we are women

I pitched an idea to my mama bestie. She lives in Cali, we only get to talk via Marco Polo, but she’s been a key figure in several life changing turning points in my life these past eight years. You’ve already read about her here!

The idea was simple — let’s celebrate the conclusion of our breastfeeding journeys together. She’d brought life into the world through her beautiful son, Xzavier, the same summer James made his grand appearance. We navigated the highs and lows of the first year of their lives. Warrior mamas, sharing life over videos while nursing, changing diapers, pumping and driving, sometimes doing both the latter at the same time. We pondered the complexity of motherhood, cried over the never ending unknowns, and rejoiced at the victories too “small” or too private to share on social media.

No matter how many amazing mamas I have in my world, there’s nothing like the camaraderie of an “in the trenches of newborn life” mama. My friends with school age kids weren’t texting me at 2am as their kids screamed for no reason. She did. We did. We’d survived it all together, she was my “breastfeeding buddy” and we deserved to celebrate ourselves!

We toyed with ideas. Do I fly to her? Does she fly out here? Do we meet somewhere in the middle? Is it a weekend thing? A spa weekend? A spa day?

What if we did a photo shoot?

It’s been a long time since I’ve had any kind of headshots taken. Certainly a long time with just me, sans family, and non since becoming a mother. When I first got my writing website up and running after writing coaching, a couple years ago, I put a “mom boss” spin on it because the only recent photos I had of myself were Christmas card photos taken with my little girl. I knew I needed updated shots but also was waiting to lose some weight and feel better in my skin before investing the money to do so. Losing weight wasn’t a possibility while I had a low milk supply and fought for every calorie and ounce of milk while breastfeeding. Once I’d weaned James, I decided to invest in my physical health a bit.

I joined Noom (basically “weight Watchers for millennials”), excited about the psychology aspect of the app, and motivated to lose weight. More importantly, though, I wanted to feel good in my skin, no matter what that shape or size was. The app didn’t stick, but the mindset did. Our beautiful new bathroom has a glass shower next to a giant mirror. Every time I jumped in I forced myself to not look away. This is you, this is the body you have, you are beautiful, you are strong, you are enough. I bought clothes that fit me, a size I’ve never bought in my life. I said things to myself I didn’t believe yet, but was committed to cementing into my brain.

I started believing them — 65% of the way — and the idea of a photo shoot kept popping up. When Alana and I began dreaming of doing something together to celebrate the milestone of weaning our boys, I threw out the idea…wanna do a photo shoot together??

She agreed! But before I move on, using the word “celebrate” feels weird. Not because it doesn’t fit, it absolutely fits, it was a celebration AND the word “celebrate” doesn’t do the experience justice. Saying goodbye to the nursing relationship with our boys was complex. It wasn’t simple. Celebration is a PART of what we experienced. We felt excitement our sons were growing up and learning new things and becoming little humans with new skills. And grief as we let go of a stage in their lives, knowing we wouldn’t have those moments of quiet in the middle of the night when everyone else was sleeping and it was just baby boy and mama.We felt relief there would be no more battles for milk supply or washing pump parts or. We felt confusion as we climbed out of a “nursing mama” cave, still the same women but also very different as this new layer of ourselves was discovered and the chapter closed. We were very much the same. And very much not.

Our idea became reality as we began putting in motion the pieces to fulfill the dream.

Photographer (my dear friend), check.

Make up artist (friend of Alana’s), check.

Hair mastermind (wife of make up artist), check.

Babysitting, check.

She flew in from California to visit family, we texted back and forth about outfits, knowing our photo shoot was coming up but clueless to what the experience was about to mean for our heads and our hearts.

On the phone with my dear friend and photographer, Tonesha, days before the shoot, she was asking me what we wanted as a result of being on the other side of her camera. We talked about motherhood, about breastfeeding, about how bad ass women are, about how even more bad ass we can be when we do something together. We talked about how easy it is to lose yourself when life is moving so fast, when you’re caring for others, when you’re hustling after big dreams and also paying the bills. We talked about what depression steals from us, about how mental health has to be a priority and that standing in front of her camera was part of my fight for maternal mental wellness.

Days later, we took off our mom and wife hats and opened the front door to our make-up and hair team. The four of us (soon to be followed by our photographer) dove pretty quickly into rich conversation about marriage, women, race, faith, the church, mental health, writing, grad school, doctorate programs (there were a lot of degrees in the room, y’all!), and other life stuff. We basically had a group therapy session in my bathroom!! It put me at ease to be surrounded by such amazing women, as I was making the space to celebrate the awesome woman I am.

I wish I could capture more of the emotion of the day into words. But words allude me. Some moments in time are meant to be enjoyed there, in the present. And that present was pretty awesome.

We took individual shots (those for another blog post!) for our personal websites and then had a blast together in front of the camera. These are my favorites from the day:

Alana, you are the most beautiful WOMAN and mother and wife and TENURED professor. You are raising up a son who will be a world changer as you do the same in your, rather large!, sphere of influence. The work you do matters, whether it’s from a teacher’s podium, on a panel of experts, behind a consultant’s desk or in the four walls of your own home. YOU MATTER. You matter to Za and Derrick and people in the Bahamas and Atlanta and Canada and Alabama and California, to people on multiple continents and in numerous countries. You matter to them and you matter to me because girlfriend, seriously, my life would not be what it is today if you hadn’t been bold enough to say “hey, there’s this book I want to read I think you might like — wanna start a book club?”

xoxo, va