Whitney Hempsey spends her working hours with parents and their new children, and when she’s done, she goes home to her own three kids.
A maternity-birth-newborn photographer based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Whitney has found joy in a personal project volunteering for an organization called Red Thread Sessions. The group gives photographers suggestions and connections to enable shooters to offer free photo sessions for adoptive parents and their new children.
Whitney was adopted – as was her mother – so as soon as she heard about Red Thread a bit over a year ago, “it was a given that I would be involved in it.”
There are three basic types of shoots Red Thread suggests photographers offer:
- The most common type, in Whitney’s experience, has been regular family portrait sessions, within three months of the adoption, focusing on the connection between the parents and their new child.
- A homecoming session for a child adopted from overseas, which involves being at the airport with the extended family as the parents arrive with the new family member. Whitney has done one of these, welcoming a child from Korea: “Their entire family was waiting,” she said, sounding still a bit in awe of the power of that experience.
- A birth session for a newborn adoption, in which she attends the birth with the birth mother and the adoptive parents.
She has done two of those so far for adoptive families, but in the past two years has made maternity, birth, and newborn photography her speciality. Before that she spent a couple years figuring out what she wanted to do as a photographer, shooting senior portraits, weddings, and so on; as the mother of three kids under 10, and with a fourth on the way, she’s paring down her work to just the things she “couldn’t live without photographing.” Ultimately, that will be just birth photography (and is even seeking certification as a doula to deepen her understanding of the birth process), but since it’s a fairly new niche in her area of the country, she’s diversifying slightly to keep business steady.
In adoption birth sessions, she focuses on the adoptive parents’ reactions to the birth process, especially “the support the adoptive parents give to the birth mother.” In the two she has done, the birth mothers were both single young women whose mothers were present for the delivery; the adoptions were also open, so the birth mothers will be part of the kids’ lives.
Even as an experienced birth photographer – and someone who had a birth photog at the delivery of her third child – “it surprised me how much a part of the process the adoptive parents had,” she said, encouraging and communicating with the birth mother. It’s pretty rare to have prints ordered from a birth session, she said; usually it’s either an album or just a CD of high-resolution images the parents can look back upon in the future. She makes sure to always give some images to the birth mother as well. It’s another way of helping reaffirm the bond she knows so well between a child, a birth mother, and adoptive parents. Whitney has contact with her birth mom but is quick to say “I know who my parents are.” She remains very moved by the power and sacrifice of “taking in somebody else’s child and raising them as your own.”
Her photography of women in the throes of labor has taught her something else, perhaps even more important than a deep understanding of the miracle of birth: self-acceptance.
“Since I’ve become a mom I realized how much I missed those little moments when they got older,” she said, which is a big part of why she is really attached to photographing those things for other families. (She also has a small network of local photographers with whom she exchanges mini-sessions, so as not to miss out on her own moments.)
She has dealt with women who are afraid that having a photographer document birth will show them sweaty, exhausted, or in pain; she hears similar concerns from mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or just being moms. And she knows the feeling, too: the worry of being not quite perfect for a photograph.
She reminds herself – and her clients – that how they view themselves is different from how their kids view them. “Your child is going to think that you look beautiful,” she tells them.
Whitney has taken that lesson to heart, and practices what she preaches: She has photos of herself – on canvas! – on the walls of her home. One of them, in the master bedroom (so not out in the entryway, but still prominently on view) is from the birth of her third son, of the doctor holding the newborn out to her, and her, looking very much like a woman who has just delivered a baby, reaching out to hold him.
About Whitney Hempsey
Hi! I’m Whitney. I live in Myrtle Beach, SC with my 3 crazy boys and my amazing, creative husband. I specialize in photographing maternity, birth and newborns through 1 year. I am inspired by everything around me, especially my boys. I have watched them grow from gorgeous, squishy little newborns into fun, unique little boys. My home is filled with images of them growing and I treasure each and every one of those photographs. Looking back at those photos brings so much joy to not only my husband and I, but now our children get to look back and see when they were in my belly or the first time I saw them. That is why it is such a blessing for me to be able to capture these precious and short-lived moments for other families.