I was a photographer before I became a mom. Admittedly, I didn’t know a ton about developmental milestones before I started working at Lasting Expressions. Most of my baby knowledge came from the hospital, where I was a newborn photographer. I loved it! They were all so sweet and tiny and so very much the center of their parents’ worlds by the time I went in to photograph. Shortly after I was hired on, Lasting Expressions launched the baby panel program- which meant that people who signed up had sessions for each important milestone of their child’s first year of life. Suddenly we were bombarded with babies! My whole world of baby knowledge expanded. I got to see all of the first year milestones in the studio- from starting to pick up their heads at three months, to the wobbly almost-sitting-up stages of six months, the standing, climbing and pushing of nine months, and then the big celebration of a first birthday. This was cool when I was “just” a photographer. But when I found out I was pregnant it was that much more exciting, making it very real for me.
From the minute I found out I was going to have a baby, I would go into the camera room for sessions with little ones, wondering what it would be like to have my own baby going through the same stages. There is a gallery wrap hanging on the lobby wall in the studio of a baby doing a cake smash session for their first birthday, and I knew that was on my “must” list for my baby. I looked at it with eager anticipation every time I walked in to the studio, knowing one day my child would do the same thing.
I looked up development. I had more than a few baby apps on my phone that told me that my baby was the size of a lemon and counted down the weeks. I looked up breastfeeding and formula. I did several 4D ultrasounds at our studio to see her as she grew and developed. I registered for all the Diaper Genies, crib sets, bouncy seats, and swaddle blankets I could find. To say she suddenly changed my whole world would be an enormous understatement. But we were so very excited for the change to happen. So ready to see each new thing that was happening in pregnancy and to finally get to meet her! I ended up having a C-section because my daughter was breech, and I had the luxury of planning out my visitors and even when to ask my coworker to come in and take hospital pictures of us, like I had done for so many other moms.
We did hospital newborn photos. We did studio newborn photos. We did a random photo session at 5 months and again for Christmas photos. And all of them came out beautifully- my chunky redheaded baby looking almost surreally sweet in her precious little outfits that we bought way too early and had anxiously waited for her to grow in to.
But there was so much more to having a baby for an entire year than those photos show. The mile markers are important- but they don’t capture the long nights when baby won’t sleep. They don’t capture the diaper full of poop and the third outfit change of the day at 8 a.m. when you’re running late for work. They don’t capture the frizzled, three-days-without-a-shower mom bun, the long waits at pediatricians’ offices when they have the tiniest bump, or the days full of wondering if you’re doing this whole “parenting” thing right. These pictures don’t capture the ugly, tough parts. What they do capture are the successes.
They capture that, even though you didn’t sleep the night before, baby is still growing, is still happy, and is doing what babies do. Even though you chose formula over exclusively breastfeeding, she’s still thriving. She’s still lifting her head. She’s sitting up on her own. She’s starting to walk, albeit wobbly and bowlegged. She’s grinning from ear to ear and clapping her hands, saying “Dada” over and over again like some magic chant. Those photos capture those precious moments; the moments that we might miss in the midst of the chaos of just making life happen day to day.
Just shy of a month before my daughter’s first birthday, I realized that she was growing up much too fast. She had gone from 8 pounds 3 ounces of squishy newborn sweetness to a giggly, fiery, fiercely independent toddler. She had an opinion about everything, and even with her limited vocabulary of “Dada” and “Gah” she managed to let me know exactly what she thought about every new experience. Something in me just wanted to look back. I tore through the house grasping at all of my photos of her- jump drives of ultrasounds, hospital bands meticulously kept up in cabinets with her birth announcements. I suddenly needed to get these photos hung up. Maybe to remember how tiny she was. Maybe because I’m so in love with the tiny person she is growing in to. Maybe both.
And every day, I walked in to the studio knowing that first birthday smash cake was getting closer and closer, along with her birthday. And to say my husband and I went all out for her birthday is probably an understatement. Having the ability to go in to the studio and photograph your own child’s first birthday pictures is a luxury not too many are afforded, but I was so excited to get to do it for her. I ordered her smash cake- a lavender and white giant cupcake-along with an intricate lace diaper cover and matching headband that probably were a little overboard to only wear one time. We made four-foot-tall wooden characters from Zootopia, because that’s the only movie that ever kept her attention long enough to let me wash my hair. We had themed food and cleaned our entire house down to the floorboards and bought animal-print balloons. If we were going to have a party, we were going to have a party.
But the week before her party, it was time for her session. My sister picked up the cake from the bakery and brought it to me before we drove up together. It sounds silly to say, but I was anxious to see how this would actually turn out. She had developed an affinity for cake ever since her grandma snuck it to her at five months old, so I knew she would love that part. But would she cooperate with the lights? Would the room full of things to climb on be too much? Of course I had seen some cake smashes go completely wrong. Others went as smoothly as the demolition of a cake could go.
And in the end, well, the photos spoke for themselves. Those pictures are something I know I’ll always love, and will probably be something she is embarrassed by when she’s old enough to know better. And in the end it never really mattered if she laughed or cried through the whole thing- that wasn’t the point.
The point is that she made it- we made it. We made it through nine months of pregnancy. We made it through the newborn days when everything seemed so new and foreign. We made it through daycare and diapers and endless transitions to new things as she suddenly realized what the world around her looked like. And suddenly she’s a year old. She’s gained so much independence and personality in the last twelve months, and I know that will only progress as time goes on. But as quickly as this milestone came, I know it won’t last for long.
So for now, my husband and I are relishing the new phases that come with having a toddler. The first year of her life brought so many new things- new milestones to reach for, new experiences to be had, and a new outlook that we never would have seen without her. Watching someone experience the world for the very first time is something we take for granted so much in the hustle of everyday life, but it is something so very special. And there are so many more milestones to go. But for right now- right this minute- she is a very special, very happy one year old. And we’ll celebrate that.