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!

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 #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

Birth Story- My First Baby

I realized recently that I have not taken the time to write out most of my birth stories. These are the stories that I want my kids to have, so I’d better get them out there before I forget more than just the little details.

I had my first baby in 2001 when I was 19. I was pretty carefree and “invincible”. I was a Marine. If I could go through boot camp I could do anything! I didn’t really do anything to prepare beyond the 1 hour required new mom birth class at the Naval Hospital. I didn’t have a birth plan.

I started having contractions about every 7 minutes while watching a movie in the base theater. Form the very first one they were INTENSE. I waited it out during the movie (had already been to the hospital for false labor twice) then headed in about 9:30 at night. They hooked me up and said “contractions every 5-6 minutes and wow those are STRONG!” Then they checked my cervix. Zero effacement and zero dilation.

I cried.

they disconnected me from the monitors and told me to go home. I asked if they could give me some pain medication. Take Motrin. Geez thanks guys. I felt so defeated. What was wrong with my body?

I went home a laid on the couch contracting every 5 minutes all night long. I cried and cried. I hadn’t prepared and I didn’t know a darn thing about managing this pain on my own. About 12:30am I got a call form one of the nurses. She asked how I was doing. I told her through my tears how frustrated I was and that the contractions were killing me! She coached me through a few contractions and helped me to breathe and relax. She then told me to come back first thing in the morning. Shift change was at 7 and the new head Dr. coming on would make sure to either stop contractions or get that baby out. WE went back in at about 7:30. I was fully effaced and dilated to 5!!! I was super excited and also a bit mad at the mean nurse form the night before who thought the first time mom was clearly exaggerating her pain level.

By the time they got me all checked in and offered an epidural I decided I didn’t need one. I had been undecided before because honestly the idea of a giant needle in my back totally freaked me out!! After going all night long contracting on my own I decided I could totally do this and I didn’t need it. I did accept a shot of some pain medication in my IV. Stuff didn’t touch the pain, but it made me not care that it hurt. Shortly after they administered the meds baby’s heart rate started decelerating with each contraction. they were discussing a C-section. Thankfully little bub decided it was time to make his grand entrance before the attending midwife could get an OB up to labor and delivery.

When it came time to push I was completely fighting my body. It hurt and I didn’t like it!! Each time the ring of fire started I pulled back and screamed. after about 3-4 times doing that the midwife attending told me very rudely “If you put as much effort into pushing as you did  screaming you’d have a baby by now!” While I thought she was a big jerk I did take her advice and on the next push he was out. All told I only pushed for about 5 minutes.

I honestly don’t really remember much else after that. I was totally wiped out. I do remember scarfing down a hot meal right there in the labor room then insisting I wanted to get up and walk to my recovery room. They thought I was crazy, but I walked with a nurse on either side ready to catch me if I fell.

I was pretty disappointed with my birth experience. I was filled with my own fear and doubts. I fought my body. I made things much worse on myself by not trusting my body. My “birth partner” aka ex-husband was completely disconnected and useless.

Despite all the negative feelings, however, I did walk away from that experience with a sense of power. I had done it. I had a natural vaginal birth. I was in awe of what my body could do. I also gained a determination to know and do better next time.

emily j photographer|birth story
Since I don’t have any birth photos of my first I will let you enjoy his cute 4 year old smile.


My biggest regret is that I don’t have a single photo from his birth. This was before the days of digital cameras in our phones and no photos were taken during the birth at all. The few pictures I had from the days afterwords in the hospital were lost or destroyed in the divorce. That’s one thing I definitely rectified for the future. Even if it’s a crappy cell phone shot, I have a picture of each of my brand new babies covered in their birthday frosting!

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

Baby 2

Baby 3

Baby 4

Baby 6

Baby 5

Baby 7 

Baby 8


The Most Powerful Women in the World

Strong. Powerful. Leader. Brave. Confident. Ambitious. Assertive. Knowledgeable. Persistent.

When you read these words what type of woman comes to mind? Who do you picture? What does she do? How does she live? Where does she work? What does she wear?

Something like this perhaps?

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 3.27.11 PM

Let me tell you a little bit about the woman I see.

The woman I see is completely exhausted with dark circles under her eyes, but they are eyes full of hope, peace, and purpose. She is tired, sweaty, and her hair is rather disheveled. She didn’t have time to do her make-up this morning and her socks don’t even match. She’s probably in bed, though she way be walking or swaying to manage the pain she is feeling. Every few minutes she has to close her eyes and breathe deep, sometimes crying out in fear, pain, or frustration. She may be tempted with thoughts of quitting, turning back, regret. Despite this she moves forward with determination.

I see a woman in labor. I see the most powerful woman in the world. I see a mother.

You see I believe that often the most important work we can ever do as woman is within the walls of our own home. I believe there is nobility in motherhood, and it is never more apparent than in those few hours when a woman works so hard to bring a precious spirit into this mortal life.

Motherhood is an eternal partnership with God. For nine beautiful months a woman is able to be a full partner with God in the work of creation. She is creating life. It is only through her intense sacrifice that a new child is able to take its first breath. It is through her pain and hard work that a new story is begun. In that moment she is able to taste just a small sliver of what Christ has given us, new life, as she provides a waiting spirit with a new life of its own.

Birth Photography Atlanta|Winder|Georgia
Baby #7 only a few minutes old, hadn’t even cut the cord yet.

I can not witness a birth without tears. In those few precious moments the boundary between our world and God’s is so thin. I can feel the presence of angels bearing up that woman and applauding her for the work she is doing. It is truly the work of salvation. It is a beautiful moment. It is life. It is hope. It is the promise of new beginnings. Nothing can compare with that moment when as a mother you first look into the eyes of that child that you gave birth to. From my first to my 7th the emotions only deepened and grew.

The miracle is every bit as beautiful if you journey starts or ends with adoption or infertility. The sacrifice is every bit as real. The desire and the love do not diminish. Every woman is a mother, whether she has given birth or not, if it is the role that she desires for herself.

Life is a miracle and it happened, dear mothers, because we were willing to make the sacrifice. It is the most noble work in the world. You are strong, powerful, brave, confident, persistent, and absolutely amazing!

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.


Photography- The Best Cure for a Bad Memory

We lived next door to my father’s parents when I was young. Every Sunday we would go next door after church to eat ice cream, talk with Grandma and Grandpa and play with the other cousins who would show up. Almost every week I would go to the bookshelf and grab one of Grandma’s family photo albums. I’d sit on the footstool next to her chair and flip through the pages while she told me stories about the pictures. I loved listening to her soft German accent telling me about my family history. Seeing photographs that went along with the stories made the people in them real to me. I especially loved seeing pictures of my freckle-faced, red-headed father as a scrawny little boy.

My mother also kept scrapbooks of her children. We had a family book and then one book for each child. I have many a fond memory of sitting down at the table with my mom while she worked on adding photos to the family book and I added photos to my own book.

Now as a mom one of my favorite times with my kids is when we all gather around the computer and look through old photos. My kids love looking at their baby pictures and hearing the stories that go along with them. Even more fun now is that we have videos as well as photography. So many times I’ve seen a photo that reminded me of an event I hadn’t thought about in years. How many memories would be lost if I didn’t have those photographs?

photography cure


I have been feeling mommy guilt lately for not having more of our memories printed. I know that hard drives can fail, files can be corrupted, and a printed back-up is crucial to ensure the survival of these photos! A few weeks ago I decided to print photos from Cameron’s grandmother’s recent visit. Sitting down with my kids and looking through that book was such a joy! They excitedly talked about the memories from the visit and about how much they missed grandma. We got a second copy to send to her and I hope she loves it as much as we do! I now have a goal of getting at least one book printed for each year we have been a family.

These documentary photos of every day family life are the ones that make my heart sing. I love to celebrate the individual personality of each of the subjects that I photograph. I love knowing that each image tells a story and keeps alive a beautiful memory. I would love to be able to do this for your family. Let me spend a morning, an evening, or even a full day capturing those special moments that tell the every day story of your life.

As a special summer offer book your session by August 15th and receive a $150 credit towards the product purchase of your choice (credit can not be applied to the session fee).Photographer|Lifestyle and documentary family photography| Atlanta, Georgia|Gwinnett|Barrow|Winder|Hall


Run Like a Girl

Have you seen this video from Always? They brought in several people and asked them to do things “like a girl”. Run like a girl, hit like a girl, fight like a girl, etc. The results were very enlightening.

I joined the Marines when I was 18 because I was sick of people looking at me and treating me “like a girl”. Simply being female made me weak, frail, silly, etc. For many years I embraced that and played it up, but it was like a grain of sand in your shoe that causes you more and more irritation the longer it’s in there. I was more than just make-up, high heels, and flirty silliness. I was out to show the world that even a 100lb skinny little white girl could be tough. I can’t even begin to list the number of comments that I received telling me I’d never make it when I announced my decision to go to bootcamp. Not only did I make it, but I did a pretty darn good job at it if I say so myself. I was one of the first ones to reach the top of the rope in boot camp. I was an E-6 at 7.5 years.  I completed a tour to Iraq. I was the main person from the shop briefing the colonel, at his request. I don’t mean to sound braggy, but you know what, I’m proud of the work that I did while I was enlisted (as long as we don’t talk about my abysmal scores on the rifle range that is).

Then I got out so that I could be a stay at home mom. This time I didn’t get you can’t do it comments. Instead I got the why would you want to? I was told that being a SAHM wasn’t a life and that I would regret not pursuing my career. I had to listen to my superiors tell me on a daily basis that I would regret getting out, didn’t I at least want to go reserve? Embracing my womanhood by being a mom wasn’t something to be proud of the way being a Marine was.

newborn baby born at home|homebirth|unassisted birth
Yeah, I did that, 100% natural home-birth, LIKE A GIRL!

Do I regret my decision? Never. Do I miss my job? Of course I do. Every choice in life has sacrifices. Do I feel less than because I’m a stay at home mom instead of a working woman. Not even a little bit. I am strong. I am tough. I am creating the next generation that will rule the world. Shoot I’d love to see any of those tough Marines I worked with do what I’ve done having a baby at home with no medication. Being a girl is amazing and powerful and I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise!

I run like a girl and I am proud of it!