Women seem to be the keepers of family memories. It's (almost
always) Mom who makes the baby book, schedules the family portrait, takes the
photographs at birthday parties, BBQs and on vacation. Because we are never
on vacation, not really.
In the midst of a special occasion, we are thinking,
"Take a picture, take a picture, take a picture." And so we do, with camera or
phone, preserving the memory long after the crepe paper streamers have faded
and the ice cream sundaes have been eaten. We post the photos to Facebook,
Instagram and the family blog and send them in emails, with thoughtful
commentary and clever captions; we make prints to send to Grandma and old
college friends at Christmas or to tuck in school backpacks so our kiddos
don't miss us while they're at camp.
We are the memory keepers and, too often,
we are absent from the memories because we are too busy capturing them.
During my first pregnancy I took weekly photos to document
what felt like a miracle—at the age of 42, and after three miscarriages, I was
really growing a baby inside me. The changes my body was undergoing were
fascinating, terrifying and exciting. Then my husband deployed with the Navy
during my last trimester and the weekly photos became the only touchstone he
had for my pregnancy.
But I started sending (my husband) mom and baby selfies, cringing at how exhausted and worn out I looked.
I was always fully clothed in my photos and I regret
that—my increasingly growing belly was truly a miracle. I have just one photo
of me in my underwear at nearly 9 months pregnant, standing in the newly
finished nursery while I snapped a photo of my reflection in the mirror. I love
that picture in a way my younger, non-pregnant self would never have
After my son was born, I took as many pictures as any mom
and then some. My husband came home for the birth and returned on deployment
two weeks later, so pictures, videos and Skype phone calls were the only way
for him to see his son. And me. I remember the day he said, "I want pictures of
you, too." I hadn't even thought of it. After the baby was born, there was no
longer a need to take selfies—right? But I started sending him mom and baby selfies,
cringing at how exhausted and worn out I looked.
My husband came home when the baby was 5 months old and I
again turned my camera on my family. Selfies felt self-indulgent and vain and my husband was home, so there was no need to include myself in the pictures. That feeling didn't really change even after I had my second son. I documented this second miracle, too, but I took fewer pregnancy pictures than I did the first
time around and almost none of myself after he was born. Photo after photo—I found myself photographing the loves of my life. But where
was I in these family portraits?
It fully hit me when my second son was around 3 months old and his
brother had just turned 2. In going through pictures from my older son's
birthday party, then scrolling back over the previous three months, I realized
that in the photographic log of my life, I was the absent family member. And
while that didn't bother me much in the moment, I thought about how I would
feel a decade or two down the road when my kids were grown. I thought about how
they would feel, all grown up, with no pictures of their mother. And yes, I
thought about what that would mean after I died—hopefully not for many, many
years, but no one gets that kind of guarantee—and how my family's photos would
be missing me.
I didn't wake up one morning and decide to start taking more
selfies. It happened gradually, with these thoughts of my family and the
future, what it means to live a life behind the camera and what it might
mean for those I leave behind one day.
So I started turning the camera on myself
more often. For every 10 or 20 pictures I took of my husband playing with
our boys, I would remember to take some of me—posing with the kids or
my husband, or even with my dog or my coffee cup, or just me, smiling, happy,
not concerned about the dark circles under my eyes or the frizz in my hair.
Just … happy.
It would be lovely if I could look at myself in the mirror today and see how beautiful I am in this moment. I'm getting there, I think.
Slowly, the photos have migrated from my phone to social media to
text messages to my husband or a friend—pictures of me, just me, living my
Pregnancy was the first time I could really look at a photograph of my body and feel happy and pleased with how I looked and proud of what my body was able to accomplish. I felt beautiful, and I wanted to recapture those proud, happy feelings post-pregnancy. Over time, I've come to learn that taking selfies, or making sure I get in the picture with my family once in a while, isn't just about having self-esteem, it's also about nurturing that self-esteem.
I'm in my late
40s now. I have two kids and my body reflects the effects of pregnancy,
surgery, age and years of yo-yo dieting. But when I look back at photos of when I
was younger, I think of how pretty I was when I was 19 or 27 or 35, and I
realize that in 10 years I will think pictures of myself from today reflect a
Someday I want my kids to be able to look at family
photos and see their pretty mother, even if I didn't feel that way on the day
the picture was taken. Yes, it would be lovely if I could look at myself in the
mirror today and see how beautiful I am in this moment. I'm getting there, I
think. And it's the selfies, the photos I take when I am feeling good about
myself, inside and out, that have helped me document the journey.