As photographers, our job is to tell a story. What we choose to document is a personal, passion-driven preference unique to each of us. For me, I’ve always wanted to document motherhood — the raw, the intimate, and the honest — and offering postpartum photography sessions is my way of doing that.

My goal is to help women document experiences that aren’t easily captured with words. Many new mothers are guarded, or don’t necessarily want to talk about their experience. Maybe they aren’t used to sharing, or maybe they aren’t ready. That’s ok, because that’s not my job.

I am there to create photographs for them to remember and process their individual experiences. I’m making images that can take them back to a time of transition and newness, hormones and fatigue. I’m capturing moments that might otherwise become blurry with overwhelming emotions and time.

Mom and baby take a bath during postpartum photography session

Documenting the postpartum experience is my passion.

When I say the words, “newborn photography,” or “motherhood session,” you might envision a baby wrapped up in a basket, or perhaps a mother smiling beautifully (and predictably) at the camera, not a single hair out of place. I understand that we want others to see us in our best light and want to be remembered as women who could do it all (and look good while doing it). But if you have kids, you know that’s a lie.

Not only do our bodies have to heal physically after growing and birthing a human being, but our minds go through major hormonal changes as well. So why are we afraid to document how real that is? That transition from self to mother, regardless of how many children you have, is monumental and deserves acknowledgement.

This is a powerful and moving story that is often soon forgotten in the chaos of raising a family.

Postpartum photography session, mom breastfeeding newborn

Why (and how) I began offering postpartum photography sessions.

After I had my fourth child and endured a particularly busy fall photo season, I knew I had to make a change. I wasn’t sleeping, my anxiety was through the roof, and I felt burnt out. But most of all, I felt directionless and I wanted to quit. I decided that the answer was to specialize in photographing what I was truly passionate about — motherhood and the postpartum experience — without exceptions.

The challenge I wanted to take on as a photographer was to give new mothers a safe space to feel their feelings and embrace the changes in themselves. I wanted to give women space to explore their relationships with their newborn babies.

In order to attract clients interested in this kind of postpartum photography session, I had to do several things.

1. I curated my online presence.

To attract the clients who’d most value the sessions I wanted to offer, I knew I had to only show photos that matched my vision. I went through my website and social media accounts and deleted all photos that weren’t in line with what I wanted to create. Period.

2. I grew my portfolio of postpartum photography.

In order to create more of the images I wanted to show potential clients, I did a model call in an active motherhood group. I specifically asked for models who would be comfortable with me taking their photo in intimate settings (a bath, a shower, or on their beds). I also asked them to answer some questions about their motherhood experience because I find it even more powerful when I can share a direct quote with an image.

3. I created a client welcome guide.

Having a welcome guide to send to clients when I receive their inquiry is so helpful. In my guide, I tell them exactly what to expect from me and include a combination of words and imagery. This helps ensure that my potential clients and I are a good match.

4. I know my clients.

Once a client is ready to book, I send a questionnaire to help get to know why they are wanting these images, and what’s important to them. For example, I will ask what their birth experience was like, how feedings are going, what were they not expecting about motherhood, etc. I also sit down with them before the session begins to go over their experience thus far and reiterate what to expect from me.

For some new moms, there’s more to the story.

Of course my clients want to document their new baby, but many also want me to give attention to another aspect of their experience.

For example, I went to a client’s home when her baby was 10 weeks old. She hadn’t contacted me until then because of a traumatic birth experience that she needed to recover from, emotionally and physically.

Her situation didn’t conform to the standard two-week old newborn session, but I felt like my work gave her the permission to still have this time documented. It also welcomed the opportunity to include another aspect of her experience, which was the fact that she had an unplanned C-section. It was important to her to document that scar, because not only was it part of her story, it was part of her healing.

Newborn baby lays on mom during postpartum photos

I’m there to document the full story.

I tell my clients right off the bat that the baby controls the flow of the session. They are free to determine what is best for baby during our time and we’ll roll with it. If baby is hungry, feed him. If baby is fussy, soothe her. If a diaper change is needed, go for it. This is a great opportunity to document these in between moments. These are real things that happen in real life, so why not photograph them as they are?

In addition, I always do photos of just baby, mom and baby, dad and baby, both parents and baby, and of course siblings if there are any.

Siblings most often tend to be toddlers, so my attitude about including them is the same as with babies — you can’t force them to do anything. If they want to play or have a snack, then let them while you work on something else. Once they show some interest or curiosity in what you are doing, that’s when you invite them into your space. I want to respect boundaries and avoid meltdowns, but also to engage them when they are willing and being exactly who they are.

Toddler sibling with mom and baby during newborn photos
A dad holds a baby during a postpartum photography session

I want mom to be comfortable and connected.

When there is clear communication about what to expect, I find that mothers are less likely to struggle with being comfortable in front of the camera.

I reassure them throughout the session with words of validation and am in constant conversation with them. I ask them questions about who they are, their story and what their plans are. I’ll also share my own experiences, when invited. By the end of the session, I feel like I have formed a genuine connection with them.

A mom and baby snuggle during newborn photos

I’m willing to share, or not share, my clients’ photos.

I talk to my clients about the sharing and usage of their photos prior to their postpartum photo session, but I always ask them again after I deliver the images to ensure their comfort level. Mothers who decline at first are more likely to be willing to share their images and story once we have completed the project together. Some simply need more time to feel safe, and considering the changes exploding around them, that’s the least I can give.

For example, I had one client who contacted me months after her session because it took her awhile to process her emotions and feel ready to talk about them. We then worked together to put words with her images so we could share them with other women.

Postpartum photography session, mom breastfeeding newborn

As a mother who has experienced postpartum depression, anxiety, and the roller coaster of emotions that comes with parenting, it has been monumental for me to find others who are open about our shared experiences. We are more alike than different, and for women to be willing to be open and honest about their ups and downs is healing and cathartic for mothers everywhere.

I want my clients to feel like they have the space to be exactly as they are, even if they don’t fit into the mold of what they were told a mother should be.

Actually, I think that’s what I’m here for — to disrupt the molds that keep us disappointed, and to help mothers flesh out the story and role that only they can tell, even if that means some hairs are out of place.

Photos by Mia Gorrell

See more of Mia’s postpartum photography on Instagram @miagorrellphotography.

How postpartum photography is different than newborn photography