There is much more to my connection to this family than they may even know…life is so complicated, yet so beautifully simple: what we need, what we feel, who we come into contact with and when. There is a higher purpose to it all which I may never fully understand or be able to make sense of, but I am ok with that.
Flash back to 2002, my graduate year earning my Masters in Teaching at UNH and I was assigned to Jon Appleby, English teacher and mentor at Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine. That was an incredible year – I learned so much from him not just about teaching reading and writing, but connecting and mentoring and teaching with heart and soul. To this day he remains a key person in my years of pursuing my teaching degree (that I am very thankful to have, that I am still paying for, and no I am not teaching English, but glad I did!)
Jon and his wife Christine and I kept in touch over the years. I make a point to visit them at their Salmon Falls Nursery every summer. I photographed their small, intimate wedding (on film!) and met Christine’s three daughters and their young grandchildren. I had my own to daughters and brought them there, often with my own mother – visiting garden centers was one of our favorite things to do together. In 2011 I gave birth to Lola, my second daughter and that same year my father passed away after fighting brain cancer (glioblastoma multiform). In the following years, in the wake of navigating my mom’s loss of her husband, the loss of my own father, I struggled with whether or not I should have another child – bring another life into this world…
In April 2013 Christine’s daughter Amy died in a tragic car accident. She had two young children. I saw it in the news and, like thousands of other people who know this family, was so deeply saddened. Events like this just don’t make sense; why her? Why leave those children without a mother? Why should I bring another child into this crazy world? My head was spinning…It was when I laid my eyes on Jon and Christine at her funeral that I decided, in that very moment, that I needed to have another child. I cannot explain it in words, but I left that church with the realization that Etta, born in January 2014, was exactly what my little family needed.
Needless to say, when Christine’s daughter Leah reached out to me several months after she had her baby girl Evelyn, my heart burst with excitement to document her journey. I knew Leah through Jon and her mom, and always asked about how she was, and how Amy’s kids were doing when I would visit with them. I had learned that Leah and Jeremiah had learned of their baby girl’s complications in the second trimester – complications that take your breath away. Having been through three pregnancies, my heart was aching and hoping for them that the days and weeks and months after their baby was born would be blessed with strength and, ultimately, a healthy baby. Evelyn, you are one amazing little girl – and Leah, you are an incredible mama, just like your mom and your sisters. Thank you for trusting me to document your and Jeremiah’s life with your sweet little baby, now a thriving and happy girl! We were meant to meet!
The newborn session photos are from winter 2017 and the more recent one are from my Motherhood Mini Sessions in May 2019 done at Relief in Hampton, NH.
Read on to hear about Leah’s journey through pregnancy with Evelyn from her perspective, learning at 20 weeks that she would be born with a complex heart defect, truncus arteriosis:
My dear, sweet Evelyn. Around the time I found out that I was pregnant with a baby girl I also found out that my great aunt had passed. Her name was Evelyn and the name immediately stuck. She would be Evelyn. We struggled with infertility for 5 years when finally we had success with in-vitro fertilization. The first few months of being pregnant with Evelyn were among the happiest that I can remember. I was healthy and felt great. I was finally pregnant with the child I had waited so long for. At my 20 week ultrasound we found out that something wasn’t quite right with her development. It was not news we were prepared for as we thought finally overcoming infertility was enough for one couple. This overwhelming information devastated us. After many visits to specialists eventually brought us to Boston children’s hospital we found out that our growing baby had a complex heart defect, truncus arteriosis. She would need to be born in Boston and have open heart surgery soon after birth. The remainder of my pregnancy was a stressful blur of doctor visits and preparation for a baby we didn’t know if we would get to bring home. I was induced at 38 weeks. Her birth was nothing like I had envisioned. It was sterile and scary. I labored in a room crowded with doctors and nurses, all awaiting Evelyn. Waiting to put IV’s in her. To prod her. To take her from me (at Brigham) to Children’s hospital next door. When she finally entered the world she was beautiful and perfect. I held her once before I had to release her into the care of others. I didn’t get to try to breastfeed or hold her to my bare chest. I would get to see her many hours later, in a room where we would spend the next month. She had open heart surgery at 4 days of life. She did beautifully and healed as well as we could have expected. When we brought Evelyn home a month later I knew I wanted to document her and all of the beauty that she was. I wanted to document how healthy she was and how happy we were. Knowing that I now have these photos to reflect upon brings me so much comfort. They symbolize all that we had gone through as a small family and how we were able to successfully make it out the other end of an incredibly hard and trying time. I hope that as Evelyn gets older and learns about her heart and the scar on her chest that we can show her these pictures and that she will look at the little girl with the dimple with as much love as we do.
Thank you for reading! XO