This mom stays in the picture

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Many moons ago, I stumbled upon a piece by Allison Tate: “The Mom Stays in the Picture.”

I was newly engaged, blissfully planning my wedding, not yet close to being a mother. I was also in the best shape of my life. In 2013, I lost 35 pounds and was the happiest, prettiest and most confident version of myself to date. I felt young and beautiful. I was powerful: Meg 2.0.

I read Tate’s post because it spread through my social networks like wildfire, discussed and “liked” by many high school friends and coworkers toting toddlers of their own. Many noted the piece was a tear-jerker, so I clicked over.

It’s a beautiful piece. Solid and honest and real. It resonated with me, the importance of mothers taking pictures with their children, but I read it from a distance — and as a photographer myself. But I just wasn’t there; I didn’t feel it. I’d grown up in a household with parents who photographed everything, and my mom is still our family historian. I’ve lived my entire life in front of the lens.

Why wouldn’t I want my picture taken?

Though never weight-obsessed, exactly, I’ve struggled with my size for the better part of adulthood. Getting down to a healthy weight in 2013-14 was a major accomplishment for me, and I had hoped to continue my solid habits after getting pregnant. I was afraid of slipping back into old habits, you know? Ones I worked so hard to break.

But I did, of course.

There are many reasons why. I was pregnant, for goodness’ sake; if I wanted a milkshake, I got one. My pregnancy and subsequent release from the confines of tracking every Weight Watchers Point was refreshing. Though I love WW and plan to return to the program, letting myself stop obsessing about every pat of butter, jelly bean and French fry felt . . . good.

And there were complications. My weight ballooned rapidly with the onset of severe preeclampsia. Close to my delivery date at 32 weeks, I was swollen beyond measure and in physical pain, my face and feet and hands all puffy and foreign to me. I felt bloated and uncomfortable, though I’d chalked it up to “third trimester woes.” Learning that my illness was causing most of those symptoms was surprising but, later, a relief.

In the three months since Oliver was born, I have shed 30 of the 60 pounds I gained in pregnancy. Most of it was water weight that fell off within a week. My post-childbirth body was unrecognizable; I barely looked in a mirror for weeks. Having a baby in the NICU meant every shred of my energy, care and concern went to him, and weight was not on my mind. Not even a little.

Once Oliver was home, gaining weight himself and getting stronger, I began to consider stepping out of my maternity jeans. I was tired of feeling lumpy, frumpy and weird, though I had no idea what size I now wore and knew that stepping on the scale would be a rude awakening.

When I finally did, I was shocked by the number I saw: almost exactly where I’d started when I joined Weight Watchers in January 2013. To the pound.

It seemed a cruel joke: after all that discipline and hard work, adopting new habits and changing how I think about food, I was right back where I started? On top of the trauma of Ollie’s premature birth and my lingering blood pressure concerns, I felt overwhelmed. Depressed, even.

Still, since April, my attention has been on nurturing our 3 pound, 9 ounce baby boy to more than 13 pounds of pure chunk and love. My husband and I adore this baby to the tips of our toes, and I could spend hours just looking at his little face.

But I’ve had to look in a mirror, too.

The early photos of Oliver are of . . . Oliver. Because I’m our little family’s photographer, I documented countless tender moments between Spencer and Ollie in the NICU and beyond. There are a handful with me in them, too, but I didn’t press the issue. I rarely handed Spencer the camera.

Because I looked — and felt — exhausted.
Because my hair was always crazy.
Because I rarely summoned the energy for makeup.
Because my face was still bloated.
Because my clothes didn’t fit well.

I had dozens of excuses, you know. So many excuses for not taking pictures with my baby. I cut myself some slack because Ollie was hospitalized for a month . . . and I was lucky to remember to bring snacks and my cell phone on our long drives to Baltimore, let alone stage a photo shoot once we got there. I was more concerned with locating a breast pump than my camera. That was how it had to be.

Our Oliver grew stronger. He learned to take his feeds by bottle, to regulate his body temperature outside the isolette, to widen his little eyes and gaze out at the world. On May 7, Spencer and I finally got The Call: bring the car seat, baby – he’s coming home!

As exhausted as we were in those early weeks (er, months), I knew documenting that time was important. I tried to take as many pictures as possible, sneaking in time to upload them when Ollie snoozed. Many were with my iPhone, because that’s what I had handy. By the time my maternity leave ran out in mid-June, I wanted to have all the photos I’d taken so far organized and ready for an album.

And I would look through them, this collection of precious images, watching Oliver’s cheeks begin to plump and his little eyes widening. I saw the rolls appear around his sweet baby wrists, and the pudgy thighs that have now started supporting his weight as he “stands” on my lap.

But I’m not in many of them.

My own mom has taken thousands of photos of me over the years — and many with Oliver in my arms. Lately, I haven’t focused on his cheeky grin or adorable ears. With laser-sharp precision, I see my double chin and flyaway hair — and I cringe. And puff out my cheeks. And want to untag myself on Facebook, though I don’t.


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The truth? I’m self-conscious. I’m uncomfortable. After publicly embracing Weight Watchers and documenting my weight loss journey in my newspaper column, on Facebook, through this blog . . . well, it’s a little embarrassing. There is such pressure surrounding “post-baby bodies,” and it doesn’t help that two other new moms in my life have already seemed to return to their svelte pre-pregnancy selves. Others complimenting them is not an insult to me, but I can feel my cheeks burn when others praise how great they look. So I look away.

I know no one faults me for not slipping back into my skinny jeans — that it’s not about the skinny jeans, really. I know I’m being too hard on myself, and that no one notices the “flaws” we point out in ourselves.

And more importantly? And I know that, above everything else, I am not a body. We are so much more than our looks. A number on a scale does not determine my self-worth.

But I still don’t feel great. I feel slow and unhealthy and . . . like I did before. When I was a me I’d never planned to be again.


When I look through the home photo shoots I’ve staged with Oliver, my husband is in many pictures. One of my favorite shots is of Ollie peeking up at his dad, one fat fist extended, as Spence looks on and smiles.

Spencer is wearing an old gray T-shirt. He hasn’t shaved. To be honest with you, I’m not even sure he’d showered that day (sorry, babe).

And you know what? No one cares. It doesn’t matter. You can’t even tell.

So why did I beg off when Spence offered to get me in the frame?

Since he came home, I’ve taken pictures of Ollie every two weeks. I like to do them on Sundays, before the chaos of another work week, and try to edit them before Monday morning. Oliver was born late on a Sunday night . . . so that feels reverent to me, too. A reflective time.

Spence helped with Ollie’s 14-week shoot, as he always does. I took the classic photos of father and son I’ve come to know so well. But when I lifted the baby to reposition him, Spencer lifted my camera off the bed and turned it on me.

My first instinct was to refuse, as usual. To make up excuses. To push my son back into the spotlight. To scramble back into the shadows.

But I thought of Allison Tate. I thought of the collection of pictures on my laptop, all of a precious baby boy but not his mother. Of a woman pushed into motherhood two months earlier than planned, and how much I longed for and planned and endured to bring this baby into the world. Of how much I’ve changed, and how much stronger I’ve become.

And I stepped in.

I’m stiff in the first few. You can sense my awkwardness as I stand in my plain, new-ish shirt that already looks old, stained with spit-up and soft from many washes. My hair has grown long since the spring, and I’ve taken to pulling it into a messy, unkempt knot at night. I’m wearing makeup, but it’s smudged and minimal. Reminders of teenage acne dot my cheeks. I look tired.

But beautiful, too.

I think I look beautiful.


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I didn’t expect that. Didn’t dare even hope for it. When Spence wanted to take pictures of Ollie and me, indulged him because he’s my husband and I love him and, deep down, I would like photographic evidence that I was here during this time in my son’s life.

I mean, I’m obviously here. I’m catching tossed pacifiers, making bottles, changing the diaper trash in his nursery, washing onesies. I’m avoiding his splashes during baths in the sink and laughing with his dad over his hilarious expressions, doing anything and everything I can to make him grin.

I’m rocking him at 2 a.m., and 3 a.m., and sometimes 4 a.m. His dad and I are making major and minor medical decisions for him, looking for symptoms and calling doctors. I’m dealing with insurance, grappling with post-NICU anxiety, folding his blankets. I’m sending long missives to friends about he’s doing and uploading his sweet, chunky face to Instagram.

But he won’t know that. He won’t remember.

“I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them,” Tate writes. “Someday I won’t be here — and I don’t know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now — but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.”


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I look through these photos from a sunny afternoon and feel joy, and hope, and love. I sense all the dreams I have for Oliver pouring from my arms into his little body. I see the recognition in his own face — This is my mother — and feel my own: This is my son.

My body hasn’t “bounced back” from baby. That double-chin is prominent. I look exhausted and greasy, a little threadbare and worn thin at the edges.

But I’m in the picture. I want to always be there, holding and loving him.

And thirty years from now? My 30-year-old son might turn to me and smile.

“Wow, Mom,” he’ll say. “You’re so pretty. So young.”


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63 thoughts on “This mom stays in the picture

    • Definitely understand that, Kathy, and want to make sure I pass the camera off now and then. That’s the fate of the family photographer!

  1. What a sweet post! Your son will definitely treasure these. I know I love seeing pictures of my parents with me and my brothers as babies, and I’m sure he will to!

  2. You are beautiful! Take your time. And start loving yourself again. Your son will always only see you as his beautiful mom. The most beautiful woman on earth (well, I guess until he meets his future wife… but anyway…)…

    • Friends with sons all tell me that little boys think their mamas are the most beautiful women in the world — which is just so sweet. 🙂 I hope he always recognizes that I may be flawed, like all people, but I love him more than anything!

  3. This was so beautifully written. If I was a writer, could have written the same exact post except I am 17 months post partum and finally doing something about the way I look and feel. My huaband rarely takes pictures documenting our lives and it makes me sad that most of the pictures my son will have of he and I are selfies we take. I hope my son realizes what a huge part of his life I was when he looks back on pictures.
    You are doing a wonderful job!

    • Thanks so much for the kind words — and I hope you start popping in the pictures, too! I definitely plan to get back to a healthy weight and want to make positive changes, especially so I can lead by example for my son. But I have to remember to take it slow. Congratulations on your little boy, too!

  4. Meg, this is so beautiful and touching and I feel like I could have written all the parts about weight gain myself. I’ve lost 34 of my 70 pregnancy pounds so far. I see plenty of other new moms who lost all their weight so quickly or simply didn’t gain much to begin with and I feel envious and ashamed at times. I’m working hard to lose the rest because it’s important to me, but I’ve also learned to (mostly) be forgiving of myself. While the weight loss is a huge thing in my life and I’ll continue to work at it every day, being a mother is more important than the scale. Our boys just know we are their mommas and they love us regardless of that number!

    Anyway, I know with certainty that we will both get back to where we want to be in due time. If you ever need an encouragement buddy, I’m your girl! Some days I’m struggling a lot with my eating, but other days are perfectly fine. That’s just life, I guess!

    You are beautiful, Oliver is adorable and thriving, and these pictures are so sweet! Motherhood is crazy and wonderful. Keep on getting in those pictures. You and Ollie will both look back on them for years to come. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Steph — I know you understand. “Ashamed” is definitely a word I’d use at points, though I feel ashamed admitting I’m ashamed! But you’re absolutely right: our sons don’t care about a number on the scale, and I don’t want to look back on this time feeling embarrassed or self-conscious. I just want to love on him as much as possible and not worry about “bouncing back” immediately. We will get there! All things in time!

  5. I see beautiful photos of a gorgeous baby boy and his loving mother – her gaze is totally focused on her baby and there is nothing more precious than the intimacy of these caught moments. How wonderful, and how lucky you are to have these to look back on some day! I wish you many more.

  6. Just beautiful, Meg. I wish someone would have written something like this when my children were young. I am one of those mothers who is not in any pictures.

  7. Such a lovely and well thought out blog Post Meg. We are all alike in trying not to have our photos taken as we feel we never measure up well to the cameras unforgiving stare. I found a very old photo of myself and my mum from nearly fifty years ago and it is one of the only ones I have of her and me . It is so precious to me.

    • Thanks so much. I’m so glad you have that treasured photo of you and your mother — I love looking at the family snapshots we’ve taken over the years. Even seeing my mom’s clothing brings back memories! Children are so impressionable . . . I can distinctly remember running my hands through her jewelry, admiring her shoes, resting my head on her shoulder in a very distinct top. Those memoires are priceless.

  8. You look like a mum head over heels in love with her infant son. You have other priorities than your weight at this moment. Let’s keep it real. If you feel you need to start on something, I personally loved pushing my daughters about in the stroller. We got out and about in the fresh air. I got my walk on. You can always do that. That’s part of motherhood.

    • Thank you, Kepanie. When the weather gets cooler here in Maryland (a very humid 94 today — blech!), I definitely plan to get out and get active by taking walks, strolls, etc. I look forward to making the time to enjoy nature and expose Ollie to “the outside,” too!

  9. You look beautiful! Your gaze shows how much you love him.

    I feel the same way too! I’m struggling, but you have inspired me to make an effort to be in the pictures too.

    This is my first comment, but I am a long time fan.

    Just to let you know, my son suffered a stroke at birth…so I know the pain of having a small baby taken from your arms and placed in the NICU. I’m really happy that everything has worked out and your boy looks amazing!

    Sending love and hugs your way!

    • Thank you, Bea — and lots of love to you! As a fellow NICU mama, I know you understand well what we’ve been through and continue to go through. Get in those pictures, too! I hope your son is doing well. ❤

  10. Thanks so much for your post, I am 25 weeks pregnant and so glad for the encouragement since I am already dreading being in photos. I have gained quite a bit of weight so far in this pregnancy and know that I will be gaining more over the next couple weeks. I am very happy about my growing baby and belly but I can tell that their are other areas that I have out on more weight than expected (my legs). But know I have to be forgiving to myself as I haven’t been able to do much exercise during this pregnancy due to some pregnancy symptoms that I would rather not reveal. It touched my heart very much to read this and has inspired me to change my attitude about photos and weight loss after my little boy is born.

    • I’m so glad this resonated with you, and I hope you will get in as many photos with your coming baby as you can! ❤ I remember well what you're describing; my rapid weight gain was hard on me physically and emotionally. Just remember that this is but a fleeting season in your life! Pregnancy only lasts 40-ish weeks. When mine ended abruptly two months early, I mourned that loss as well. Enjoy it as much as you can! Lots of love to you.

  11. This really, really resonated with me, Meg. I can’t tell you how much I can relate to this. When my son had his photo shoot at the hospital after he was born, I was only in one picture, because I had pre-eclampsia as well and looked downright scary. haha. I avoided the camera those first few months and I regret that. Your post inspired me to put myself into more pictures regardless of how I look and that article from Huffington Post that you are referring to made me tear up….so true! Thanks for sharing this with us. And you look beautiful…the picture of you and your son is gorgeous!

    • Thank you, Christina! I hope you’ll get in more and more photos with your adorable little boy — you’ll be so glad to have them, and so will he. Preeclampsia is a crazy, crazy thing . . . I had zero experience with it — had never even heard of it — until it turned my life upside-down, so I know you understand what we’ve been through. ❤

  12. I can only echo the wonderful comments of others. The pictures of you and your baby are fantastic. And so many readers will resonate with you about your weight history and thoughts. You are indeed a good writer. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Oh my, your post made me cry. My children are grown and I so miss them at this age even for a moment. It goes so fast, we can’t worry about these little things. Bravo to you! Enjoy your sweet little guy.

    • An excellent point, Kayo — the time is fleeting, and these are indeed little things. I want to soak up and enjoy all the moments I can! Thank you!

  14. Such a beautiful post and so inspiring. I’m 6 months pregnant and can already sense the self-consciousness slipping in so this was really great to read and hopefully something I will remember in the first months of my baby’s life.

    • I wish you so much joy and happiness as you get closer to welcoming your little one, Rachael. It is a wild, all-consuming, marvelous and exhausting ride… and I hope you get into every picture you can! ❤

  15. Your honesty is beautiful…and you look beautiful. You have that new mom glow that is so stunning. I think it is so lovely that you are aware of your emotions and stepping outside of your comfort zone for Ollie and his preserved photographic memories. We are always out harshest critics, but like you I know the feeling of hating that you’ve slipped back to the person you never thought youd be again by scale numbers. Its rough, its emotionally draining. But know that you are admired, and adored by your family and your son no matter what a scale or a whisp-y hair says!

  16. Be gentle with yourself dear Meg. Your body produced a baby. You grew a tiny human. Your body makes miracles. It is amazing. And yes, it is beautiful.

    When I look at those pictures, I see a gorgeous color on you (that teal really is stunning) a smiling face, a healthy baby and utter happiness. I know you must see what you call ‘flaws’ but just remember we don’t see them. I don’t think you look overweight at all. I think you look beautiful and happy.

    I say this because I do not have a baby and yet I’ve put on weight after my wedding and I beat myself up about it daily. Daily. And why? No one else sees it. I can see it but no one else does. And if they do… who cares? I am healthy and have so much to be grateful for. You, even more so with that gorgeous little one!

    I just wanted you to know that you are a) beautiful and b) not alone. So don’t yell at yourself for those feelings either. We all have them. We are human. And that is part of what makes us beautiful too. 🙂

    • Maureen, you are so kind — thank you. We are definitely too hard on ourselves, just as I know you are still absolutely gorgeous — inside and out! But it’s so hard to process that sometimes . . . to show ourselves the love and care that we would so quickly give to others. Thank you for helping me see that! ❤

  17. This got me a little choked up. I could’ve written this exact post. I’ve taken tons of photos of Baby T (so many that it’s almost embarrassing to admit), and I try to get at least one photo of him with all his visitors and family members, but I’m hardly in any of them. In fact, since we came home from the hospital, I have a few selfies, strategically taken to hide the pouchy belly, and a few photos my MIL took while on a walk last week. That’s it. There are some The Husband snuck in while we were at the hospital but all I see when I look at those is how tired, swollen, and bloated I look. I still have 20 pounds to lose and this is the most I’ve ever weighed as a non-pregnant adult. But I still haven’t been cleared for exercise and I know that when I finally am able to work out again, I have to start slow and easy while my body continues to heal from the surgery. It’s tough to push that all aside and get in the pictures anyway. I love that you’re doing just that and I am going to try my best to do the same moving forward. Ollie is adorable in these photos. And you? You are gorgeous. 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Stephanie! We are indeed in a similar boat, and I can imagine that you — a very talented photographer — are, like so many photogs, more comfortable behind the lens than in front. But you will be so glad to have those memories with Baby T! I’m already glimpsing those first photos — taken after I’d been in the hospital for a week, unshowered and totally without makeup — with a much kinder eye. That was the first time I held my baby boy! What is more precious than that? ❤

  18. These are not just for your son. You will go back and cherish these images. You will think “I am beautiful” and “I was terrified” and “I was lucky” and “I had no idea how the love I felt would grow.” 7 years into this kiddo thing and I adore looking at the few tired pictures of me with my tiny girl. Cherish these images and these words!

    This is a wonderful post. Bravo for your willingness to write it!

    • Beautiful words. Thank you! I’m sure you’re absolutely right — especially about being terrified. I have never felt fear and anxiety and the crushing weight of wanting to be and give everything I can to this tiny boy as I have in the last few months. What power, being a parent. What a gift.

  19. How brave of you to share your feelings with us. Thank you for your courage! Now, I share the truth…

    “You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way.” – Song of Songs 4:7 (NLT)

  20. Now I’m crying while reading this post! I think we are all our own worst critics…I know I hate how I look in photos and my husband is always rolling his eyes at me and telling me the opposite. You look beautiful, girl. Motherhood looks good on you.

    • Aw, thank you, Joanne — and yes, we are always toughest on ourselves. I recently read a post where a woman decided she was going to start treating herself like she would her best friend: with care, compassion and understanding. I’m a perfectionist who often struggles with things not being “perfect,” but I’m learning to let that go — and be kinder with myself. Motherhood will do that for you!

  21. I’m a longtime reader but never commented. This is perhaps one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in a long time, and you should be proud. It’s raw, exposed, and beautiful in it’s honest simplicity. Know that you will always be your toughest critic, and that all your reader sees is a beautiful (and yes, you look beautiful) mom with joy written all over her face. Joy at having persevered, joy at the pleasure her child brings, and joy at the magnitude of it all. Thank you for sharing.

  22. This is a beautiful post. Thanks for being so honest and vulnerable and real. I love the photos that you shared too; they capture the beautiful love that you two share, the special bond of a mother and her son. I wish you and your little Oliver all the best. I’m not a mother (yet) so I can only really imagine how difficult and exciting the changes can be but you have retained so much of your true self. Your body underwent changes but you know that you can do the work to get it back to the healthy state you were in. What matters now is that your joy and love is captured in those pictures.

    • Thank you so much, Jennifer! It has definitely been a time of change and a season of acceptance, but it’s all very worth it.

  23. Great post! This is something I need to remind myself too. I have been hesitant to get into a picture lately but it is so important for us to be in the photos with our kid because, like you said, someday we will look back at these photos and wonder about ourselves. I loved looking for my mom in old photos, so my kid may also look forward to that.

  24. This is such a lovely post, per usual 🙂 I can totally understand the idea of not wanting to be in pictures, because of discomfort or fear or whatever, but I know the photos I treasure are ones that have my family in them. You look beautiful and wow, Oliver is such an adorable chubster. You guys will both be happy to have pictures of these “less-than-picture-perfect” moments in the future.

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