I could give you this sweet story about how today marks the day that I have been married to my best friend for 8 years. I could tell you how blissful it is to work together and parent two lovely little ladies together. If I told you all those things, it would be bull crap. There ya go, I said it.
Marriage is hard; omg is it hard. We fight and we yell, we say hurtful things; we slam the door in each other’s face; we have told one another to get out and never to come back. We are real and this marriage is real and sometimes there is nothing ” Instagram-worthy” about having a “real” marriage. I have been told that Instagram is like looking at the highlight reel of someone’ life, and it is true.
I haven’t been open about mine and Steven’s relationship. Only close friends and family know our story until this past summer.
We entered a contest (well; I did) called the ‘Don’t Give up Project.’ This was a contest hosted by photographers we have long admired. By submitting your story, people could vote, and you could potentially win a paid trip to Colorado for an intensive workshop with The Parsons. When I saw this contest, I took a deep breath, and I begin writing. What started off as a paragraph buried in a tight shell I buried, it was like word vomit. I was crying and angry and then smiling. I couldn’t get my emotions in check. I will share that story below (be prepared for an ugly novel).
Long story short, we won that contest. In July, we headed to Colorado. Being a part of the Parson’s workshop was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Letting the emotions and feelings out that I had buried so deep helped heal our souls and brought us closer today.
I know our relationship isn’t always pretty, and I think that is where I get frustrated. When you work together as a husband and wife photography duo who shoot weddings, people look at you like your marriage is on a pedestal. In my mind, I think we are looked at like we must have it figured out and have it all together (essentially a perfect marriage). That couldn’t be further from the truth. However, I will say; I love our broken and beautiful relationship.
If you know me, you know not to underestimate any will power that I may verbally declare or physically showcase. From the moment I was born- severely premature with one lung and a not-so-hopeful diagnosis- I have been determined, tenacious, a rebel with a cause… some have even gone so far as to call me stubborn.
So, when I laid eyes upon an attractive blonde man in my college architecture club and announced to my best friend that I “am absolutely going to marry that hottie,” it shouldn’t come as no surprise that it’s exactly what I did.
In most cases, when one exclaims to her best friend that she’s going to marry a man that she just laid eyes on for the first time- and has yet to utter a single word- it’s almost always said in jest; it’s not to be taken seriously. It’s declared because of an immediate physical attraction but it rarely pans out. We’ve all learned once or twice that reality rarely coincides with the picture we dream up in our heads. When I laid eyes on Steven, I wasn’t declaring some empty wish to my best friend that I was going to marry him in my dreams later that evening.
We began dating shortly after my initial exclamation of promised matrimony. Like most great love stories, we had our struggles. We weren’t perfect- still aren’t- and it took us a while to get where we are now. Like most parents would attest, our real journey began when we got pregnant with our first daughter, Lily. We were still just dating and having a rough go of it. A curve ball like a pregnancy can make or break a couple. In our case it broke us. As in, it broke us up, if only for a little while.
Going through a pregnancy and birth alone was emotionally defeating. We were still such young kids and neither one of us knew how to navigate parenthood alone, let alone as a couple. We both enjoyed being parents very much- we were each quite good at our parental roles. I don’t want to say that Steven begged for me back- well, okay, he begged for me back- but I wasn’t convinced. It took almost an entire year for me to convince myself to apply my determination to our relationship. But once I did, things happened very quickly. Shortly after we made up, Steven asked me to marry him. YES was an easy answer; we were already a family and we had worked hard to come together. Making it official seemed like an easy next step.
We both graduated college two weeks before Lilly was born. For two years, we had both been working at separate firms. We both enjoyed our jobs, loved our daughter, and after December 2, 2006, we became newlyweds. On April 1st, we discovered that we were expecting. What should’ve been a high was tainted by the housing market crash- I lost my job and Steven’s was in jeopardy because of lack of demand. Yet another pregnancy made extremely stressful by events outside of our control. We did what we could to make ends meet and tried to keep our marriage alive despite the immeasurable stress we were facing.
On November 30th, our sweet Ellie was born. Almost immediately after our daughter was born, I suffered an amniotic embolism. It’s very rare and occurs when your amniotic fluid leaks into your blood stream. Long story short, you aren’t supposed to survive it.
Steven was standing next to me, holding our minutes old daughter when I told him that I felt like I was going to pass out. Seconds later, I was gone. Steven was shoved out of the way with Ellie still in his arms. A Code Blue was called and a team came rushing into our room with a crash cart. When they brought me back, I couldn’t see anything. I lost my vision for well over thirty-six hours. I was placed in the Cardiac ICU for recovery. It was, by far, the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s safe to assume that it was for Steven, too. I repeated to my mother and to Steven, “I cant’ die. I just had a baby and what about Lilly? I can’t die.” And, obviously, I didn’t. But my dreams of having any more children did.
Fast forward several years, I had formed a small company making clothes for my kids and selling to various local boutiques. While selling the various items, the boutiques would ask for pictures of the items. So, with a shoestring budget, I bought a camera and began taking picture of my kids in the items. At the time, photography was a means to an end, the end being this side business of handmade goods. I had no idea that it would quickly turn into the main event.
About a year after (2009) I picked up my first camera, I got a call from a woman whom I attended church with. In the ninth inning, her photographer backed out of her wedding. She asked me if I could and would shoot it for her. Ummm… I can try? I charged her five hundred dollars and shot her wedding. I made myself so sick with anxiety that I literally threw up three times throughout the day and I gave myself a migraine. Luckily, my first professional experience went great! But more than that, the wedding bug had bitten me hard. I wanted more…
In 2010, I shot a few more weddings. Fifteen to be exact. It was thrilling- my business was growing faster than I could keep up with it. This particular situation is where some would refer to my tenacity and inability to half-ass anything. Personally, I believe that your passion and career are two things that should never been given half of your capable effort. So, I gave it everything. And, unfortunately, this had consequences, as does everything in life. Steven and I should’ve known better, but why break precedent of making things more difficult before they fell together?
While my business was growing at an amazing and quite unbelievable speed, Steven was still working sixty to seventy hours a week at the same architecture firm. He worked long days and came home to me working longer hours into the evening. I stayed up until dawn editing pictures while he slept beside me. It became our routine and that kind of a routine is bound to back fire. Our kids never saw us and we never saw each other, yet, neither of us was willing to work less at our jobs.
We both decided that we couldn’t do it any longer. We had priorities that were no longer lining up and we figured that if we could parent together once before- before any of life got in the way- we could do it again as more mature, settled adults. So, we separated.
After six months of separation, our church had a marriage retreat. Steven says this is where my determination became stubbornness. I had made peace with the fact that we were done. I had accepted that we weren’t meant to do life together. I only agreed to go in the hope that it would prove to Steven that it was over between us.
Well, the joke was on me. That retreat taught me that it wasn’t him who needed to change. Or me, for that matter. It was US. As a family. As a couple. That change came with a rebrand into what is now our husband and wife run business.
Steven walked away from his job that he had held for ten years and came to work with me. We rebranded our company so that spending more time together as a family would be easy. We too control of our lives- and issues- and solved them. Obviously, this could’ve turned out to be the most epic of mistakes. I’ve always been warned to keep a separation between work and marriage but we had tried that. This was our last shot. Luckily, it panned out quite well for both us.
Smitten & Hooked debuted in January of 2012. I am thrilled to say that it’s become incredibly successful, professionally and personally. We now have the flexibility to attend functions for our kids. We are able to go on bike rides in the middle of the day when our eyes have grown sore from editing. We bounce ideas- and responsibilities- off on each other. We come close to killing each other, sure, but only once a month or so…
Joining forces was the best thing we ever did for our marriage and for our family. Maybe my stubbornness- or determination, will power, or whatever-you-wanna-call-it- has rubbed off on Steven a bit. Maybe he knew that we were in it for a reason, that we just needed to find the path that worked best for us. After finding that path, I can attest that God has blessed us so much in our marriage and in our work.
Maybe being stubborn isn’t such a bad thing when it’s all in the name of the ones and the work you love…