Mums Group Session at the Botanic Gardens

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I’ve recently begun offering Mums group photo sessions and here’s why I think it’s such a great package:

  1. For a VERY cheap price, you get photos of you and your kids – like, you actually get to be in them and they’re not phone selfies.
  2. When they have their little buddies to interact with they’re often much more “themselves” than if if they feel like they need to pose for me.
  3. You get to capture memories of your mums group. Now I know plenty of mums who have stayed in touch long after their kids have grown up, but many will go separate ways. What a nice way to remember this unique time in your kids’ early days.

    I photographed 4 mums and 7 kids in this session! (One family elected not to appear on my website.) 7 kids might sound like a nightmare to some photographers but I loved the chaos and all the little interactions it gave me a chance to capture.

    We shot at the Sydney Botanic Gardens which is a beautiful backdrop – and with a great splashing fountain!

















The Birth of Mikaere

Birth + Babies

This was such a special birth story, and it’s hard to do it justice with words (which I guess is why I prefer to stick with images). But I’ll tell you a little bit about Mikaere’s arrival into the world.

I’ve known Emma for several years now, as a part of the Sydney Babywearers community. When she asked me to photograph her birth I was over the moon but slightly in shock – I didn’t know yet she was pregnant and this was to be baby number six for her! When I tell people that, their jaws drop. Many of the mums I know feel like we’re drowning with our 2-3 kids. But Emma does everything with a mixture of grace and honesty.

Katrina + Monica’s Maternity Session

Family + Events

Katrina and I have little boys the same age who’ve been friends since they were tiny activist babies accompanying us to Mums 4 Refugee protests. So when she and her partner Monica were expecting their second baby I was very excited to document their pregnancy this time around.

I spent an evening at their Petersham home while Finn helped his mums bake cookies, prepare the home for the new baby and just hang out together for one of their last nights as a family of three.









What are older siblings for, if not giving their pregnant mums a little foot rub every now and then?

Finn practising wrapping up his baby doll.






Not long after this shoot I had the privilege of photographing Finn’s newborn baby sister – photos coming soon!

newborn baby and her cousin

Newborn Baby Freya

Birth + Babies

I haven’t done a newborn session since my own baby Nikolas was born over 2 years ago. I was still learning my camera and, you know, recovering from childbirth, so it’s not my best session ever, but boy do I love having those photos.

So when my niece Freya was born last week I was so excited to have another go. And my goodness, she is a cutie!!

Here’s my daughter meeting her, with a bit of hesitation. She’s so little and delicate, I’m pretty sure Luella was afraid of breaking her ūüėČ



Her parents (who you may remember from their baby shower photos) are doing a tremendous job. These photos are taken less than 24 hours after Freya’s birth.


That’s my husband with his sister (if you couldn’t tell the family resemblance!) cuddling his new niece, with whom he is obviously smitten.


And of course, I had to get in on the cuddle action. Nikolas was interested but got bored of not being the centre of attention pretty quickly.


We brought along pizza and donuts for the new parents, which is a much better postpartum meal than anything being served up in the hospital.


The next day Luella and I returned with some homemade gifts for her baby cousin.


How gorgeous is this child? I know I’m biased, but come on…



It’s amazing how, even when they’re just laying there asleep, newborn babies manage to captivate the entire room.


That little wrinkled hand!


Luella was still too nervous to hold her, but she couldn’t take her eyes off her baby cousin.


Can you blame her? Those little baby lips and arm rolls. The rosy cheeks and multiple chins. To die for!


And the wrinkly feet! All those little newborn features won’t last long which is why I love getting to capture them in photos!


Nana (who had also been present at the birth) stopped in for a cuddle as well.


Nana’s beaming with pride, but I love how Freya’s got her eyes locked on mum off-camera.


This reaction face when she realises it’s not mum who’s holding her is priceless!


Very proud of these three ‚̧


These sessions – sometimes called “Fresh 48” as they take place in the first 48 hours after birth – are so much fun to shoot.

I know from the birth of my first child that this period can also feel completely mental when you’re severely sleep-deprived and trying to figure out how babies work. Who wants to pose for photos?

Well, the beauty of a documentary session is that there is no posing, no special outfits, no having to stress about “what if the baby needs a feed?” – we just shoot your life as it is – all these new moments that feel very overwhelming now, but will be a distant memory before you know it.

I can come to you in the hospital or your home. $200 for a 2 hour session – plus I can custom-design a birth announcement for you. Here’s an example – my own bub’s announcement:

Mum and two kids at the beach

An Ass-Kicking Year

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Well, 2016 has been pretty universally acknowledged as a steaming trash heap. I certainly can’t argue with that, politically speaking. Humanity’s looking pretty bleak at the moment.

However, if I can be self-indulgent for a bit (and where better to do that than on your parenting blog??), it was actually a pretty epic year for me. I accomplished a lot. Well, maybe not so much accomplished a lot as, took on a shitload of projects.

This year I…

  • Enrolled in a birth and postnatal doula course. I haven’t made heaps of progress – one assignment away from finishing my first module. However I’m resolving to get back into it in 2017 one way or another.
  • Got my L plates. Ok, so with only one driving lesson under my belt this isn’t exactly high on the accomplishment list either, but it was a pretty big first step for me.
  • Started my photography business. It’s fallen by the way side towards the latter half of the year as I simply haven’t had the time to market it – I’ve got multiple shoots I still haven’t blogged. But I started shooting families this year moving pretty quickly from free portfolio-building shoots to paid work. I really enjoy it on a personal level and have learned a lot. I still have a long way to go in my technical skills but I feel like my composition and “moment capturing” has gotten better.
  • I became a convener for Mums 4 Refugees with a role as Community Development Coordinator. Way back 2 years ago I was actually a founding member but then had to drop out for a while as my pregnancy left me with little energy. But it’s been great getting back into it, working alongside some brilliant and lovely women.
  • As part of that role I started a playgroup in Lakemba for M4R members and refugee mums that has an English-learning component and is being used as a framework to model other playgroups around (we’re starting up in Parramatta in the new year).
  • I started Sydney Creative Play back up! Well this was pretty huge and unexpected. The right opportunity sort of presented itself at the right time when we found a perfect warehouse space just blocks from me. The playgroup we run now two days a week has been so much fun and we recently held an AGM to elect a new board and once again I find myself in the company of talented, amazing women.

So, while there’s been a fair bit of doom and gloom in the world. I can proudly say that I kicked ass in 2016 and am working alongside some pretty cool ass-kickers to make 2017 our year.

Oh and one other thing…

  • I parented my two kick-ass kids this year.

While this whole blog post may feel like a bit of a brag, part of the reason I write this is because I can remember in those awful first few days after Luella was born when I was hospitalised for mental health issues, one of the things that was setting off my anxiety was that I thought for sure my life was over.

There’s a massive identity shift that happens when you become a parent. We still have this idea in society that parents – and particularly mothers – must put their dreams aside to focus on putting their kids’ dreams first.

Four and a half years into this parenting gig I wouldn’t say I’ve figured out how to “have it all”. I’ve definitely still got work/life/activism/kids balance issues to sort out. But I’m feeling more creatively fulfilled than I have in years – possibly ever?!

I’ve got some lofty ambitions for 2017 and as my kids grow up (and my chilled out baby turns more and more into a rambunctious toddler every day) it’s going to be a challenge to keep up with it all. But I feel really empowered going into the new year.

As soon as I get back the phone and iPad I lost on my holiday to Melbourne. Doh. Some things will never change.

Thankful

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Every year since I started this blog, I have hosted a Thanksgiving dinner and written a very positive blog post of all the things I am thankful for. This year I am doing neither.

It’s not that I am not thankful. Maybe more than ever it is evident how lucky I am to have what I do. It’s just really hard to muster up any sense of American pride and¬†the idea of spending¬†a day preparing and gorging myself on stuffing and pecan pie when there’s so much injustice in the world feels really self-indulgent. (Obviously I am not criticising you if you are celebrating today. I think many people are still grieving and grief takes many forms.)

A few days after the election in an effort to save some faith in humanity I suggested a big Thanksgiving dinner where everyone cast aside their differences. The suggestion wasn’t quite embraced and I got some pushback on it, all of it very fair, which made me reflect on my own privilege a bit more.

So in lieu, I’ve donated the money I would have spent on prepping dinner to Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline Fund. You can donate here too if you’d like.

i-stand-with-standing-rock-red-wblack-text-women-s-t-shirt

I just can’t take the hypocrisy of white America right now. Native Americans are being tear-gassed on Thanksgiving. Hate crimes are surging. White supremacy groups chanting “heil Trump” are on the rise. I guess this is the way they are making America great again.

It’s sickening. I’ve started the application process for becoming an Australian citizen, but it’s a shitshow here too. In the last week alone our Immigration said it was a mistake to allow¬†Lebanese immigrants into the country, which led to a Muslim MP receiving death threats and then Pauline Hanson’s bizarre ranting about how she’s tired of people calling her racist.

I honestly feel worried for what’s happening in the world, to the point where it’s affecting my anxiety. Last night I had my first dream about Trump in which I was meant to be testifying in some kind of case against him along with other women. But our husbands got together and forced us to stay in this hotel because they were afraid that Trump supporters would try to kill us if we went outside. I tried to lead a rebellion and no one followed – instead they accused me of endangering our children.

It’s possible I might be reading the news too much.

So anyway, that’s where I’m at this year. I’m very thankful for the¬†friends and family who are helping me maintain some level of sanity and I’m thankful that I’m in a position to work towards fighting injustices and will continue doing so for as long as I can.

Baby Sauce Face at One Year

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When Nikolas was just a few months¬†old I was on the train home from preschool drop off with him in my lap when a woman got on and immediately sat down next to us. “I know this baby!” she exclaimed. I raised an eyebrow and suggested she probably did not as we weren’t getting out and about a lot yet. “Oh, I’ve definitely met this baby before,” she persisted. After a bit of small talk, she revealed that she was a psychic, and thus her previous rendezvous with my son was likely in some other lifetime or universe (I’m fuzzy on the details). “This baby was brought to you for a reason. He will bring you nothing but joy,” she continued.

Ok so it’s about as specific a prediction as a fortune cookie or magazine horoscope. But in some ways I have felt a special connection with Nikolas since the moment he was born. He was the most alert newborn I’ve ever met and looked into my eyes with the most pure and sweet love. We celebrated his birthday with a sunshine-themed party on a beautiful sunny day in Gough Whitlam Park.

niko1bday-17
As usual I went overboard on the theme and the menu consisted of yellow foods: vegan mac and cheese, grilled corn cobs, pineapple tofu kebabs, and for dessert, lemon coconut zucchini cupcakes. It was Niko’s first taste of cake and as you can see from the photo, he dug into it like a dog with a bone. We had a lovely day with family and friends.

For his actual birthday on the 10th we decided to take a trip down the coast to visit his (middle) namesake, Jervis Bay. It was also my and Jim’s 5th wedding anniversary on the 13th so it seemed like a good excuse for a trip. Jim’s sister and her partner joined us and we had a leisurely long weekend of beach swimming, kangaroo-spotting at a National Park, and lovely meals together – as well as stops at the Early Start Discovery Space in Wollongong to break up the trip on the way both down and up.

The joy and pain of going on holiday as a photographer is that I ended up with over 900 photos in 4 days!! So I’m still culling and editing. But here’s one of the birthday boy opening up his presents.¬†nikobday

He was so pleased to be the centre of attention for once. Those moments are rare when you’re the little brother (of a very attention-grabbing big sister). In fact, the poor little dude even had to share his birthday with the day of mourning as we realised that my home country had elected a racist, misogynistic sociopath to its highest office… but that’s a post for another day. The weekend away was a well-timed and much needed break from politics and everything else stressing me out as of late.

I’ve been a lot busier in Niko’s first year than I was with Luella and for that and many other reasons, their first years were incredibly different. True to his sunshine-y nature and the train-psychic’s prediction Nikolas is a generally very happy baby who makes us smile and laugh so often.

His favourite things at the moment are water play, bouncing along to music, playing peek-a-boo on the change table after his baths, smashing his face into pillows, covering himself in mud, waving to strangers on the train, and practising his three favourite words “yeah!” (because he’s always agreeable), “yum!” (because he’s still quite the food enthusiast) and “look!” (paired with an enthusiastic point). He doesn’t have a lot of words yet, but the ones he has, he uses with gusto.

No walking yet, though he stands and scoots along everything and crawls at lightning speed – especially when he’s trying to get into the bathroom. He’s weirdly obsessed with it – I suspect it’s his love of water play. He sees the toilet and bath tub as games just waiting for him. It’d be funny if he didn’t have a penchant for dropping Luella’s toys into the toilet.

Still nothing but love between those two though. He’s now at an age where he’s actively copying what she does. Recently he’s taken to brushing his teeth along with her which is super adorable.¬†He climbs all over her and has started giving her cuddles, though he doesn’t really know his own strength.

Cheeky toddlerhood is just around the corner and if the last 10 days of having a one year old are any indication, we better brace ourselves!

Baby Sauce Face at 9 Months

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Nine months in, and now nine months out. This little boy continues to bring so much joy to my life! We have a running joke that he’s basically like a cartoon baby come to life. He’s the only baby I’ve ever heard who actually says “goo goo ga ga” regularly. A few people have even noted that on the few occasions when he cries, he actually says “waaaahh”.

But it’s his toothy grin, love of tickles and cuddles, and enthusiastic waving hello and goodbye that have me wrapped around his finger.

Nikolas got his first two teeth early and then we had a long reprieve on teething until five came in all at once! Yeesh. He’s been a droolly mess the past few weeks, but nothing that mama cuddles can’t fix. ¬†And the biggest development of this trimester: MOBILITY!

From the time he was doing in utero acrobatics I had a feeling we were going to have a very active baby and Niko has not disappointed. He’s been crawling for about 2 months now and I’m amazed at the lightning speed with which he does it. And he is into everything, especially when he knows he’s not supposed to be.

His favourite activities are now trying to get into the bathroom to unroll the toilet paper, stealing food off of Luella’s plate, pulling every book and toy off the shelves and doing his best to try and electrocute himself. Making me a little nervous for toddlerhood!

When you're the second child, your mum sometimes  forgets to take your 7 and 8 month photos. Whoops. That's life, kid.

When you’re the second child, your mum sometimes forgets to take your 7 and 8 month photos. Whoops. That’s life, kid.

Luella was a late walker at nearly 17 months, but Nikolas is already cruising along furniture and just a few days ago stood on his own unsupported for the first time. Definitely keeping me on my toes a lot more.

And all that crawling requires a lot of sustenance. Luckily Nikolas has yet to try a food he doesn’t like. I’m amazed both at what he will chow down, and how much mess he’s able to make with so little food.

Interestingly, Niko has never been nearly as interested in breastfeeding as Luella was. She fed for comfort around the clock. More often than not I’m the one who initiates nursing with Niko. Especially during the day when there’s other foods on offer and mischief to get into, I’m lucky if he feeds more than two minutes at a time. He has a big feed in the bath before bed and then nurses on an off during the night. But honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if he self-weans before 18 months (something I didn’t believe kids actually did when Luella was still breastfeeding!)

Because he doesn’t have the same emotional attachment to it, it makes it easier for Jim to look after him for long stretches. I remember Lu was about 11 months the first time Jim looked after her for more than a couple of hours at a time. But recently I had the flu and Jim took both kids out for the whole day with a bottle of expressed milk and everyone had a great time.

The extra freedom has been awesome, but sometimes I worry I don’t give him enough one on one time. He’s so flexible and easy that he tends to just go along with whatever Luella or I want to get up to during the week. With the weather getting nicer I’m trying to make more of an effort to take Niko out for bonding time, particularly playing in nature.

Overall though, I think we’ve hit one of those parenting sweet spots where things are going really well with both kiddos. Let’s hope it lasts till the next update!

Little Lulu at Four Years

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Folks, I’m not going to sugarcoat it: three was a very tough year. I have no idea why they say “terrible twos” because every joke you’ve ever heard about “threenagers” is true. Worse, maybe. I joked for a while that I was holding out for four. Hoping that we’d just wake up on the 12th and suddenly have a pleasant child again.

I wouldn’t say that’s exactly what happened, however we did have a really awesome birthday with Luella. On Sunday she had her long-anticipated Lego party. We may have gone a little over the top on the costumes and themed food. That’s kind of my thing.

Luella had asked to invite some preschool friends this year, and it was nice getting to know them and their families outside the brief “hello”s at pick-up and drop-off.

Her proper birthday was on Tuesday though, and Jim took the day off work – a tradition he reckons he’d like to do with the kids every year. We let her have leftover birthday cake for breakfast and then surprised Lu with an impromptu trip to Wollongong to visit the University of Wollongong Early Start Discovery¬†Space.¬†I’d heard about it a while back – a great new hands-on children’s museum – and it exceeded expectations.

We stayed right up until closing and Lu was still having a blast. The activities were all really open-ended and imaginative, there were art workshops throughout the day, a beautiful outdoor garden/natural playground, and even some great baby play areas for Niko. It’s only an hour drive from Sydney so we ended up buying a membership, figuring it’s great for those rainy “what do we do?” weekends.

My favourite part of the day though – as we were eating lunch at the outdoor cafe (lovely and a couple of easily modified vegan menu options) Luella suddenly stood up on the bench and announced, “Everybody, I have to tell you something! I just want to tell you this is my best birthday ever and I’m so happy I get to eat lunch with my whole family.”

This proud mama might have shed a tear or two.

After the museum we had sushi for dinner in Newtown and of course, ice cream at Gelato Blue. It was probably one of my favourite days we’ve had together as a family.

photo (23)

So, while I imagine there are still plenty of challenges to come, so far 4 is off to a pretty good start. We’ve seen so much growth in Luella this year. In addition to being an increasingly responsible big sister, watching her grow socially has been huge. On Tuesday I sat back watching her initiate conversations with other kids at the sandpit, confidently asserting herself. It’s quite the change from the little girl who buried her face when confronted with groups of kids a year ago.

She’s still smart as a whip with an ever-growing vocabulary, imagination and sensitivity. I’ve also noticed her problem-solving skills blossom this year. You’ll frequently hear her shout “I know!” and rattle off a solution to a challenge in a split second.

I’m looking forward to watching her take on the world even more this year.

 

Newborn Photography: Preserving Moments in Time

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Whether it’s on my phone, my point and shoot or my DSLR I’m photographing constantly – my kids playing, my dinner, sunsets off my balcony. Yet, even with the constant snapping, what’s¬†the one thing I feel like I still don’t have enough photos of? My kids’ newborn periods.

My son was born in November and it already feels like that whole period just passed by in a flash. I did a small session with him on the day he was born, but I still wish I could go back and take a thousand more. And my eldest daughter? I didn’t even have my DSLR then so the few photos I do have are not exactly high quality, frame-worthy portraits.

I’ve always personally valued photographs – I used to keep shoeboxes packed with them in high school – but it wasn’t until recently I realised their true worth. I was visiting with a mum who’s settled in Sydney now, but came here¬†as an asylum seeker and was held¬†in an Australian-run offshore detention centre – in fact, her son was born there. When I was showing her Nikolas’ newborn photos she lamented not having any photos of her son, now a rambunctious two year old, as a baby.

You can’t get those days back.

And look, I get it. I was suffering from terrible anxiety and sleep deprivation when Luella was born. I felt like a zombie with leaky boobs. The last thing I would have thought about was getting photos done.

But now, with a few years of perspective under my belt, I can look back and say I wish I had. And here’s why…

You get to actually be in the photos. Almost all the photos of me and newborn Nikolas¬†are crappy iPhone selfies. Here’s one of the few I got my partner to take of us.

nikolas arrival-10

I’ve got no make-up, bags under my eyes and a big, floppy¬†postpartum belly hanging out. But you know what? I look happy. And that photo makes me instantly remember that evening. We brought Niko home to see his sister and he was so alert, taking everything in. We changed his jammies together and Luella was so awestruck by this tiny person. We all were!

Yes, it’s a slightly posed photo, but it still captures our real experience of our baby’s first night at home and the details – the teeny size 0000 pjs, the bunting Luella and I made him, the nursing singlet I lived in.

Those are the things I’m interested in when it comes to Newborn photography.

Now, let’s talk about newborn photography for a minute, because there are different kinds out there. Now, I’m not trying to put down¬†other photographers. Goodness knows how many of them blow me away when it comes to working with light. But there’s a certain style of newborn photography that I’m just not drawn to: babies in baskets.

We’ve all seen them. Look, this person did one with their kitten. Besides the overdone factor, I just don’t like the idea of using babies as props. For real, I’ve seen babies referred to on industry blogs as “props” and directions on how to “style” them. Babies are little people, with burgeoning personalities. For me, photography isn’t just about making an aesthetically pleasing¬†picture, it’s about capturing the connection between people. I’d rather photograph a baby gazing into his mother’s eyes, or falling asleep on her dad’s chest.

When your photography focuses on capturing moments in time, even the not so pretty ones, that takes pressure off the new parents. There’s no expectation¬†to look perfect, no stressing about the baby being fussy or unsettled or what if the baby needs to feed and then she spews on her perfectly styled dress?

Instead I want to freeze time. I promise, one day you’ll forget about those mornings you were up before the sun changing an exploding nappie. And all you remember is… awwwwwww…. baby toes!!!!

nikolas arrival-21
I’m currently offering a great deal on a full maternity package called “We Are Expecting”. You get 4 separate shoots which can include anything from your pregnancy announcement to ¬†your baby’s first few months. Alternatively, we can book a one-off session: I can shoot in the hospital, the day you bring him home, meeting siblings or grandparents, or wait a month or two¬†until the baby is a bit more alert and everyone is settling in, and do a relaxed in-home session.

I promise, you will not regret preserving these moments.

Email me at mamashazsydney@gmail.com to book. Vouchers are available as well – a perfect and special gift for parents-to-be!