A morning with the Bolton family, Atlanta Family Photographer

On breathing

A father holds an oxygen tube near his son's face

When Colleen and Derek’s twins were born, I offered to come photograph their family whenever they were ready. I spent a morning with them soon after Dylan got to come home, and I am still breathing in the gratitude and love that I got to experience in their home that day. I’m always amazed by the families I photograph, and this family taught me more than they will know. One of the first things I noticed when I was hanging out in the kitchen was the Mommy Sticker Chart hanging on the fridge that serves as a reminder to take a deep breath. It reminded me of these words Colleen had recently shared.

“Two hundred seventy-one days is a long time to hold your breath. If you do the math that’s June 19th. I tried to hit the brakes but it was too late. My water, Dylan’s protection and lifeline, broke. A stupid, minor, avoidable collision that changed the course of my life and almost took my sons from me. For days I was inconsolable. Then I felt God tell me to chill out. Literally, what I heard in my heart was “chill out.” So I did. But I held my breath. People would say, “Twins!! Are you excited?” How do you answer that? I can’t explain to every person who asks about my pregnancy that I have no idea if I will ever get to brings these boys home. So I smiled and said, “I’m so excited!” And I held my breath.

September 26 I went into labor. My body, my boys, had held on as long as we could. Dylan had been growing without amniotic fluid for 3 months. They pulled Dylan out first. He made no sound. He couldn’t breathe. The doctor resuscitated him and got him on a ventilator. The ventilator was breathing for him but his lungs were so fragile that one of them tore. Can you imagine? Your lungs being so fragile that just inhaling air rips a hole in one of them. They switched him to an oscillator which allowed him to take fast shallow breaths. On the oscillator his body wasn’t getting rid of the CO2. His lungs collapsed multiple times. Somehow, the doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists found the right combination of support to allow his fragile, tiny lungs to do the job they were created to do and to keep my son alive. But I still held my breath.

I do not understand prayer. My village prayed, fasted and negotiated with God to let my sons live. I begged Him not to take my boys from me. Did we pray harder or more faithfully than anyone else would have under similar circumstances? Certainly not. I do not know why God chose to let my boys live. But I do know the choice was His. The grace was His. The mercy, the healing- His.

Today, for the first time in a very long time, I can breathe. And with every breath I will be grateful. With every breath I will work to extend the grace and mercy that was bestowed on me. With every inhale and exhale I will love. I will love.

When I think about how close to death Dylan came and how close to unimaginable grief I came I have to remind myself to breathe. But I can breathe. Today, I can hold my son in my arms with his dad and siblings nearby. And I can breathe.” —Colleen Bolton

Click on the slideshow to see images from the session or scroll down for more.

papers hanging on a fridge from a documentary family photography session
a mother puts a bow in her daughter's hair and the girl has her mouth open in a painful expression
a man with scars on his knees sits on a bed near his twin boys
twin babies lie down on a bed one is looking at the other
a father and his older daughter care for a baby boy
A girl plays on a changing table in between two cribs
a toddler puts her hand on her baby brother's head as he is being fed a bottle by his mother
A mother and father feed their twin sons in their nursery while their daughters play in the boys' cribs
a girl sits on a bed looking at her baby brother
A mother holds her baby son and looks at him
A mother puts her hand on her son's face as he looks at the camera
A mother holds her infant son in the corner of a living room as her two daughters play on their own
two girls climb on a fence
A father embraces his daughter and smiles
a father holds open a grill and a mother sits on a chair as they watch their daughters play in their backyard
a couple embraces in their backyard
a father holds his daughter who is reaching out and pointing to her smiling mother in a playful way
An infant boy looks up at his mom who has her hand on him
a girl wearing a shirt that says sister squad leans back against a table and smiles
a family lounges on a couch in their living room
A father holds his arms up ready to catch his daughter who is walking towards him on the couch
A mother holds her twin baby as a father holds a drink while being crawled on by his daughters
A mother and father hold their twin sons
A baby sits in a rocker and looks up at the camera
A girl stands on an ottoman in front of a dinosaur poster with a dinosaur toy in her mouth

An afternoon at home with Stephanie and Haddie, Atlanta Family Photographer

a girl laughs as her mother catches her after a chase during a documentary family photography session

When Stephanie’s daughter lost her two front teeth, she knew it was a special fleeting time that she needed to have documented. During our session, she shared some of her thoughts with me around this milestone, and I asked if she would write them down so I could share them here. Stephanie and I had our daughters one month apart, and I’ve loved experiencing motherhood together with her from the first months of pregnancy. These words hit me hard as I know I will be looking at my own daughter’s toothless smile with bittersweetness sooner than I will be ready. Thanks so much for articulating this milestone so beautifully, Stephanie!

The In-Between

When I was pregnant, I worked hard to not spend the whole 40 weeks simply waiting for baby. I made a point to treat both the pregnancy and the birth as their own sacred entities, rather than a means to an end. Through that journey, I got to know, trust, and honor myself and my body in ways I never had before. In that vein of awareness, when labor began, I was able to recognize that my pregnancy was ending, and soon all of the feelings—both physical and emotional—of that journey would be gone with it. Somehow, I managed to have the same level of consciousness around the birthing process and, when my daughter was born, was able to—amid the chaos—take time to both greet the new life I’d helped create and hold reverent the work I’d just done. Taking those moments to notice the new feelings of an empty belly and life on the outside helped create a pause that forbade me from missing my transition into motherhood. The very moment I became a mother, I experienced a fundamental change in how I perceived and operated within the world. I needed time to process that change, and am grateful to have had the intuitive notion to take the time to do so, rather than simply barreling ahead into this new life.

As with my experience with pregnancy and birth, I have found some places to mark time and have closure along the parenting journey: when my daughter hit major milestones, when she weaned, when she started school…her first this or first that. But, there are so many other things, in between, that I haven’t been able to put a stamp on: when did she stop saying “mazagine” instead of “magazine” or “vecause” instead of “because”? When did she become capable of doing so many things I thought I’d be doing for her for who-knows-how-long? When did she begin to become big?

Logically, I know it’s been happening all along, but in the day-to-day, I don’t notice the little changes as they come, or realize I need to say goodbye to those pieces of her left behind in the wake of new developments. The growing child has no boundaries. We may be aware of when a new chapter has started, but we rarely know when the one before has ended. It’s not often that we get to put closure on the child who was before we start getting to know the child who is. And so, the moments that are full of joy and accomplishment are often equally full of grief and mourning as we bid farewell to our child as we knew them for such a finite amount of time, and welcome the new version in…and it goes on…this revolving door of childhood.

My daughter began 1st grade in August, and the last few months have brought a world of change. The philosophy of the school where my daughter attends imparts wisdom around a period called “The Six Year Change.” The idea highlights this age as a major transitional point that looks and feels like a prequel to adolescence: the body changes, the teeth change, attitudes change (for better and worse), and the baby within the child starts to disappear. I’ve been [mostly] enjoying the experience of my daughter’s growth over these months, but when her top two front teeth fell out last month, it struck me that it was time for me to prepare to bid farewell to my baby, and welcome my daughter as the whole, beautiful, brilliant, challenging human she is becoming. It occurred to me that we are in a time of in-between, and the window in her smile is a beautifully bittersweet reflection of this very thin window separating her early childhood from all that is to come. In that moment of realization, I felt a strong need to take some time to hold space around this moment in our lives, and give it a bit of closure…not for my daughter, but for me. Children don’t miss being babies, they long to be big, and it is my job as her mother to be able to let go so that I can support and revel in her bigness, just as I did in her littleness.

Thanks, Kaleen, for creating this time capsule for us. I will hold this moment close to my heart as I love on my big girl, and miss my baby.
— Stephanie Singletary

a young girl stands on her tippy toes to look at herself in the mirror to put on makeup while her mom is putting on makeup in the background
A young girl holds a makeup brush to her cheek and smiles with a toothless smile
Young girl stands on an indoor swing during documentary family photography session
A young girl walks on hardwood floors with tights not pulled on all the way during documentary family photography session
a young girl makes a funny face in the mirror as her mom combs her hair during a documentary family photography session
Several Barbies float in bathwater in a bathtub during a documentary family photography session
A mother puts her daughter's hair in pigtails during a documentary family photography session
A young girl sits on a swing in her house while her mom holds the swing and looks up at her during a documentary family photography session
A girl puts her hand against a wall to push she and her dog in a red swing during a documentary family photography session
a young girl lies on her mother's lap and closes her eyes during a documentary family photography session
A girl eats a snack and smiles up at her mom with a toothless smile during a documentary family photography session
a mother touches her smiling daughter's nose as they sit next to each other during a documentary family photography session
a young girl laughs while eating a snack and lying on a large dog bed during a documentary family photography session
a young girl lies back on her mother as they sit together on the ground as a small dog lounges on the couch behind them during a documentary family photography session
a young girl climbs a tree and looks back at her mother with a worried face during a documentary family photography session
a mother roars with hands out to her daughter who is facing her and laughing during a documentary family photography session
a young girl looks up at her mom as she pulls her shirt with her teeth during a documentary family photography session
a mother smiles as she watches her daughter on a swing during a documentary family photography session
a girl smiles with joy as she swings on a swing during a documentary family photography session
A mom whispers into her daughters ear while she is on a swing during a documentary family photography session
a girl laughs as her mom tags her during a game of chase during a documentary family photography session
A girl runs in on direction as her mother runs in another direction during a game of chase during a documentary family photography session

A Day in the Life of my Life, Atlanta Family Photographer

From wake to sleep

Girl sleeps peacefully in a bed

I always like to start my year with an inspiring course that will challenge my growth as a photographer. For the final assignment of this year's course, The Documentary Approach, I had to do A Day in the Life of my own family. While I document my children every week as part of my Portrait of Play project, I had never photographed a day of our family life in its entirety. I went to bed with my camera beside me ready to wake up and capture the day as it happened all the way until bedtime. There was nothing special about the day. Nothing was scheduled, and we never even left the house. I took pictures like I would if I were photographing another family and also while nursing and vacuuming. It's safe to say that this is something I will continue to do every year as a way to record the things that stay the same and the things that change in our family life from year to year. The photos remind me of these things that I don't want to forget that define this time in our life:

-Winnie coming up to bed with us in the middle of the night every night. Waking up with her next to me.

-The furniture that James made for us that will be part of our life throughout the years.

-The exhaustion. Serious. Lack. Of. Sleep. Such is life when you have young children and you like to work until 2 am most nights.

-How much Roland loves James.

-The way my kids entertain themselves and me. My mom once said I should just record everything that happens here or stream it as a reality tv show. Their imaginations delight me.

-How Chuck sometimes wants to take showers by herself instead of baths with her sister.

-The little details that may go unnoticed to everyone else but are visually a part of our every day life: James' resistance band, the chalkboard wall, the rug, the coffee cups, the toys, the boxes from the car seats they will be in for the next several years, and the painting that is hanging in the girls' room. These are all things that make our house a home.

-The work that never ends, dishes, laundry, meals, pottying, nursing, changing, repeat, repeat, repeat.

-Atlas, the dog we had before we had kids, the dog who is not getting any younger.

This year has been rough. I mean, having three kids is crazy. In the same breath that I am already aching for the days I know I'll miss (that have not even passed yet), I am dreaming about 3 years from now when I will hopefully have more personal space, time to myself, and sleep. Because I know this day in our life will look different next year, I went ahead and printed these in a photo book so I could look at them without having to search through an old external hard drive to find them. My future self thanks me. 

While I was able to include my presence in these photographs, I am very glad my dear friend Anda Marie will be taking photos of our family this month. My family through my lens is different than my family through the lens of another. Plus, I want to be able to see myself with my children, and I want them to see me with them. My future self thanks me for that too.

Man yawns in a kitchen and a girl eats breakfast
still life of coffee and phone with a sleep chart on a table
Child puts hand into a plastic bowl of Grapenuts
Girl with a milk moustache laughs in a kitchen
Girl makes face at sister while opening the dishwasher
Child in red pajamas with head in the box while lying on the ground
Baby boy stands up in crib and looks in the camera
Girl sits in bath tup and puts her hands and feet together
baby slumps over in a jumper flanked by full laundry baskets
A girl sits on the toilet while another girl jumps on a bed
Baby holds bowl of yogurt close to his face
Girl in shower with tongue out of her mouth
Child stands on a stool and leans over into the washing machine
Man lies on a couch and looks at his phone
baby smiles and looks at his dad
Reflection of woman holding camera with a child on her back
Baby looks at mother while nursing as seen from mother's perspective
Dog looks at boy in a highchair in a kitchen while a girl reaches into a cabinet behind it
3 children play with pretend food in an oven
baby holds  on to child's shopping cart with a pretend kitchen
Mother vacuums while baby holds onto it taken from the mother's perspective
A child sits on a couch as a baby stands under a table and a girl sits in a laundry basket and talks on a phone
Girl writes on cardboard house with marker while sticking her tongue out
A girl gets ready to squeeze oranges as another girl looks over
A toddler sits on a potty chair in a bathroom with her arm stretched out toward the person taking the picture
A girl opens a door to go outside while a girl carries the top of a pineapple behind her
The top of a pineapple planted in a pot with dirt around it
A man and two children cut carrots with knives
A man lies on a couch looking at his phone while a child climbs on him and another child lies on the floor in front of him
A father puts pajamas on a baby who is holding onto his leg and another child leans on a couch beside him
A girl yawns as a father dumps pee in a toilet and another girl looks at the camera while brushing her teeth
A baby smiles at one sister while his dad sets him on another child lying in a bed
two children sleep in a bed

I'd love to spend some time in your home with your family. It doesn't have to be for a full day. You don't have to be at your prepregnancy weight. Your house doesn't have to be clean. Your kids don't have to behave. You just have to be you. 

three photo albums on a piano