Connection

"You don't look depressed" | A Summertime Confession

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I wasn’t sure if she meant it as a challenge, insisting I prove to her that I was indeed suffering mentally.

Or maybe a compliment, to cheer me up that at least I didn’t LOOK as awful as I felt.

With her pronouncement I shrunk further into my isolation.

It hadn’t been difficult to tell her a couple weeks earlier that I was having a hellish summer and that my mental state was fragile, taxed, teetering. I’ve been fairly open about my mental health struggles after the suicide of my mother and have spent a great deal of time trying to #smashthestigma. She too had confided in me that she suffered from Postpartum Depression after the birth of her first child. So we had that in common.

What HAD been difficult was to invite her over, to allow myself to be vulnerable, to admit out loud that I wasn’t sure I could handle being alone with my children for one more day. That not only was depression something I had experienced in the past, but something that was currently creeping in, growing bigger and harder to manage.

I suppose when she arrived, this new friend of mine thought she would find me lying in bed, dishes piled high - the very picture of Depression. That must be where her comment came from: She didn’t see the outward signals of what we’ve all been told this looks like.

Here’s what I know about me: I know that I carry a significant genetic load for this particular illness. I know I experienced trauma as a child, teenager and young adult - and that those events influenced my brain development. I also know that in order to survive - I learned how to keep going.

How to go to school and make straight A’s when your parents were up all night screaming and throwing things. How to be choir president and Key Club VP and volunteer math tutor even though your mother had kicked you out and called you a bitch. I knew how to ace tests after news of another suicide attempt, another hospitalization, another stint in jail. When things felt like they were falling apart, I learned how to keep it all together.

I learned to overachieve in the face of dysfunction. To be obsessed with order to curb the chaos.

I learned to disconnect from the fear and sadness and anger that had no where to be expressed.

I learned to seek praise where I could get it - and to continually perform to reassure myself that I was worth something.

Until I just couldn’t anymore.

This is the tricky truth about people like me: the highly functioning depressed person. Because it is so terrifying to feel negative emotions, we push ourselves harder and harder to perform. Instead of noticing when this illness is flaring up and giving myself rest, asking for resources or help, I react instinctively to push harder, do more - prove to myself that I won’t end up like my mother. Prove to others that I’m worthy of love.

You see where this is going, right? Exhaustion. Depletion. Crisis.

But right up to that moment, it looks like a woman who has it all together. A successful business owner, dedicated volunteer, involved mother.

The photo above was taken in July - on my way to book club. Looking good, but feeling dead inside. I can write about it now because I’ve slowly climbed back out of that hole. With help from my husband, with a slow down in my schedule, with increased medication, with rest.

I’m trying to unlearn all those lessons that helped me survive my childhood but are no longer serving me.

Learning to listen to my inner voice - to what I need and even what I want.

Learning to respect my limits - not berate myself for having them.

Learning to give myself love, mercy, grace.

It’s HARD work to undo years of conditioning. It’s hard to sit with grief, with anger, with fear and to hear them out. It’s actually very hard to be kind to myself. But with practice these are skills I am developing. I hope that you are too.

Whatever you are facing, I wish you compassion and peace and courage. You deserve it, and so do I.

-Whitney

P.S. If you or someone you know is struggling to get through the day, please reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Your life matters, and you are never alone.

P.P.S. Check out the work of my incredible friend, Mariangela. Faces of Fortitude is a beautiful photography project dedicated to creating a safe space to discuss mental illness, resilience, and to honor life and loss.

Meeting Baby Brother: Fresh 48 Session at Swedish First Hill Hospital | Seattle Birth Photographer

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I don’t remember meeting my little brother. He’s just been there in my memory as far back as it goes. But the story in my family is that I was thrilled to greet him at the hospital and then announced as it was time to leave as a family, “Baby no go home. Baby stay here!” Apparently, my 18 month old self knew that as adorable as this infant was, it wouldn’t be a great idea to bring him home and mess up the good thing I had going.

Many families opt for a Fresh48 Session specifically to capture that precious first meeting of siblings. I always try to temper expectations. It’s a lot for a toddler to take in and is completely normal for them to not show a lot of interest in the baby at first. They need time to warm up and adjust. Some siblings, though, are READY to hold that baby. And these moments are so powerful! These photos offer a peek into the moment their bond first began - a bond they will share throughout their lives. I’m so fortunate to document these priceless memories for my clients.

Get a load of those adorable peely feet. Newborn toes get me every time!

I love documenting what life FEELS like for a family at the various stages of their life together. And soothing a little one while slightly bigger one crawls all over you with snacks - there’s not much that’s more “mother of 2 kids” than that.

If you’d like to schedule a Fresh48 session for your upcoming birth, send me a message and let’s make it happen!

Tessa Turns 1 | Seattle Family Photographer

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There is so much to say about this session. So many thoughts about my best friend’s youngest turning a year old. Katie and I have been mothers together since the early days when we were hauling strollers up subway stairs and sitting in exhausted silence while the babies did NOTHING on the floor and we wondered if we’d ever be mentally alive again. And now we are older, softer, living on a different coast and marveling at how time can crawl and be a thief all at once.

When my friend told me that she wanted to book a session to capture this particular moment in time, my heart leapt. THIS. This is motherhood frozen. Kissing the fingers, squeezing the thighs and really breathing them in. Teaching them to clap and point and know what it is to be loved.

This is the relief of realizing that newborn exhaustion does not last forever, and the crushing heartache of understanding that actually, nothing does.

Here’s hoping that every mother has at least one other mother she can call and sob to. Someone she can text late at night with just the words - “I CANNOT!”

A friend who loves your children and totally agrees with you that they are monsters. Pass down the clothing, pass the french fries. Make another pass around the lake and around the sun. Together we mark the milestones and swear under our breath.

We sit in exhausted silence and watch the babies grow.

Happy Birthday, Tessa. And happy transition to you, Katie.

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Hudson's Birth Story | Seattle Birth Photographer

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As I sat across from Chamari and Colt in a Starbucks somewhere between our two homes I noted immediately the deep affection they have for one another. Smiling glances across the table and easy laughter as we talked about their blended family and their excitement for the new baby that would be joining them. Colt expressed his admiration for his wife and his absolute faith that she would be equal to the task of an unmedicated birth if that’s what she wanted. (unwavering spousal support: check). Chamari talked about being excited to give birth - eagerly anticipating this event and doing her research on the physiological birth process. She had envisioned the way she’d like her birth to go and was willing to be flexible with whatever needed to happen on the day their son would be born. (positive birth associations, informed mother, willingness to go where birth would take her: check. check. check.)

These were all excellent signs that this birth would be a beautiful experience for everyone involved.

After being sent home from Labor and Delivery once with “false labor” and hardly getting any rest, we texted back and forth about the possibility that Chamari was experiencing prodomal labor and I encouraged her to keep resting, and to feel confident that her body was doing exactly what it needed to do to bring her baby here.

It wasn’t many hours later that I received a text that they were headed back to L&D. “Hopefully there’s some progress because I don’t know how much more of this I can handle.”

When I arrived to the hospital I found a woman laboring with focus, determination, and grace. It was clear that these contractions were asking the very most of her, and she gave herself to the process completely.

I’ll let the photos take it from here.

That love and support. Unwavering. He was present with her in the most challenging parts of this process. And in the moments of rest she cracked jokes and we all laughed. Birth is a wondrous unfolding.

I could not be more proud of this beautiful family. For loving each other so fiercely, for birthing so fearlessly, and for inviting me along to witness the miracle. If you’re interested in having your birth documented - let’s have a chat in a random coffee shop. It just could be the start of something beautiful.

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Goyal Family | Seattle Family Photographer

I’ve known Ena since we were freshmen in high school.

Shout out to all the cool kids on Speech and Debate Team!

I first photographed her sweet family when their oldest was just a bump in the tummy. And now look at them - two spunky girls and a houseful of laughter. I have a weakness for those cheesy grins and a refusal to look at the camera. Little kids keep me on my toes and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My friend, your family is so beautiful. Thank you for inviting me to document this moment in time.

Canalichio Family | Seattle Maternity Photographer

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It’s such a pleasure to photograph families on the precipice of welcoming a new child. There’s joy and excitement, and frankly, naiveté on the part of the older sibling to be. An oldest child myself, my heart goes out to all the young ones about to be displaced as the center of their parents’ world.

Just kidding, friends. It’s true, adding another child does rock the family dynamics — but in all the best ways. Siblings are a gift to one another. A built in friend and confidant, a reliable sidekick for all the misadventures of childhood. No one challenges you and prompts your own growth quite like a brother or sister. I can’t wait to catch up with this delightful family again after baby is born and see what looks different, and what is still the same when three become four.

Fast Fact: Maternity sessions work best when you are around 32 weeks pregnant. If you’d like to schedule a session, send me a message and let’s chat about what you’d like to capture about the weeks of waiting for baby.

Brimhall Family | Seattle Family Photographer

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Calling all Seattle families! Bring your chubby babies, bring your blankets and meet me on the beach. Even if the sun refuses to peek out, we'll have a grand time. Those rolls, those eyes - have you ever seen a cuter baby?!

Evangeline Newborn - Seattle Newborn Photographer

Sweet Evangeline was born so fast I didn't get many images on the night of her birth - but we more than made up for it with her newborn session. I LOVE this gorgeous family - their graciousness and their honest connection with each other. This shoot sums up my approach to photographing newborns. The images are relaxed and REAL and they include all the sweet details of diaper changes and breastfeeding and family snuggles. I feel so honored when families invite me into their postpartum bubble to capture these memories. I'm excited to watch this family grow together for many years to come.

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I love to photograph mamas and their babies from behind. That's how I always remember my babies. Staring down at them from that perspective for so many hours - you wonder if you can hold every detail of their faces forever in your mind. A photo like this feel like a memory.

I love to photograph mamas and their babies from behind. That's how I always remember my babies. Staring down at them from that perspective for so many hours - you wonder if you can hold every detail of their faces forever in your mind. A photo like this feel like a memory.

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Look how much she changed in just a few days! Great Grandma came to town and I just had to grab a photo of these two holding hands.

Look how much she changed in just a few days! Great Grandma came to town and I just had to grab a photo of these two holding hands.

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The first post is the hardest...

A new website, a new blog - two months into a new year. It's a lot of change. I've been away from any real blogging for a few years now. It started to feel like too much work to live my life AND present it in some beautifully packaged form. I edited my words and my photos mercilessly until they just wouldn't come anymore.

It was also a huge burden to keep my business blogging so divorced from my personal thoughts and the events of my own life. As though these things could ever be neatly separated. Being a birth photographer, a woman, a mother, a creative - it's all intimately connected.

So now I return to blogging with a promise to myself: That it doesn't have to be perfect. That it doesn't have to match some ridiculous notion of what "professional" looks or sounds like. I'm declaring this space to be about connection over perfection.

I give myself permission to show up imperfectly.

I give myself permission to play.

I give myself permission to explore creativity for the pure joy of it.

I give myself permission to make mistakes.

I give myself permission to claim this small corner of the internet as my very own. A place to connect with my people - to talk to my people.

Are you my people? If so - Welcome! I'll be showing up here the best that I know how and I invite you to do the same if you'd like. So tell me, friend, what are you giving yourself permission to do in 2018?

*Photo by Courtney Holmes Photography