On January 3rd we celebrated Eloise’s 1st birthday which, to be honest, felt more like a celebration of surviving our first year as parents. My c-section scar has nearly faded by now as my body is finally returning to a state I recognize. It is as if time is slowly erasing the evidence we used to be one. I still breastfeed Eloise when she wakes in the morning and at her bedtime, very cognizant that these are the last remaining moments of her as a “baby”. How can something that goes so slowly also go by so fast?
As I reflect back on this first year I am astonished at all the changes I had a front row seat to witnessing of what it means to be human. The way we are when we enter the world, how we instinctually know how to survive it. If Eloise could remember one thing for herself from this past year, I would hope it would be the image of her parents heads squished together as close to her face as possible absorbing every detail of her. In the first few weeks I watched her eyes slowly open and turn from deep gray blue to the sky blue they are today. I watched her eyelashes come in followed by her first tooth… and another and so on. The Saturday when she had her first laugh was one of the highlights of my life. Kevin and Eloise and I wearing silly hats doing a silly dance all laughing hysterically. What fun it was when she started to taste her first foods and the joy we have now sharing meals as a family.
THE FIRST YEAR
I spent almost the entirety of 2019 just being a mom, helping this tiny little dependent creature come into the world. I, in turn, transitioned into a mother. In the beginning it was terrifying. Every day. I grew tired of watching Youtube how-to videos. The learning curve of baby stuff was really not enjoyable for me. Not knowing what’s normal. What’s enough? What’s too much? And always, is she breathing!? We never set up a deadline of when I would go back to work. How could I possibly know something I’ve never experienced? In the end, Eloise started creché (French nursery school) at month 11 and I gained my days back. I felt it was time when she had developed beyond simply being a baby to eating full meals and discovering the world around her with a vivacious curiosity. I felt she was healthy mentally, physically and emotionally and ready for her own autonomy. I think giving Eloise all of me in her first year of life was the greatest gift I could give and I hope it sets her out on the right path in life and I hope I created a bond between us to last her lifetime. I feel very, very fortunate to have been able to do that, time is our most valuable commodity is it not?
Of the beauty, seeing Kevin transform into a father has brought so much love into my heart. He found patience and strength I never knew he had. There is a tenderness and protectiveness that had been there all along dormant waiting for her, but most of all, he makes her laugh everyday. He puts in so much energy to play and connect and care for her. He’s dropped work to run home when I’ve had “all hands on deck” explosive diapers and he has not judged me when pushed to the brink of insanity and exhaustion and needed a break. He is now the one that gets up with Eloise in the morning and changes her diaper and they go make coffee together so I can have 15 extra mins of sleep. He was there, a perfect partner, 100% committed and we are the happiest little family because of that. He is a great Dad and Eloise adores him.
It was so hard in the beginning with her and yet I long for those days. To hold a baby is to hold hope, purity, innocence, and pure love. I look back at photos of her then and I just can’t believe how tiny and helpless she was. I hope I held her long enough, strong enough, warm enough… I know I did but I hope she felt it too. If I could go back and give myself some advise it would be that it’s OK if she’s the only thing I do all day (and night, lol). I felt a responsibility to cook and clean and think about work even though my brain could not function. It was totally against my nature to just “sit around” holding a baby when I’ve spent my entire life being overly productive. I feared Kevin would think poorly of me at a time when my confidence in everything was already shaky. I put this pressure on myself and I wish I could have just said fuck it. Cuddling and nursing and diaper changes are all we are doing today and tomorrow and maybe for months and that’s enough. That’s enough.
Motherhood has been its own journey of ups and downs. The ups are perhaps the essence of what life is truly about. Soul to soul overwhelming love. Joy that wants to explode out of my skin when I see her, when she laughs, when she rolled over for the firs time or clapped on her own merit in response to “good job!”. But also, exhaustion, identity crisis, relevance, body issues, loss of freedom, mourning my absence from photography which is my individual purpose and passion and fear of losing my creative vision. You can feel all of these things and still be madly in love with your baby. You can be completely frustrated you have no time or energy to create but also be so OBSESSED with your little one that you can’t tear yourself away. I just kept telling myself, I will have the rest of my life to make photographs but I will never have this day again with Ellie. Babies change so much overnight, I just had to make peace with pausing my life and saying, “OK, I’ll look forward to all the things I’ll create in the future but for now, she’s it.” I don’t want to miss a thing. I don’t want to regret not being there, not being present because we can’t do this over again for her. Looking back on the first year I know I made the right decision for myself. I miss endless days in the studio alone with my craft, I miss commercial projects that earn me living and give me the joy of collaboration but just like that, they are already back and my baby is off on her own adventures.
I’m still not sure what the impact of transforming into a mother has had on me yet. I’m still too “in it” to process its effect or to see a difference in my work. There is a change in how I see the world, but how that translates I don’t know yet. Part of the approach to the 12 month portrait series was as a way for me to “see” us in a way that I could understand, in a way that is easiest for me to communicate- through the lens of photography. I simply wanted to see us change, together. I look at it now and I do see us. I see the discomfort in my body and in my soul in month one. I see Eloise’s defiance of being treated like a baby in month three. She would never let us hold her like a baby, she aways wanted to be UP. Standing up, sitting up, up up up. I see her personality begin to shine in month four along with my confidence in my abilities as a mother. I can see when it started to get fun, when our relationship became deeper, when I transitioned from proud strong nurturer to baby wrangler. But mostly, when I look at this photograph I see Eloise grow into her own, I see how time has taken two shaky humans trying to figure life out and turned them into an “us” and when I see where we are today, I know I’ve done my job.
This was without a doubt the hardest year of my life. I wish I had family nearby to help. I wish I owned a house that felt like our home. I wish I had saved more, planned more, read more. I guess no one is ever truly ready for a baby. We thought we were, but the transition is just still so shocking. To this day we are still discovering and saying “wow, life was so much easier before… but man we would never go back to life without Eloise”. As hard as it is, it’s so worth it. We all belong together, to each-other and as much as I will miss these days of having my baby, holding my baby, this purity of life is so beautiful to witness that I’m unable to fully express it into words yet, I do look forward to what comes next. I do think the best is yet to come and I do hope, most of all, this one year series will continue to grow into a lifetime.
She has painted our world into color with merely her existence… life means Eloise.
This writing is not meant to be read as commentary on how one should or should not mother their children. I am speaking from my own experience and making the choices that were right for myself and my family. Every parent and every child is different and there are a million correct ways to raise a baby. I pass no judgement, I hope those of you reading this will as well.
Favorite 1st Year Baby Things:
If you can afford a night nurse I would highly recommend that to get though the first weeks and then to help sleep train your baby. Some of my friends did that and it was great for them. If not, I highly recommend getting a SNOO which was what we did. We used this from week 6 to month 6 and LIVED for it. We even traveled with it everywhere we went. They also do a rental program to save on the cost.
♦ The Happy Sleeper– the book we used as a guide to sleep training with fantastic success. Eloise sleeps between 11-12 hours a night and it taught us how to train her and gave us confidence in what to do.
Baby fashion brands and shops I love: Bon Point, Smallable, The Tot, Pepa & Co., Misha and Puff, La Coqueta, UPA, Goldness, Bébé Organic, Bunny Bogart, Wild Wawa, MIOU, Micaela Greg, Pink Chicken, Maisonette, Tartine et Chocolat, Soor Ploom, Love Shack Fancy, Tocoto Vintage, Luca & Luca, Janie and Jack, FUB, Rylee + Cru, Noble Carriage, Atelier Choux, The Little Tailor, Condor, Daniel & Sofia, The Beaufort Bonnet Company, Marie Chantal, Petite Plume, Anavini, Petit Bébé, Pixie Lily, Lullaby Set, Apolina, Donsje (shoes), Little Unicorn (especially love the hooded towels), BonTon (especially love the store in Paris), Briar Baby
♦ BABYZEN Yoyo + The best stroller. Light, folds up tiny, fits easily anywhere including small cafes and overhead on airplanes and it lasts! Goes from birth bassinet to toddler. Highly recommend the bag attachment, great for grocery shopping or when you’re out all day to throw things in.
♦ Angel Cab– The most beautiful stroller! Some of my most fond memories from year one, especially in the first 6 months, was pushing Eloise around in this stroller. We called it her Rolls Royce! The most smooth, elegant thing, and unlike the other 99% of strollers, absolutely gorgeous to photograph.
♦ Thule Urban Glide II– We started using a running stroller around 9 months. Kevin did a lot of research on this and spoke to a stroller running club in NYC and this is the model that came most recommended and we see why, we love it! Totally smooth, feels really safe, great storage, and the design is perfect for it’s function as far as hand placement, leg room. I can’t imagine a better running stroller.
♦ Medela Freestyle Breast Pump– I was very happy with this breast pump kit. Easy to use, worked great, could carry it around with me, easy to clean. If it’s not working great for you, try a different size breast shield, once I switched to a smaller set than what came with the kit it worked MUCH better. We also bought storage bags to freeze excess milk and really, you have to buy the bustier so you don’t have to sit there holding the bottles. With the bustier you can be hands free and I would just attach the machine to my waistband so I could move about. However, I pumped a lot in the beginning to make sure I had enough milk because I was alone in this whole journey and had no idea if she was getting enough to eat, so by pumping I could see there was milk in there. Since I was never away from Eloise there really wasn’t a reason for me to pump unlike for women who go back to work at 6 weeks / 3 months and want the caretaker to bottle feed their baby breastmilk while away. Knowing what I know now I would not have pumped at all, ever. But again, I’ve never been apart from Eloise so I didn’t need the supply.
♦ Nuna Pipa Lite– We have been really happy with this carseat (the 1st purchase was a disaster so we desperately bought this one). However, if I could do it all over again, I would but the Nuna Exec which goes from birth to being a kid! I don’t know if this was available when we were looking or if we were just delirious and missed it but is so much better to just buy one and done than having to keep buying carseats as they grow. As far as car seats that clip into strollers, in my opinion, these are good in theory but Eloise is not one of those babies that enjoys a car seat. EVER. So that was never an option for us.
♦ Baby Bjorn Mini– This was one of our most used, must loved items. Eloise loved it, especially when she was big enough to face out. She always wants to be upright and looking at the world. The slings never worked for her. This carrier was great quality, soft, easy to put on and felt safe.
♦ Cocoonababy– This is what they used at the French maternity where I gave birth and what Eloise slept in while there. We got one for home and she would take naps in this in the day which worked out great and slept for some periods at night in the beginning. We only used it for the first couple of months but I loved it because she was strapped in and it’s designed to newborn baby bodies so it just felt very safe. We had some extra colorful sheets and a cover which is like a safe blanket.
♦ Swaddles– I mostly used these for tossing over my shoulder breastfeeding in public though they came in handy a few times for emergency clean up situations. I think I really only needed two but would use those two for sure.
♦ Baby Cream– You know, this is totally unnecessary but I can’t tell you how much joy it brought me to smell this scent every day and now have that scent, which is such a timeless European scent, remind me of baby Eloise. And actually, the bottles lasted for 8 or 9 months so not a terrible value. Eloise’s nursery smells of this scent and it is just so pleasant in the early mornings when it lingers (Kevin calls it aromatherapy). I didn’t start using it until she was a few months old as I wanted to make sure her skin wasn’t sensitive or she wasn’t sensitive to scents. I did not wear perfume or scented lotion either! When we did begin to experiment I did a patch test first to make sure everything was ok.
♦Big Flopsy– Around month 7 in pregnancy I was having discomfort sleeping and we bought a Big Flopsy from France’s version of “Buy Buy Baby” out of desperation and it has literally been my MVP. We call it my “snuggle slug” since I was always wrapped around it. I traveled around the world with it throughout my pregnancy, used it every single day and since Eloise was born, as a nursing pillow. When she was a baby I could prop her up on it, lay her down in it to nap and wrap around her as she learned how to sit up. It’s been so useful. The brand of mine is Red Castle which is popular in France but I know there are many similar items in the market that work just as well.
♦Baby Bjorn Travel Crib- We have been really happy with this travel crib! Folds up small, easy to travel with, easy to set up and feels completely safe. It’s a great size and great quality. I couldn’t imagine a better travel crib.