Motherhood is Beautiful- Loving My Mom Body

When I first saw this family photo it was a small thumbnail in our gallery of birth photography images, and I loved it. It was a lovely real life moment of our family. Something I’ve never had captured before. Even though the moment is so beautiful I almost didn’t share it with anyone.

birth photography | | meeting baby number eight | all natural hospital birth
Photograph courtesy of Elsa Shaw Photography

When I made the image large the first thing I thought was “wow, I look fat! No makeup, messy hair, and I’m in my pajamas. I don’t think everyone needs to see me that way.” I even considered for a moment whether I could possibly liquefy myself a bit smaller in Photoshop. Then I stopped. “What on earth is wrong with me?!?! This is less than 24 hours after giving birth to my eighth child. I can’t believe that I am being so hard on myself! I’m Super Womb-an.”

I now believe that this image is even more beautiful because of my appearance. This is a body that has carried and fed eight little humans. This is a body that has given birth naturally eight times. This is a body that has been pregnant, nursing, or both for the last nine years. This is the body that allows me to read, play, and laugh with my children. This is the body that cooks, cleans, teaches, and so much more. This is the body that my husband loves. Most importantly my body is an amazing temple of God and I need to show it more respect.

I am beautiful. My body is amazing. I will share this image with pride knowing that it is a truly beautiful moment that my children and their children can treasure for generations.

motherhood is beautiful| | love your mom body | Exist in photographs
Photograph courtesy of Elsa Shaw Photography

Mom’s please love yourselves. Love your bodies for the amazing things that they do. Don’t hide from the camera or hide away the photos because you are ashamed. There is no shame in motherhood. You are beautiful even with 20 extra pounds, no make-up and messy hair. Motherhood is beautiful in every shape and size. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to celebrate it. Show your children the beauty that created them. Give them something to treasure for the rest of their lives. Exist in photographs, it is the best gift you can give after giving them life.

I would love to document these moments for you. Whether it’s a birth, newborn, or family life session I promise you we will walk away with a treasured memory. Contact me for more information.

Have you ever had a photo of yourself that you judged too harshly? What amazing things has your mom body done? I’d love to see your favorite documentary images of yourself! Share links in the comments so I can check them out. 

Birth Story #8-Fastest Labor Yet

My labors always tend to be pretty fast and intense, but this birth story takes the cake for fastest one yet!

Hannah's Birth story- All natural hospital birth with baby #8 | | My fastest labor yet!

On Saturday night we went to a friends house for dinner. These were the friends that had volunteered to take our kids when we went to the hospital. I had been having contractions for about two days, but they were only 2-3 in an hour and not very intense. While at their house they got a bit stronger, but not any more often. At about 9 o’clock we packed the kids up and headed home. Cameron had met me there after work, so we each had our own car.

Not quite sure why, but getting in the car triggered something. Contractions immediately were strong and frequent. I pulled up my contraction timer app on my phone and they were timing at every 2.5-3.5 minutes. I got home before Cameron, he had to stop to get gas, and told the kids to go get dressed in their Sunday clothes. (Check out my post in Calming the Sunday Morning Chaos if that sounds totally weird to you) when Cam walked in the door I asked him to call our friends and tell them we were coming back with kids. “Now?” “Yes, NOW!”

We loaded the kids back in the car and drove over to drop them off. By this time contractions were getting hard to breathe through, especially while sitting buckled in the car! As Cameron unloaded kids I stood up and leaned over the front seat to make them a bit more manageable. I also retrieved my Serenity and Clary Sage essential oils from my bag which for some reason I thought should be placed in the very back of the van.

We got back in the car to drive the additional 20 minutes to the hospital. It was really killing me to not be able to use my typical pain management techniques of walking, rocking on the birth ball, and hot water. I was NOT handling the pain well at all and was even having a hard time reminding myself to breathe. You would think that being my eighth baby I’d be a pro, but it’s new each time and for some reason I just could not get myself into a good headspace this time.

We arrived at the hospital shortly before 11 and went to the desk. They immediately got me a wheelchair and printed up my forms. At this point I was hitting transition, they had Cameron sign the forms and quickly got me into labor and delivery. The nurses told me later that as I was rolled past their desk I looked calm so they thought I had a few hours. “Then we heard you and came running!”

As I was wheeled into the room I stood up to the edge of the bed and loudly said “Cameron she’s coming NOW!” Thankfully one thing I AM a pro at is letting my body take over when it comes to the point of pushing. I managed to get myself onto the bed for hands and knees, my favorite pushing position, as the nurses ran into the room. She was already crowning and I was still dressed! Cameron took care of the clothes as the nurses caught the head. Two good pushes and Hannah arrived at 11:07 pm.

At that point I mentally checked out. Everything had happened so fast and I hadn’t really been in control the way I had in the past. My brain just had to shut down for a few minutes. Within a few minutes of baby arriving the birth photographer got there. unfortunately she missed the big show, but she got some beautiful shots of the moments right after birth.

Natural birth story, baby #8 | | natural hospital birth | Fast labor | Mother and father bond over new baby
Yep, we made that! Photo courtesy of Elsa Shaw Photography

The on call doctor came in at that point, because my midwife was in the middle of delivering another baby, to deliver the placenta and check us all out. I found out later that the baby my midwife was delivering was also born at exactly 11:07. She said that had never happened to her before! One thing I absolutely LOVED about Athens Regional Hospital was that they have a policy of immediate skin to skin for a minimum of one hour. We ended up snuggling for over two hours before being separated for just a few moments so that I could clean up and be moved to the mother baby unit. They respected my wish for no first bath and took us both to the new room together, no nursery visit needed. The nursery nurse came to our room to do her assessments and Hannah never had to leave my side.

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how many times I do this every story is completely different. Birth is such an amazing and powerful experience. It literally just took me over this time. I am incredibly grateful that my experience allowed me to just fully surrender my body to the process and let nature do its job. No tearing, no trauma, and a beautiful perfect baby as a reward. What could possibly be better?

Peace baby | SmithSquad | natural hospital birth | Athens Regional Hospital | newborn baby gives peace sign
She’s already a cool cat. Photograph courtesy of Elsa Shaw Photography.

If you’d like to read my other birth stories they are all on the blog as well

Baby 1

Baby 2

Baby 3

Baby 4

Baby 5

Baby 6

Baby 7

Have you written out your birth stories? I’d love to read them. Drop a link in the comments!

My New Baby Must Have Products

My new baby must have products|| With a small budget, large family, and tiny home I have to be rather minamilistic with new baby supplies

With only six weeks left until my due date I am thinking a lot about making sure I have everything that baby needs. Fitting a family of 8 in a 980 sq ft house is no easy task. I have to really focus on only bringing into the house things that will truly bless us and get used on a regular basis. I don’t have a baby nursery, or even much storage space for clothes and such. I definitely don’t have room for EVERY awesome baby furniture option out there. Here are a few of my baby must have products that are worth making room for.

Muslin Swaddle Blankets

New Baby Must Have Products- Muslin Swaddle Blankets | | What things are absolutely necessary on a tight budget or in a tiny space?

My mom introduced these muslin swaddle blankets to me a few babies ago. She runs the Show Care at Tuacahn Center for the Arts and uses them all the time. They are perfect for swaddling because they are larger than most receiving blankets and thin which makes it easier to get them tight. The are super easy to layer when you need a bit of warmth and make a great light blanket when it is warm. They are also great as a breastfeeding cover or spit-up cloth.

Breastfeeding Essentials

As a stay at home mom I usually can just feed at the breast. It is nice, however, to have the ability to leave daddy or the sitter with a bottle of milk so that I can get some much-needed mommy time off. My favorite Bottles are the Breastflow bottles by “The First Years”. They mimic the way that baby gets milk from the breast so that there aren’t as many issues with nipple rejection or confusion. For the last few babies I have only had a simple Madela Harmony hand pump. It is inexpensive and works beautifully, but can be quite tiring on the hand that’s pumping. It’s great for moms who only pump a few times a week. If you are pumping daily, especially if returning to work, then a double electric is the best choice. Most insurance companies will cover a great one now days, so make sure you check with them before buying one out-of-pocket! In the past I have used the Madela Pump in Style and loved it. This time around my insurance sent me a Hygeia pump. I’ve heard great things about it, and am excited to try it out. I have also heard great things about the Spectra S2. You will also need storage bags and breast pads as a breastfeeding mom. My favorite for both is Lansinoh (bags, pads). Last, but certainly not least it is important to have at least two comfortable supporting bras. My absolute favorite brand is Bravado. Bravado bras are super comfortable and very supportive without having underwire. I love that they have a little bit of stretch to them to accommodate for changing cup sizes between full and empty breasts.

Baby Carrier

New Baby Must Have Products- Baby carrier |
This is a kangaroo carry in a woven wrap, perfect for teeny newborns.

I am a huge fan of babywearing! I detest carrying around a car seat, and find strollers that are suitable for newborns bulky and inconvenient. My three favorites for the newborn stage are stretchy wraps (Moby, Boba), woven wraps (Dolcino, Ellaroo, Didymos, Storchenweige, and more), and ring slings (Maya, Becco). You can read my full post about babywearing benefits and carriers here.

Car Seat

It kind of goes without saying that a good car seat is necessary for any baby. Even if you don’t have your own car chances are your baby will be in a friend’s car or taxi and will need a suitable seat. Me personally I prefer to get a good convertible seat and skip the baby bucket seat altogether. They can go from rear facing as low as 5 lbs in infancy to belt positioning booster for your 100 lb child, so you won’t have to buy anything other than a simple no-back booster if needed when your child is older.  It just makes more sense from a financial perspective, and as stated above I don’t take the seat out of the car, so portability isn’t a concern. Many moms prefer to get a travel system that includes a stroller, car seat base and a detachable seat. If you don’t have the same negative feelings towards strollers and carrying seats that I do it is a great option.


New Baby Must Have Products- Clothing || bodysuits and footed jammies are all you really need
Babies spend 90% of their time in footed jammies or bodysuits.

I am very blessed to have been gifted plenty of adorable hand-me-downs from friends and family. Really though babies don’t need much at all in the way of clothing. If you are buying your own on a budget stick to the basics. Bodysuits and footed jammies are what my babies wear 90% of the time. Unless the girls are picking the outfit, then they end up in the most frilly and sparkly outfit that can be found! How many to buy depends on how much storage space you have and how often you want to wash. Most babies go through 1-2 outfits a day thanks to diaper leaks and spit-up. If you have a major spitter though, you may need a few more.

That’s it Folks!

Seriously, that is the end of my list. Everything else is just fluff. There are tons of nice to haves and adorable things that are fun to have, but if you’re really working with a minimum budget or tiny space I think you will do just fine with only the things on this list.

Do you think I forgot anything? What are your new baby must have products?

Custom Painted Portraits

I believe that photographs are the art that preserves our memories for generations to come. As such I put all of my creative efforts into creating the finest art I can for my clients. Usually this means capturing the raw reality of the day in a truly documentary style. These are your memories. These images represent you. I don’t direct. I creatively capture the intimate reality of your special moments.

custom painted portrait|digital painting|canvas portrait

Every now and then, however an image just screams at me that it wants more. I don’t just see your hum drum every day life. I see an amazing beauty in the moments. When the soul of the subject speaks to me I owe it to them to create something amazing.

girl window pastel

This drive to create one of a kind art from every day moments is what led me into learning to use Corel Painter and Photoshop to create custom portraits from my photographs. I create so you can feel the amazing intimate beauty that I see in your relationships. I create so that your future generations will know how amazing that moment in time truly was. I create because I can’t silence the voice in me that cries out for you to understand just how awe inspiring your life is.Aly and Eli

Birth Story- Baby #3 had me fooled!

Benjamin joined our family in May of 2009. I was 4 weeks away from my end of contract as a U.S. Marine. As with baby #2 I had plenty of Braxton Hicks contractions all day long for a few days. I got sent home from work early on the 26th and they told me to not bother coming in the next day, just call. I still had to get up and get my oldest to school though. I was having pretty steady 5 minute contractions all morning, but they didn’t really hurt so I didn’t give them much thought.

I decided to go ahead and drop Maddy at daycare and have a mommy day off to rest and relax in preparation for baby’s imminent arrival. While dropping her off the daycare worker, Mrs. G., said “You’re in labor, guess I won’t see you for a few days.” I laughed at her and told her I wasn’t. She responded by rolling her eyes and telling me I was in denial. I then took Corey to school. He went to school on base which was 45 minutes from our house, but only 5 minutes from the hospital. Since Mrs. G’s statements had gotten me paying a bit more attention to my contraction timing (consistently 4-6 minutes). I decided it might be a good idea to pop in and have them check me out before I drove the 45 minutes back to my house.

At about 8:30 am when I walked into the labor and delivery ward on my own and not in apparent pain I could tell the nurses were ready to send me home. Quite frankly I was ready to go home! I told them I don’t think I’m in labor, but since I’m having 4-6 minute contractions I figured it was best to get checked out before driving 45 minutes home. They hooked me up, verified the contraction frequency then informed me I was fully effaced and dilated to 5. I was in labor!  After the intensity of the contractions with the previous babies I couldn’t believe it! One of the nurses informed me later they had actually been betting on sending me home and thought I was a bit nuts to even be there.

I called Cameron, who was working about an hour away, and he headed up to the hospital. I just hung out reading my book while getting incredulous looks from every nurse who walked in the room over how calm I was. Yeah it hurt, but compared to my first two this was a walk in the park! By the time Cameron got there I couldn’t focus on my reading anymore and needed to stop and breath through contractions. The nurses stopped looking so disturbed by my calmness lol. I think I got a shot of IV meds at this time, but honestly I don’t remember for sure. If I had waited till it really felt like labor to me ( around 11:30) I probably would have had that baby by myself on the side of the road or at home!

Once again when baby decided to come there was no waiting. A nurse was holding Ben’s crowning head in telling me not to push as the Dr. got his gloves on. I yelled “I’m NOT pushing!” as she let go and baby flew out into the Dr.’s hands at 1:01 pm.

Birth story||newborn photogaphy|cell phone photography
Baby’s first photo

Mrs. G enjoyed telling Cameron “I told you so” to pass on to me when he picked Maddy up from the daycare later than afternoon. Guess she really did see something in my eyes.

birth photography||my birth stories|cell phone photography

If you’re interested you can read the rest of my birth stories here on the blog as well

Baby 1

Baby 2

Baby 4

Baby 5

Baby 6

Baby 7 

Baby 8


Birth Story| Baby #2 was in a hurry to get here!

About 2 weeks before my due date in March of 2008 I went in for a regular appointment and was told that everything was closed up tight and see you again next week. That afternoon I started having contractions. They weren’t crazy intense like my first baby, but they were definitely uncomfortable. I was in the Marine Corps at the time, and all those men were rather uncomfortable with me having contractions at the office so they sent me home. My husband was also a Marine so I drove to his work about 5 minutes away and we spent his lunch hour walking the track and driving on bumpy roads. His boss said they weren’t doing anything super important that afternoon so go ahead and take me home.

I got to enjoy those lovely prodromal contractions for 2 whole days. Not very painful, but incredibly annoying! On the evening of the second day of almost non-stop 7-10 minute contractions we had some friends over for dinner. The last belly shot I got was of their baby asleep on my bump!

my belly bump through pregnancy|| birth story|newborn and birth photography

After they left Cameron (my hubs) was already in bed about 90% passed out when I went to the bathroom and my water broke. There was no doubt what that giant gush was. Instantly I started having contractions I could barely walk through every 3-4 minutes.

“babe, get up. We need to go to the hospital”

“What? Are you sure?”


We called a neighbor to come sit with the oldest for a few minutes until his stepmom could come get him and headed out the door. It was normally about 45 minutes to the hospital, but with lack of traffic and Cameron driving we got there in just under 30. They checked me in around 10:30 and got me hooked up to all their monitors and such. I got a shot of IV pain meds which one again made me loopy, but didn’t lessen the pain. A little before midnight the nurse came in to check me right as I had the urge to push. She called for the doctor and he barely had time to get his gloves on before Madeline flew into the world after only 3 pushes.

As soon as she arrived Cameron wanted to cover me in hugs and kisses, I told him to leave me alone! lol I hadn’t seen or heard my girl yet and he was blocking my view! He went over to check her out and that’s when I heard her first cries and the nurses told me she looked perfect. We had forgotten the camera in the rush out the door (pack a bag? what?! That’s for planners, not impulsive people like me!), but luckily this time around we had a camera in the cell phone and Dad caught this beautiful picture of our first little girl grabbing his finger.

newborn baby holding dad's finger||newborn photography|birth story

One thing I absolutely loved about the military hospitals was that every baby rooms in with mom from the beginning. First bath and everything else is done right there with me watching. What I didn’t like was that it was all done before I got to hold my girl. Once they finally handed her to me I didn’t want to let her go!

Madeline was my earliest baby as well as my fastest labor. I really think that all of the healthy eating and exercise I did as a Marine helped a ton with preparing my body for a wonderful experience both during labor and after birth. I was definitely in the best shape of my life at that point. I have since read the book “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy” by Dr. James Clapp. He has confirmed after YEARS of research that women who exercise regularly before and during pregnancy have faster, easier labors and usually give birth earlier within the 38-41 week normal window than women who don’t stay active. Unfortunately this knowledge has not kept me totally consistent in my exercise efforts with future pregnancies.

Just for fun here are a few more crappy cell phone pics from the proud daddy of his new girl scrapbooked rather unimpressively by me when I was just learning Corel Paint Shop Pro!

newborn photos|| Birth photography|fresh 48

Once again I didn’t have an Epidural. the anesthesiologist wouldn’t have gotten there in time even if I had asked lol. I did get an IV shot again, but it was given very close to birth because she came so fast. I think this contributed to the fact that it was INCREDIBLY difficult to get her to wake up and latch on to breastfeed for the first 24 hours or so. Poor baby was drugged!

Overall this was a much better birth experience than my first and increased my confidence in my body to do what it was built to do.

If you’re interested you can read the rest of my birth stories here on the blog as well

Baby 1

Baby 3

Baby 4

Baby 5

Baby 6

Baby 7 

Baby 8

It’s my Birthday Giveaway!

***Contest is now closed. Winners will be posted shortly. Thank you to all who participated!***

5 years ago I got the best birthday present ever. I like to joke that his little lady stole my birthday, but I’m happy to share it with her. Leah is one of the most caring, tenderhearted, loving people I know. Her smile can light up a room and her enthusiasm for life blesses our family every day. Happy birthday baby girl!

My baby Leah
My baby Leah
Me and my mommy
Me and my mommy

Yes, that means that today is my birthday as well. 32 years ago I decided to finally grace my mother with my presence 2 weeks late on a day when the AC wasn’t working in the hospital. If you want to give me a birthday gift then the best gift I could receive would if you changed your Facebook profile or cover image to a photo I took or a painting I’ve made and tag my FB business page Emily J Artist and Photographer. Sharing is caring!
Now I have a birthday gift for you! I decided that this year I would celebrate my birthday with a giveaway.

The Prizes:


custom painted portrait|digital painting|canvas portrait

One grand prize winner will receive a free on location lifestyle/documentary session, 10 gift prints (8×10 or smaller) and a custom painted portrait printed on an 8×10 framed canvas.



One first Prize winner will receive a free on location lifestyle/documentary session with 5 gift prints (8×10 or smaller).


Three second prize winners will receive a free on location lifestyle mini-session with 3 gift prints (8×10 or smaller).

***Contest is now closed. Winners will be posted shortly. Thank you to all who participated!***

How to Enter:

Simply comment on this post answering one or all of the following questions. Each answer should be a separate comment and counts as one entry.

What holds you back from existing in photos?

What is your favorite way to display your photos?

What is your favorite photo of you or your family (feel free to share it!)?

You can gain an additional point for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, and G+. Simply comment with a link to where you shared the post publicly. You can share once per platform.

***Contest is now closed. Winners will be posted shortly. Thank you to all who participated!***

Winners will be selected by a random draw. Each participant can only win one prize. A blog post sharing a video of the draw and winner announcement will be posted July 31st.


Olivia- Documentary Newborn Photography

When I first started newborn photography I built up a stash of baskets, buckets, blankets, headbands, and many other props. I have a few photographers whose work I absolutely LOVE and I was determined to emulate. I found, however, that each session left me feeling completely drained both physically and emotionally. I couldn’t understand what the problem was. I love babies, and I love photography, so why didn’t I love photographing babies?

I then watched a class on Creative Live titled “Family Photography: Modern Storytelling“. In this class Kristin Bethman taught about using photojournalism to document real family life instead of doing the traditional posed portraits. Suddenly it clicked; I wasn’t enjoying my job because the props, blankets and excessive planning for the perfect lighting in the perfect scene just wasn’t me. I crave authentic intimate relationships. I am impulsive, not a planner. I love simplicity. I decided to get rid of all the props and only offer lifestyle/documentary sessions.

I have done my first few sessions in this style and it has been AMAZING!! A few weeks ago I photographed Olivia. Little Olivia was the perfect model and her family was incredible. Her father just glowed with pride and you could tell they were already the best of friends. Even though I didn’t know Olivia’s mother before photographing them I could see how motherhood had changed her. She was just in awe of this little creature who had been created inside her body. I left their home feeling renewed and invigorated by the time I spent with them. This is where I belong.

I would love to capture these special moments for your family as well. I want to help you celebrate the love and the adventures that happen in your every day moments. Life is messy. Walls are colored on, food is spilled, tears are shed, and it is beautiful. Please email me at to schedule your session.