Personal: Freelensing with Cora in the Lititz Wildflower Field

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If I'm being honest, most days motherhood does not leave me with much energy to be creative. With the heat we've been having this summer and the demands of an infant and a toddler, I feel pretty drained most days. Sometimes it takes a lot of motivation to even climb up a set of stairs to get my camera when there's something I want to photograph of my kids. Yet at the same time I have found that motherhood has deepened my desire to express my artistic side even more and compelled me to document life for my children through photography. In a way, I would say that taking beautiful photos of my daughter running through wildflower fields allows me to not only process my reality but to escape for a moment. I look through the viewfinder and see all the colors that make my heart soar and watch my carefree daughter twirling around and for a second I forget that I am majorly sleep deprived and in need of quality adult interaction. 

I've been a stay-at-home mom for three years now, and in that time I have come to realize that I NEED to take time to create, even when I don't have the energy.  Getting the creative juices flowing refuels me. So, I decided to do some experimenting with freelensing, a technique where you remove the lens from your camera and hold it over the shutter. It creates a really shallow depth of field and allows most of the image to blur with just a tiny portion in focus. I think it creates a really dreamy effect, though I will say it's best to practice on non-moving objects first to get comfortable with how it works. I used a 50 mm and a 35 mm lens for these freelensing shots in the Lititz wildflower field. Also FYI, not all of them are freelensed, as you can probably tell.

The large vertical image of Cora lying down in the wildflower field encircled by black eyed susans is probably one of the favorites I've taken of her so far this year. As summer comes to an end and we enter into the busy season of fall, I hope I can continue to find ways to fuel my creative spirit in the every day rhythms and routines of life.

Melissa Engle Photography offers portrait and lifestyle photography in Lancaster, PA. Please contact me if you would like to make some photo magic together!

Lancaster Wedding Photography: Lindsay and John at Lauxmont Farms Rotunda

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Lindsay and John were married at the rotunda site of Lauxmont Farms in May. This location will always hold a special place in my heart because my husband and I were also married there in May of 2012. Their original plan was to be married at the sunken garden; however the forecast called for rain all day so they moved the ceremony to the rotunda. Lindsay and John were so relaxed and calm despite the last minute changes. They decided to do a first touch, which is one way to have a private moment before the ceremony without seeing one another. All of the creamy tones of the flowers, the lace of Lindsay's dress with her golden ringlets blowing in the wind and the beautiful venue overlooking the Susquehanna River complete with frolicking horses reminds me of something out of romance novel. But most importantly, I think you can tell by the looks on their faces that this day was full of joy and love. This was my first wedding of 2018 and the perfect start to wedding season.

Vendors:

DJ: DJ Liam Productions (https://liamdj.com/ ), Owen & Liam Blevins

Florist: Laura of Lauxmont (http://www.lauraoflauxmont.com/), Laura Kohr

Cake: Bella Manse (http://www.bellamanse.com/), Renee Hackman Hunter

Hair: The Mansion on Main (https://themansiononmain.us/)

Makeup: Blush Beautiful (https://www.blushbeautiful.com/), Amanda Clark

Dress: Blush Bridal (https://www.blushbridalpa.com/)

Melissa Engle Photography offers portrait and lifestyle photography in Lancaster, PA. Please contact me if you would like to make some photo magic together!

Hummelstown Family Photography: Sullivan's One Year Session Among the Peonies

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This little blue eyed beauty turned one in May. I loved capturing Sullivan with her mom and dad (and dog) at their home, especially with my all time favorite flower, the peony. She held onto a small pink bud for most of the photo session. Sullivan will no doubt be walking completely on her own soon. I am always honored to capture these moments for families, because I know how fleeting they are. Just a year ago, I photographed Sullivan as a newborn, less than 48 hours after she was born. My how the time flies!

Lancaster Family Photography: The Smith Family at Wolf's Hollow County Park

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I've been photographing the Smith family for a couple years now, from the time Bill and Rhianna got engaged, and every time it just gets better. Their boys are adorable and have grown so much since I've last seen them. It happened to be the youngest's 2nd birthday the day we had this photo shoot (we had to reschedule a couple times due to weather). Definitely a lot of love and laughter captured in this session! It was my first time at Wolf's Hollow Park and I would like to discover more there sometime. 

Melissa Engle Photography offers portrait and lifestyle photography in Lancaster, PA. Please contact me if you would like to make some photo magic together!

Lancaster Family Photography: Garden of the Five Senses with the Koppes Family

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These friends are new to Lancaster and also happen to be my neighbors. The Koppes family moved here from Colorado less than a year ago and chose to live in our neighborhood in part due to one of my personal projects called "Who's Who on the Hill", documenting people and their stories in Cabbage Hill (the Lancaster City neighborhood where we reside). It was a muggy evening but the light was golden and the kiddos were in a good mood (probably motivated by their ice cream reward post photo shoot). I have been working at trying to capture more candid moments in my family photography and am excited by the fun expressions and overall love and joyfulness that comes across in these photos.

Melissa Engle Photography offers portrait and lifestyle photography in Lancaster, PA. Please contact me if you would like to make some photo magic together!

Lancaster Newborn Lifestyle Photography: Baby Jameson

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Welcome to the world baby Jameson! I didn't get to photograph this little dude until he was about 6 weeks old since I gave birth to my own son just a couple weeks after Jameson was born. His mom tells me he loves to eat and he's getting to be quite the little chunker. His parents, Nyssa and Alex, live in a beautiful Lancaster City home and I love their vintage, eclectic style. The one thing that stood out to me from his nursery is the amazing vintage rocking horse that Nyssa found on Craigslist. Apparently it was the first item she bought for the nursery after she found out she was pregnant. I really love photographing in home newborn sessions and I foresee doing many more of these in the future. Send all the tiny babies my way! They don't stay small for long in my experience. :)

Melissa Engle Photography offers portrait and lifestyle photography in Lancaster, PA. Please contact me if you would like to make some photo magic together!

Lancaster Family Photography: Spring Session with Janet & Kai

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I have been antsy to get out and take photos to get my creative juices flowing after being cooped up all winter and adjusting to life with a newborn. With the spring blooms everywhere and Mother's Day coming up, I asked my friend Janet if she and her son Kai would model for a mother-son session with me at Buchmiller Park, just outside Lancaster City. The light was absolutely perfect and the cherry blossom curtains made for some fun playful images. I've been photographing Kai since he was a newborn and I can't believe how much he has grown into a little boy. 

I also want to take this opportunity to remind all the moms (and dads) out there to get in the frame with your kids. You won't regret it and your kids will appreciate it years from now. My mom was the picture taker and documentarian in our family. We have carefully organized photo albums from all of our childhood years, thanks to my mom, along with detailed baby books and binders of our childhood artwork and other school papers, even "love notes" that boy crushes wrote to me. I know I have appreciated looking through these memories over the years and hope that I can do just as good of a job documenting life for my own kiddos AND also make sure that I appear in the frame from time to time. So here's my pitch to you; make your spouse or your friend or your dog take some photos of you and the kiddos interacting (selfies don't count!). OR hire a photographer (pick me!) to photograph your family. In fact, I've got gift certificates available and mother's day is just around the corner...

Personal: Nolan Avery's Birth Story

 Nolan Avery, four days old

Nolan Avery, four days old

Ever since I became a mom to my daughter a couple years ago, I have loved hearing (and sharing) birth stories. I always tell people that I have never felt the mind, body, soul connection more deeply in my life than I did when I was giving birth to my daughter. And I've never felt more vulnerable, yet more strong and proud of what my body can do. It was truly a spiritual experience for me, and I remain in awe of the mystery and miracle that is birth. 

I would say that my second birth experience was equally as powerful as my first, everything just happened a little faster. The following describes the 24 hours leading up to Nolan's birth. Just to lay a bit of background, I should mention that this pregnancy was less complicated than my first for a few reasons, the main one being that I did not have gestational diabetes. There was no diet regulation, no checking my blood sugars four times a day, no extra ultrasounds or non-stress tests. I also didn't have the swollen feet or get the charlie horse leg cramps in the middle of the night like I did when pregnant with my daughter. So all around, it was an easier pregnancy, other than the fact that I had a toddler to chase around.

Tuesday, March 27th, 24 Hours Before Nolan's Birth

On Tuesday evening, March 27th, at 40 weeks and 6 days pregnant, I headed to my routine prenatal appointment. My doctor checked my cervix and found that I was 3 cm dilated and 50% effaced, which meant I was a good candidate for a membrane sweep. This is a simple procedure where they use a finger to sweep between the membrane of the amniotic sac and the uterus. It is a good way to get labor started without drugs or other interventions. I was anxious about this because I had Googled it and read about other women saying it hurt, so when the nurse took my blood pressure and saw it was high, I wasn't surprised; however, when the doc did the sweep, I did not mind one bit. I remember asking her, "Did you do it? Wow, that didn't hurt at all!" I then did a non stress test and baby boy passed with flying colors (which I knew he would because he was extremely active throughout my entire pregnancy).

That night I had menstrual-like cramps in my lower back and in my lower abdomen. I figured this was due to the membrane sweep since cramps are fairly common following that procedure. I had been having these cramps and Braxton Hicks contractions periodically during the last month of my pregnancy as well. When I woke up the next morning and still hadn't gone into labor, I felt a sinking disappointment. I was SO sure that I would go into labor in the middle of the night when the time finally came and I was hoping it would happen that night.

Wednesday, March 28th, Nolan's Birthday

Being a week overdue at this point, I was feeling nervous because I did not want to be induced. I had an ultrasound scheduled for Wednesday afternoon to check on baby and since I don't like extra testing, I was not looking forward to it. I convinced my husband to work from home to babysit Cora so that I could swim laps at Franklin and Marshall College over lunch to destress and get some of my favorite type of exercise (I am a mermaid, after all, remember?) The cramps continued to come and go periodically that morning and were painful enough that they were annoying and hard to ignore so I decided to meet up with friends at Commonwealth Kitchen & Cafe for a distraction (also I felt like I had to poo and knew that a mocha latte would probably do the trick, and it did :-p). 

As I was swimming laps over lunch, I noticed the cramps were continuing so I decided to time them on the digital wall clock as I swam. I was a bit surprised to find that they were happening consistently 4 to 5 minutes apart. By the time I got out of the pool and had my hot shower, I had the sense of urgency that I should probably get home and figure out if this was the real thing. I had been anticipating labor for so long that I was in disbelief that it could actually be happening now, and like I said I was convinced it would happen in the middle of the night. I called into my doctor's office on my way home and spoke to the phone nurse since my doctor was not in that day. After describing my symptoms she suggested I go into the hospital and get checked.

Even though I had been prepared for this for weeks, I was a mess when I got home and forgot to pack several of my toiletries and clothing items that I meant to throw in my hospital bag. I was choking back tears as we rushed around to gather our things. I sobbed as I hugged Cora goodbye, knowing that the next time I saw her we would be a family of four and everything would be different.

Upon arrival in triage they found I was 5 cm dilated, which surprised me because even though the contractions were starting to become more intense, I remember 5 cm being a lot more difficult to endure when I was in labor with Cora. Lancaster General Women and Babies Hospital was packed that day, so it took them a little while to get us into a labor and delivery room. I never had a chance to eat lunch and I think the caffeine and anxiety of being in labor and not quite ready made my blood pressure go super high, which meant they had to check it every half hour while I was in labor and do some blood work. Thankfully everything was fine.

Once we got into our room, I was relieved that my blood pressure came down enough that I did not have to get a hep-lock in my hand. Being able to move freely and change positions during labor was one of the most important things to me, so I did not want an IV nor did I want to be hooked up to monitors. I also did not want any drugs, epidural or pain killers. It may sound crazy, but as I said with my first birth, I wanted to fully experience this thing that women have been doing since the beginning of time. Side note: I'm also a big fan of Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and that book very much impacted my desires for my labor and birth experience. Second side note: I think all moms are heroes, no matter how they gave birth. I know many friends whose birth stories did not turn out as they desired or imagined; regardless I just want to acknowledge that every woman who has given birth has done an incredible thing, no matter how the baby came into this world.

My mom and doula arrived soon after we got settled in the room and labor continued to progress and become more intense. During contractions I spent a lot of time rocking on the birthing ball, on all fours and sometimes lunging or squatting. I also spent some time in the tub. Dave and my doula Meghan of Village Birth Collective were awesome at encouraging me and applying pressure to my back and hips. The ambience was set just as I desired with folky music playing, dim lights and lavender essential oil diffusing through the air. I tried my best to focus on relaxing my face and mouth through every contraction, knowing how important it is to help relax the pelvic floor muscles and help labor progress.

Below I'm posting some super low quality photos and video that my mom took while I was in labor. When I look at these, I think I appear a lot calmer and more peaceful than what I was feeling inside.

In no time at all I had entered transition and the deep moans coming from within me grew louder and wavering. This part of labor I find to be the most intimate and transcendent; entering into that space where mind, body and soul are so intertwined and focused on nothing else but bringing that sweet babe into the world. The doc checked me and I was 7 cm dilated and as she was in there poking around, my water broke. Within the next half hour I was having the urge to push. I tried to surrender to my body and let it do all the work but the little guy still came fast and furious and I ended up with a second degree tear. After probably 4-5 contractions and less than 10 minutes of pushing, Nolan Avery arrived earthside, born at 5:50 p.m. weighing 7 pounds 10 ounces after less than 5 hours of labor. Now, a month later he is becoming a chunky little piglet and we all adore him so.

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If you want to see Cora meeting her new baby brother for the first time, click here to view the Fresh 48 video and photos by Vanessa Shenk of Vanessa Joy Films. Hearing Cora's sweet little voice saying, "You want to hold him Daddy?" gets me every time. We will treasure this always. 

NOTE: The photos and video above of me in labor were taken by my mom with a low quality point-and-shoot camera, not to be confused with Vanessa's professional work.

And below are a few more photos taken by me of baby Nolan in his first month of life.

Melissa Engle Photography offers portrait and lifestyle photography in Lancaster, PA. Please contact me if you would like to make some photo magic together!