June, 2013

I am writing this from Los Angeles a month late, and all of this seems a world away. Alba is sleeping with her head on my chest and her Papa is on the other side of the world. Life changes suddenly for me, there is no order. Sometimes I write notes in my phone when the feeling strikes me, so instead of trying to recollect I’ll share those from June.

(These images are from our trip to our family in North Queensland, and a visit to the community gardens near our new home. I wish I took more photos. I was disconnected from photography this month.)

While I sing Alba to sleep on the highway, with her small hand in mine, a thought strikes me and makes my voice tremble mid-lullaby. My voice holds more power than it ever has. The sound is calming her and may always be a source of comfort.
I often forget just how important I am to her, how the details of my face are more familiar to Alba than they are to me. How my mood colors her day. The patterns of my clothing are a part of the landscape of her world. I am home to her more than anywhere on Earth and I will always be her Mother.

In our new home the past has followed us. It is there in the dreamcatchers I made from twigs from the Blue Mountains hanging above our bed, the polaroids on the bookshelf of when we first fell in love, the worn teddy that was mine when I was as small as Alba is now. I love to remember it all, to stay up late with Matt retelling our shared and seperate pasts.

I’ve never been content with being content. The excitement that stirs in my chest is my drug. Yet when I feel the lows of living without stability, it’s all I want.

I lay on the grass at the community gardens and Alba runs down the path dragging my bag, she pulls out my camera and lifts the heavy thing to her face to take a photograph. I wonder if she will be a documenter too.
My little girl is growing up. Not fast, like everyone said she would, but slowly and perfectly in her own time. She spends days with my auntie and cousins now. When I call her my baby I pause and wonder if she really still is.

In the backseat of the car on the way to the hospital I hold a gauze pad over Alba’s burst blister. It is so swollen and big I can’t look. Pus and blood trickle stickily down my arm. I cry quietly, so Matt can’t hear me. My girl has been in pain for days now. I can bear my own pain, but hers cripples me.
Soon I can no longer keep quiet, I cry with all of her heartbreak and pain to come. Motherhood weighs me with sadness, with the same intensity that it fills me with light.

I trace the places where my body stretched. Softly beneath my breasts as they became heavy with milk, less softly across my sides as I grew a human being in my womb. Not so long ago I traced these places with disappointment and longing. All too influenced by the image obsession of our society and my industry. But now as a Mama I finally accept my body. And I am happy to have a body, to have life, to feel love.

May, 2013

It’s been a long time since I last posted. Life has been full.

Every morning I am woken with a kiss from my daughter. In an instant my dream world fades and I am left with the indescribable softness of her lips smushed into my face with love. She glows with an almost tangible potential and it seems wherever she goes disorder follows. Toddlerhood is both incredible and frustrating. I still watch her while she sleeps some afternoons, taking in the rare stillness and the perfect proportions of her features. The rounded eyelids and cheeks, the dimpled knuckles, the golden spiralling hair.

In many ways I don’t feel like a Mother. My mind is still the same mind of my child self, just with different thought patterns, more knowledge and a dullness which I assume is part of getting used to being alive. I expected to be transformed into someone entirely different, but I am glad to find myself still me. Still sleeping in, giggling to Peppa Pig, jumping on the trampoline at midnight, eating too much dessert and fantasising about other worlds. The thing that has transformed most is my idea of what a Mother really is.

I was feeling a little lonely in Brisbane so I organised a picnic, which I named the Plant Love Picnic. It was a celebration of how delicious healthy, plant-based food could be and a way for like-minded people to come together. I thought maybe two or three people would come along, but by the afternoon more than a dozen people were sitting around on a patchwork of picnic blankets surrounding plates of beautiful vegetarian food made with love. We talked in the gardens ’til the sun set, bonded by our want for a better world. The happy buzz from the day and the knowledge that the world is filled with such good human beings lasted for a long time.

One day we decided we’d load the car up and go on a road trip to my hometown. It took two days to drive there, with stops along the way. Hungry, tired and halfway there, I decided to get breakfast with Alba while Matt catnapped in the car, warm and cosy with the morning sun. At the time it seemed so funny to be vegetarians stopping for a meal in the beef capital of Australia. We found a nice little cafe, where I swapped out meat for avocado and mushrooms and we shared an orange juice. We stayed for a long while, me writing in my journal and Alba scribbling with coloured crayons on a notepad and somehow that little moment brimmed with beauty.

A few days after we arrived in Townsville we took the ferry to Magnetic Island. My siblings and I ran to the back of the ferry where the water and wind were wild and we clung tightly to the metal railing, shouting to one another over the roaring sound. That night we walked to the beach and my brother told me to look up at the sky, so I did, and when I did it wasn’t just a familiar background unworthy of wonder, I saw the sky and the stars for what they really were. I looked up at our universe, with its countless slowly exploding stars and enormous galaxies and I was overcome. I felt the Earth spinning beneath my feet and I felt very, very small. I looked at my family, old and new, and I realised the power of blood and the strangeness of life.

When we were younger our Mother could never afford to take us on holidays, so this trip was special. My childhood came back to me as we shared pizzas, drew in the sand and played board games. But my siblings weren’t children any more and at times it was as though I barely knew them. Still I felt a sense of love and protection for them, and the grown ups they were becoming. My brother fell the deepest in love with Alba. He has never been taken with children but he doted on her, taking his role of uncle to heart. I felt a new feeling, a feeling of pride for creating a being that brings so much joy to others. I visited my cousins and regret swept back, that they had kept on growing while I was gone. I wanted to go back, I wanted to be 14 and babysitting them all weekend, pretending they were my own children and letting them fall asleep across my lap on the couch, stroking their soft cheeks.

When we arrived home to Brisbane we knew it was time to move again. This time to the rich red soils of Toowoomba, the garden city where my auntie, cousins and grandparents live. We bid our dear housemates and our growing garden farewell and packed all of our things into boxes. There were jars upon jars of grains, nuts, dried fruits, beans and seeds I’d been collecting over the year. Time rushed as we packed, cleaned, cooked, worked and cared for Alba. As we drove away for the last time M said “It feels good to know that the gardens I leave behind will keep on growing and keep on giving,” and I let go of my sadness, like letting the ocean current carry the sand from my loose palm.

Until we find our patch of Earth our home will be ever-changing. And even when we do find land to settle and nestle into, we will still always travel. We are still young and there is so much to learn and experience. So much goodness to be found and shared. Now, a new adventure.

April, 2013

Sometimes I feel guilty that my blog is so much about Motherhood now. That my creative photoshoot posts are rare. But if I’m going to keep my blog honest then it has to grow with me. And right now Motherhood and life is where I am.

This will change in time. I will always be a Mama and an avid life-documenter but as my daughter finds independence I will get more time to create.

April disappears quickly. We haven’t travelled in a while and we miss it. We check flights to Europe now and then and wish we could, but content ourselves planning our November trip instead. We’re going to Bali for a month because this is where we are hosting one of our Photography workshops next year and we have a lot to organise.

Life continues in the every day kind of way it does when you’re not travelling. So we break it and go camping. The camp grounds are strewn with coloured tents and the air is smoky from bonfires. Beyond a dip in the Earth is a beautiful swimming creek running alongside the grounds. We meet new people and we all share food and stories. I collect ‘dinosaur egg’ rocks with my cousins and float on an inflatable mattress in the river.

The night grows cold and I sit before the fire with Alba. Her arms wind around my neck as she watches the flames. In those moments being a Mama is exactly what I pictured. I may never find the right words to describe what it is like to have the gentle, warm weight of your own child in your arms (if you’re a parent, you already understand), but it holds so much meaning to me. It is something where there was once nothing. It is the strangeness and wonder that is life. That weight is the weight of the world.

We don’t have many friends in Brisbane yet but we see my Auntie and her girls a lot. The way Sommer and Alba love one another makes me melt. My auntie was like that with me when I was a baby, and maybe Alba will be that way with Sommer’s baby too.

An advertising agency hires me to shoot a campaign for The Smith Family. I fly to Sydney twice. The first time I am only there for a day to scout school locations and cast. I interview and photograph close to 50 children at Sun Studios before flying home again. A few days later I am there overnight to shoot the ad campaign. It is the first time I have been apart from Alba this long. On the flight over I feel my face burning as I try (unsuccessfully) to pump milk without drawing attention.

I stay in a boutique hotel in the city. There are a bowl of chocolates on the bed and I eat them cross-legged in my underwear, savoring my space. I thought I would be lost with loneliness and missing my family, but instead I’m rejoicing in my time alone.

It only takes me an hour to prepare and pack for tomorrow’s shoot. Then I have all this free time that for the first time in a long time I am not sure what to do with. I have a long, hot shower. I pump some more milk. I go walking in the city. Memories hit me hard. I have spent a lot of time here, a lot of things happened. The memories crowd my head so much I have to grab dinner quickly and rush back to the hotel room.

The bed is too big for just me and I sleep very soundly. When I wake at dawn my breasts are very full with milk. I was teased so much for being flat chested in highschool that I can’t help but laugh when I see myself naked in the bathroom mirror.

Someone from the production agency picks me up and we drive to the location. I have a digital operator and assistants and everyone is asking me about lighting set ups and I am trying to explain how simply I shoot. Just the sun, I say. I don’t need a lot of assisting either. I know I shoot unusually (and probably unprofessionally in some people’s eyes) but this is the way I make my images.

It is hard to foster a connection with a model when there is a big team standing around you both. So I do what I can to make space for us. The shoot is very long but the children are sweet. The clients love the images and we are all exhausted but content. They are a charity I really believe in, you can donate here and see some of my images here.

For the entire flight I keep imagining what Alba will be like when she sees me. Will she cry out “Mama” and run to me with her arms outstretched? Will she say her first ever sentence “Mama, never leave me again”? My imaginings grow more and more far-fetched. When I walk out to the baggage carousels I can see her walking around Papa’s feet. Her strawberry blonde hair looks bright and her skin glows. She is the prettiest little girl around. I can’t believe I get to be her Mama.

When Alba sees me she doesn’t even smile. She just looks at me like I’ve been here all along, as though she didn’t notice I’d gone anywhere. But in the car she holds my hand tightly all the way home.

March, 2013

It’s March and my daughter is taking her first steps. As I watch her I hold my breath. She steps forward and forward and then falls onto her bare bottom. We clap for her and then she claps for herself too. Her proud smile reaches her ears. I think, oh baby, this is just the beginning.

Brisbane is a beautiful city. We spend days by the big river, walking across the man made beaches, under the flowering vines and spend hours in the library. Alba meets other children here and Papa reads her bird books from the grown up library. We both love seeing Alba happy.

One night I have a gallstone attack. It is the only pain I’ve ever felt that rivals childbirth. I had one in the mountains last year that lasted hours and I thought I might be dying. Back then I talked to my aunt and she told me it was common for the women in our family to have the attacks after pregnancy. I can’t breathe properly and my stomach is as hard as rock. I want it to end but I don’t know when it will. We drive to the hospital. The traffic is bad and time goes very slowly.

Soon after we arrive my lungs begin to open wider, bit by bit. And then like a sail caught in wind I can breathe full breaths again. It feels so incredible and blissful to be well and alive. I am told to get an operation on my gallbladder but the attack already seems miles away. A part of me feels grateful for the reminder of how good it feels to be well.

Every morning M goes for a run up the nearby mountain and Alba and I spend the morning together. For breakfast I make her scrambled organic eggs with lots of coconut oil (for good fats) and nutritional yeast (for b12) and I have chia & oat bircher with almond milk and fruit. When Papa is home we make green smoothies together (kale or spinach, squeezed orange juice & frozen banana). Now that we eat well food is a huge joy for us. Eating a piece of sorrel from the garden sends delicious shivers down my spine. Who would have known that I would one day find more pleasure in a big bowl of salad than an ice cream? Somehow now that we mostly only eat plants, nuts and seeds we eat more diversely than ever before.

We go on a little roadtrip to visit my grandparents. We have breakfast in their garden, picking fresh figs, persimmons and raspberries to eat. Afterwards we lay back on a picnic rug and teach Alba what a cloud is. We forget the camera, so we are careful to not let this memory slip away from us.

As I am picking the raspberries with Alba, I tell M “We need a big garden with strawberries and raspberries and blueberries and mulberries because I could never be unhappy if I had fresh berries to pick.”

We daydream about owning our own land every day. We talk about what we’ll grow and build and how we can live sustainably. I begin planning workshops, a photography book and an app so that these dreams can become life someday soon.

February, 2013

It’s Februrary and Alba is finding her voice. It is sweet and commanding. It reminds me that she is not a little baby any more. We are living with Georgia’s family and making our new house home. Our bed faces the windows so the sun can shine on our bodies. Alba follows the children on all fours like a puppy dog and cries at the door when they leave.

 I spend the afternoons making dinner for everyone in the house and many mornings baking or making nut milks, raw desserts or drying fruit. I give Alba a wooden spoon to stir granola and she squeals with delight and the granola is everywhere.

 Most days I feel like I have too many responsibilities and too little time. I work while Alba is in the garden with Papa or during her morning nap. I know I could be more productive during the day but it would mean not being present enough for her. So I’m not doing as many photoshoots as I used to and the dishes are piling up but we are living and loving as a family every single day.

 Nights can be hard. It’s not always easy to abruptly stop in the middle of answering an email, cooking or editing a series of images to be Mama again. Sometimes when she wakes up and cries my heart sinks and as she feeds (sleepy and safe in my arms) I feel chained. For a while I even tried night weaning.

 It’s easy to forget what is most important in my life. Not those emails, dinners or images, but my family. I’m discovering how to appreciate what I have in each moment, not mourn what I don’t. So last night as I was working on our online store I heard a cry and slipped into our dark, warm bedroom. I curled my girl’s body so her chubby legs were against my belly and I was grateful that she needed me. One day soon she won’t need these night feeds any longer.

 The garden is growing wilder and wilder as the days pass. Alba explores it on all fours or walking with her little hands in ours. A lady bug makes its way across her arm and she holds an earthworm in her open palm. She digs at the surface of the earth with a plastic spade and plants sunflower seeds. She is only small but she is already creating life.

 Me and M are almost always together, it’s the way it’s been since we first met. If we’re ever apart we take time to brief the other on every conversation, thought and event that happened in the other’s absence  We joke that this lets our minds merge back into one again.

 Some day it will be Alba’s turn to fill us in and we will listen eagerly. Right now I can’t imagine ever hearing her talk back to us, but I know the time is coming and I am impatient. I bet her mind is filled with magic. Just imagine the moment you looked in a mirror and understood for the first time that the reflection was you. Imagine being in a world where everything is new and unknown. Babies can teach us so much about ourselves if we just see life through their eyes.