When Kara Mercer became pregnant with her first child, she decided to celebrate this huge life event in a way that only a skilled creative can: she began a photography project exploring pregnancy and what it truly means to be a mom.
“I’ve always known that, one day, I would want to have kids, but it’s also a decision I didn’t take lightly,” she admits. “You see, there is an unspoken idea in the commercial world of photography that you must choose between family life or your career if you ever really want to do something ‘big.’ That idea scares me, though never to the point that I’d let it dictate either my personal or professional life. So, I guess you could say that this project was born out of my own fears: a refusal to accept my career will look a certain way. Plus, the excitement that I get to call these women my friends – and role models for my daughter. I believe women and careers need a new lens.”
Kara photographed ten mothers-to-be, using the FUJIFILM GFX 50R camera to give the pictures that distinctive medium format look and feel. Although the pictures are lit with studio flash, it’s done in such a way as to look like daylight, which gives the portraits a bright, natural, energetic feel.
“I didn’t want these pictures to look just like another portrait session, or too fashion-like. I was inspired by candid scenes of mothers with their kids – moments which portray deep bonds,” says Kara. “The only thing I wanted to keep consistent was the lighting and backdrop; with ten subjects the meaning behind the project can be lost quickly if there’s no cohesion between the images.”
Kara’s sense of pride in this project is palpable: “My hope is that this project serves as even a small contribution to society and the perceptions of women. I am also excited for the day my daughter asks about these images. I hope she feels a sense of pride that her existence was shared among women that are shaking up the norms.”
“Growing up as the middle child with two sisters, I knew I had to stand out somehow. Either with my education, career, or appearance. I didn’t want to be the typical middle child, blending into the background. I had to excel in school, socially and physically, becoming the best version of myself. I felt the only way to get my parents’ approval was to be successful in my career and have the picture-perfect family.
“During my first marriage, I figured out what I wanted and what I didn’t want. I never was able to have the picture-perfect family with him. Watching all my friends get pregnant and become moms made me feel empty. I felt my life wasn’t complete. But when the time was right I met my perfect partner. We have the same values, and both wanted a family. I soon became pregnant and found out I was having twin boys. The twins were the best surprise of my life. I feel like my life is now complete, with my version of the picture-perfect family.”
“Growing my business has been one of the most intense and rewarding experiences of my life. If I had the chance, I don’t think I’d experience it any other way. In that sense, having a child has been very similar: some days are easier than others, but at the end of the day, Noah has helped me grow. Not only as a mother, but a person, too.
“I always wanted children, but never thought I could fit it into my plans. As someone who has had a business since their teens, I felt like I already had so much to take care of. Noah wasn’t planned, and I love that about him – my surprise baby. Time becomes very precious when you’re balancing your life and a baby. Noah taught me to put things into perspective and live life more intentionally. I suddenly became a more motivated and driven person who knew that she could have everything as long as she set her mind to it: baby, career, and personal life. Becoming a mother during such a pivotal time in my life only validated how much I needed Noah as a mother, business owner, and as a woman.”
“When I was a little girl, I was always drawn to the arts. As a young girl, I babysat for a neighbor who was a photographer and she had adorned her home with the most beautiful images of her children. I distinctly remember thinking to myself that one day I wanted to be able to take beautiful images of my own children. Fast forward a few years and I’ve built my own business as a fine-art wedding photographer and my dream of capturing my own little one is becoming a reality in just a few weeks.
“Building a business takes a lot of passion coupled with a lot of hard work. It has taken years to not only progress my own skill but to build a business that I am proud of and that I feel represents me. I have always wanted to be a strong, independent woman, and create something of my own. I have also always known that I want to take that same passion and love, and translate that into motherhood.
“You can never plan when motherhood will become a reality. You can have an ideal plan, but we all know that, for the majority of us, getting pregnant exactly when you want doesn’t happen. I feel blessed to be pregnant right now, and while I am excited, there is also a small part of me that’s nervous about how I will transition into life with a child as a business owner. I am lucky to have a supportive husband who is just as excited as I am and also passionate for me to be successful in whatever I do.
“I love seeing women who’ve been in similar positions to my own absolutely killing it! Motherhood is a strong and beautiful role and I cannot wait to join this amazing group of women.”
“I’m a San Francisco-based makeup and hair artist and recent novice photographer, fueled by iced coffee, simple carbs, and a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc. Once upon a time, I believed that checking out new restaurants and scoring the hottest pair of shoes was the best way to live my life – until I found myself creating a new one. Becoming a mom has been the most challenging role yet, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When I think of my own mother, she’s selfless, hardworking, doesn’t complain, fearless, and strong, while also being warm and kind. When I look at my baby, I see beauty, pureness, hope and love – I see perfection. I’d say motherhood is a mashup of being selfless to this perfect little human while also experiencing the world all over again through joyful laughs, tantrums, and wide-eyed wonderment. One day, you hope your child feels the same way.”
“Motherhood has always been my ultimate goal. That’s not to say that I haven’t had other passions, but I don’t wish to add to the chorus that seems to sing ‘just a mother.’ So, when I talk about motherhood and career, I want to express that motherhood is, above all else, divinely fulfilling.
“With that said, even before I was a mother, I was a creator, a maker, and a doer. When I got married, my husband gave me $200 and encouraged me to grow it with my talents. I was into upholstery, so I bought some plywood, a jigsaw, a staple gun, and a few other materials, and began building from scratch tufted headboards and upholstered benches.
“Within a year, I was building 20 headboards a month out of my garage and selling them online. I quit my job as a massage therapist and eventually set up a small Etsy shop selling mudcloth pillows, which was more successful than I could have imagined.
“In this time, I got pregnant with twins and they listened to me sew every day while in the womb. Nearing the end of my pregnancy, I struggled with the idea of outsourcing when they were born, because I was always the maker. I didn’t want to give my process to someone else. I went back and forth in my mind about what to do until they were born – a month early. Still without an answer, I decided to take an extended maternity leave to settle in at home.
“I was full of pride for being one of the first to enter into the mudcloth space, so it was hard to take a backseat while others grew faster without me, but ultimately I knew what was best for all of us. After about eight months, I started to get back some time and began to develop my own website, creating a lifestyle brand separate from everything I created on Etsy. My style had evolved, and I felt a pull to import handmade goods from around the world, which ultimately disqualified me from selling on Etsy (a blessing that pushed me on to my own platform, where I could grow a brand and sell without limitations).
“So here I am now: thimble & cloth has evolved into a lifestyle shop, filled with winsome, simple goods for your home that are beautiful and enriching. The juggling of motherhood and business has taught me a lot – mostly that you can’t do everything, you need a team. And my most valuable counsel of all: focus on what you’re good at, and forget the rest.”
“I never grew up thinking I would own a business, but I can tell you I would always think about what my future family would look like. I pictured my kids at the ripe old age of 21 and me working somewhere nice. I didn’t think of much beyond that really, and never thought about my career. But I did know that I needed to graduate from eating Top Ramen to a steak dinner, and I needed to be able to pay my bills.
“It’s funny how life works out – things just come together when they are meant to. I’d always been a stubborn and independent child with a need for a creative outlet. After high school I wanted to be many things – from an E.M.T. to a fashion designer. I quit school and decided to get a job, but no one would hire me. It really got me down in the dumps! That’s when my heart decided to go for it and open a shop of my own. Fast forward four years, I’m pregnant and running a profitable business.
“This was the best moment of my life: we’re having a baby! I’d had a chemical pregnancy the year before, and was giving up hope of conceiving naturally. But, by some miracle, I found out during a standard checkup on my ovaries at a fertility center that there was an egg about to drop. I still tear up thinking about it, but if I hadn’t been proactive and gotten things checked out, I definitely would have missed the opportunity to conceive (my cycle just comes when it wants to).
“Throughout most of my pregnancy everything was pretty normal, and I was working harder than ever at the shop. They say if you’re standing after five years in business then you are set. The year I was pregnant with Calvin was the beginning of year four, and I was really starting to see a lot of growth. It was an exciting time, but I had this fear that everything would just come crashing down after the baby. How would I be able to work as much as I did with the baby? Would I even be at work? Will the business continue to grow?
“Towards the end of my pregnancy, my body really started to change – I had the worst swelling. I worked all the way up until June 14th, and was pretty miserable on my feet all day, but had to get everything done before my expected due date of July 11th. On the morning of June 20th, I stopped by the shop to make sure one of the newer girls was OK working alone, then went for a scheduled checkup on my swelling. At 4:13 PM, three weeks early, my son was born via emergency C-section. I had developed severe preeclampsia.
“The moment I heard Calvin cry, my world stopped. I was a mother. Those times in the hospital are moments I will never forget. Getting to see my beautiful baby outside of my body and feel him quiver in my arms for the first time is a moment I could never imagine. Nothing else mattered at that point, but work was also calling.
“I allowed myself time for my son and my body, but was very ready to be in the mix of my business again. All of those questions I had before, about how I would make it work, just didn’t matter anymore, because I just knew Calvin would be right there with me.”
“I thought motherhood would be the easiest decision for me – it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was little. I knew I wanted to become a family with my now-husband Kyle shortly after we started dating. When we got married and spent our first year of blissful married life traveling to beautiful destinations together, the conversations turned more and more towards starting a family. But all of a sudden, I got cold feet.
“This was a surprise to me and tough to understand – it felt so against my identity. Part of my hesitation was not knowing how it would affect my profession as a blogger and photographer. I had started such an amazing photography contract with a huge client and I never thought I’d have to end it because of pregnancy.
“Another factor was how my relationship with my husband would change; our life together was amazing as it was. There was also the worst thought of all: what if I were to fail as a mother while trying to juggle this life I’ve built? That fear had never crossed my mind until this point, when we were about to jump headfirst into parenthood.
“I struggled with this inner turmoil during a somber pause on pregnancy conversations. I spoke with new mothers in my industry at length about their experiences. Everyone has a different story – some harder than others – but the most common theme I heard was the importance of surrounding yourself with a strong support community. Find those who can guide you, help you, and listen to you. I learned to trust my husband, my family, and my friends. After this switch in mindset, I was more confident than ever when I got pregnant.”
“I grew up surrounded by strong women who seamlessly navigated the world of work-life balance, and I never doubted that I would be able to do the same. My mother is the epitome of how you think of a mother: caring, constantly present, emotionally supportive, and stable, yet she was also able to climb her way up into management at an insurance company while my siblings and I were still very young.
“I can see now that this took incredible strength, but as a child I was just proud of her for helping people. I knew that she was working before I woke up in the mornings, and I knew she would be working even when I was asleep, but this did not take away from the time we had together. She always made it home for dinner and never missed a dance recital. I felt important and loved, but I knew there were bigger things my mother was doing for our community, and that mattered, too.
“I always wanted to be a physician, but this did not stop me from also wanting to be a mother. Podiatry is a very male-dominated field, but the women working in it are supportive and encouraging, and have created a smaller community within an already small field. I’ve had many role models within my field who’ve allowed me to imagine a good work-home balance. That being said, watching other people play Dr. Mom is very different from doing that yourself. It looks easy and enjoyable, but nothing could have prepared me for how difficult it is to juggle going to work and being a mom.
“I learned two lessons very quickly. First, it’s nothing like you expected it would be. Second, it’s not the same for everyone. In the first few weeks I was home with my new baby, I had the advice of every mom I had ever met swimming around in my head. ‘She should be sleeping,’ ‘Don’t hold her all the time.’ ‘Let her cry.’ ‘Don’t let her cry.’ I felt like I was going to ruin her within a few hours of meeting her!
“It wasn’t until about six weeks in that I realized that no one knows her better that I do. I need to drown out the other voices and just listen to my instincts. A sense of calm washed over me and that was the moment I became the mother I am now. Over time I could see that my mood affected my daughter: if I was stressed or anxious, so was she. If I was calm and happy, she was, too. I have never been more inspired to be a relaxed and happy person, and I truly believe that this is why I have a relaxed and happy daughter.
“In the end, everything I do now is for Sydney. It is hard to leave her for work, but I want to show her what’s possible – that you can have it all. I work now so she knows that you don’t have to lose yourself when you have kids, that actually you find yourself a little more. I work now so that she sees I am part of a healthy community. I work now so that she sees that I help people. I see the world through her eyes and I know that the important things I have done in my career are nothing compared to what she will do. She is capable of changing the world, and I need to pave the way for her. I can see the world through her eyes and it is a truly magical place. I can’t wait to see what she is capable of.”
“I live in southern California with my husband Johnny and our almost-three-year-old son, Harrison. I started my jewelry business in 2014, about a year and a half before we had Harrison. It was slow going, and it’s still smaller scale than I’d like it to be. I’ve had my pieces stocked in some great independent shops like Poketo and Na Nin, but I’d love to ultimately have my own general store-like shop where I sell my jewelry, clothing from independent designers, and home goods. On top of that, I balance freelance writing, teaching college English, and spending time with my family!
“Being a mother is a unique experience, but I’ve been happy to find that it also brings mamas together in their shared experiences, which is so helpful and encouraging. I’ve loved everything, from the messy parts to the realization that I don’t know what I’m doing. Also, I don’t identify as a singular thing – I’ve always wanted to have children, and I love being a mother, but I’m many other things as well.”
“I’m a commercial and editorial photographer and art director based in Seattle, Washington. My specialty is in developing content for fashion, travel, and lifestyle brands around the world.
“A little over 11 years ago, I began my journey as a photographer in a small west Texas town. My business has led me to many destinations and ultimately to the West Coast. As an artist, I gravitated toward the beauty of the coast and nature. There my work grew year over year, and continues to take new paths. It has put me in unique and life-changing experiences furthering my passion for sharing other cultures and countries.
“Two years ago, I married the love of my life on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. There was no shortage of baby sheep present, along with all our loved ones. We’re excited to be welcoming our little girl, Marlowe Layne, come February 2019.
“From the minute I saw her heartbeat and profile on the sonogram, I knew something in me was forever changed. There is an innate selflessness that overcomes you, as if the only thing that matters is taking care of this little human. Pregnancy is a beautiful, but trying, journey that teaches you a lot of preliminary lessons before becoming a mother.
“Mothers are heroines in my book. Shaping and molding children into people that love and prosper in life is the most important job.”
Kara Mercer is a compensated FUJIFILM X-Photographer.