my own (both c-section), it was the first laboring birth I’d seen in-person. I intentionally don’t use the term “natural-birth,” because what my wife accomplished was every bit as amazing and sacrificial as contractions and delivery. That term always bothered me. After seeing the process in the birth center with a midwife, surrounded by silence, I see the appeal. The hospital rooms for my kids were busy, noisy, cold. I’m not complaining, the hospital also kept my wife and kids safe. I guess my point is, have your babies, no need to label methods as superior or inferior.
I’ve known and photographed this family for years, and it has been so great watching them grow, their oldest daughter, Maeve, being the same age as my own daughter. Maeve, is one of my favorite parts of this birth. She was completely attentive. The way she took care of her mama, the anticipation of baby Aoife… just melt-your-heart level stuff. Tiffany was so present, David was so supportive, Maeve was so involved. The fact that I listened to the hypnobaby cd for 7 hours straight starting at 4am, and still see this as a highlight experience says a lot about the miracle of birth 😉 I’ve now photographed maternity, birth, newborn life, families, high school graduates, high school graduaTIONS, college graduates, marriages, anniversaries, death beds, funerals, and memorial services. That feels pretty close to whole life documentation. What a job.
I will have a before/after series later on, but for now… Happy first birthday, beautiful Aoife.
WORDS FROM THE MOM
I’m a photographer for many reasons. But mostly because of how a single image can make me feel emotions time and time again. I’m a nostalgic person by nature. And to be able to travel back in time, if only for a split second, makes documenting life a necessity for me. So to have Jay document Aoife’s birth was a no brainier…a necessity.
I put in time and energy preparing for Aoife’s birth in the weeks preceding her arrival. I knew that she would more than likely be our last child. I knew that I would not feel the nausea, fatigue, aches, flutters and big movements of my baby rolling and growing inside me again. I knew that I wanted to be present in those last round weeks and every moment during her birth. And I was. And I am forever grateful.
There is a mighty force that takes place during a birth. And it can affect everyone present if willing. As I labored and opened my body and heart to bring Aoife earth side, I was able to watch my daughter and husband open up as well. I watched and felt how hard my husband worked to support me in every way possible. There was this moment towards the end where we were both so present in between my contractions. That we both touched my tight and full belly and stayed there realizing that I would never be pregnant again. That as badly as I was ready for her to join us, I just as badly wanted to keep her there. Right there. That moment passed as the next contraction roared its powerful head, but that moment is relived in my mind frequently. And that moment was photographed. Because some day…when my memory isn’t as sharp as I hoped it always would be, I could look at the photograph and just maybe I would remember it all.
Our older daughter opened herself as well that day…she became a sister. A sister that started to believe after two weeks of prodromal labor, that her little sister would never make her appearance. But after waking her in the wee hours of the morning to go to the birth center, she was also present and doing anything she could to help her sister in her journey to us.
Aoife’s arrival has changed us all. But her birth…her glorious birth took us all to a tiny crack in the world that opened up and let us feel the raw power that happens when love and God blend.
This is my hope for all mamas. That however their baby decides to enter the world, it is met with wonderment and love in the pure power of a new little human. That everyone is present enough to feel the world change.