Mary is a true fighter. When I spoke with her about her illness while she had her hair and make-up done, I was floored at the obstacles she has to overcome on a daily basis, like driving, sitting, walking up stairs, or even lifting her toddler up in the air. She has been suffering from symptoms of chronic pancreatitis for over 8 years and it has become more challenging with every year. These past few years have been by far the most challenging. She lives with two ports, one in her stomach and one in her arm, where she is fed her daily nutrients and pain medicine. She can not eat food--as her body does not break it down as it should - she is fed through a tube, she can't sit up for long periods of time, so no fun crafts like scrapbooking or painting, and she is in a constant state of pain without her medicine. When her symptoms grew worse, she became unable to work (she is a former special education teacher), and sometimes it's incredibly difficult for her to lift or play with her rambunctious 3-year old boy. She does however take comfort in the moments she gets to snuggle with him during the short time before bed when they all snuggle together as a family to watch tv together. What you should know about this shoot and Mary's strength and determination. This shoot was really hard for her. She was sore and slept for nearly 2 days after she left my studio. It was a lot for her to sit through hair and make-up, and all of those poses- plus the incredibly long drive to and from the studio. This is why: Through the years, her husband has been there for Mary with every challenge thrown at them and he's picked up the slack when she was no longer able to work. He's stuck by her side and loved her unconditionally through sickness and health just as he vowed to her on their wedding day. This portrait session was not only a gift for her, but truly a gift for him - to show him that she loves him, desperately appreciates everything he does for her and their family, and that she still wants to share with him the intimacy in their marriage that they may have lost touch of due to the constant battles with her chronic illness and awfully long stays in-and-out of the hospitals.
Mary toughed it out through her session, even when sitting up can become strenuous, and she stunned us for sure with her gorgeous images.
"My name is Mary and I live in Connecticut with my husband Michael and our three and a half year old son Matthew. I am a special education teacher and have always had a passion for working with kids with special needs. I've been a dancer since the age of 5 and only stopped when I got pregnant with my son. I always wanted to grow up to be a Rockette but alas I never grew taller than the 5'1" (ish) I stand at now. I'm an avid reader, love scrapbooking, journaling, and want to learn how to quilt. I love to work on my blog Spoonie Mama. I live with multiple chronic illnesses that have severely impacted my quality of life. Shortly after my son was born I had to leave my job and go on disability. I like to say that I'm a stay-at-home mom but the truth of the matter is that I am not healthy enough to even manage my role as a mother fulltime. I rely on my husband, inlaws, friends, and babysitters, to help me navigate daily life and to help out with my son. I am blessed to have an amazing partner who is 110% supportive and dedicated to our family and does anything and everything he can for our son and for me.
When I'm having a rough day (or am spoonless as I say) I like to binge watch bad reality tv. My guilty pleasures are The Real Housewives, Million Dollar Listing, and Married at First Sight. I like to read, color, and journal. I also love classic movies and TV like I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show and I can always count on FRIENDS or The Big Bang Theory to brighten my day.
Working with Sasha and Chelsea was amazing. I wish I could come up with a better adjective to describe the experience because it was so much more than I ever could have anticipated. I expected to feel very self conscious and uncomfortable especially since I have a lot of scarring from multiple surgeries, a port, and a feeding tube. Chelsea did things to my hair and makeup that I never would have thought possible. For someone who never wears any makeup and whose hair is usually pulled back in a ponytail she made me look glamorous (if I do say so myself) while still feeling like me. It was a similar feeling to that of my wedding day. I felt very special. Sasha was so fantastic in helping me to choose outfits that worked for the shoot as well as positioning me to conceal my port and feeding tube. I never felt rushed and she was considerate of my special circumstances by allowing for breaks when I needed to tend to my medications or helping me find positioning that was both flattering and comfortable for me. I felt relaxed as the three of us chatted and laughed and it felt as though I was just hanging out with a couple of girlfriends for a slumber party. It was a very uplifting experience that I would love to do again.
In Mary's questionnaire, I asked her one thing she wishes she could change about the world. "Not to get too political but I would change our healthcare system. I don't know how to fix it but something needs to change. Our healthcare system is built for the healthy, not the sick. It is unbelievable the amount of hoops I have to jump through just to find what should be basic care. Not to mention the cost. Being sick in this country should not bankrupt a family. I should not have to choose between paying for life saving medications and groceries. This should not be a political issue but a human issue. Insurance carriers should not be allowed the final say in what type of treatment I can or cannot receive. If my doctor and I decide that a procedure is what is best for me then I should be able to have it done without the threat of losing my home because I can't afford to pay for medical care and my mortgage. I don't know how to fix this broken system but something needs to change or else I don't have any chance at a decent quality of life."
What are you afraid of?: "Not being well enough to be able to be the wife and mother that my husband and son need me to be."
What's your favorite book?: "To Kill A Mockingbird. I loved it as a student and reread it a bunch of times before finally getting to teach it as part of the curriculum for my sixth graders. I still read it about once a year."
What's your favorite type of music?: "Broadway"
"I was lucky enough to have my dream job of working at Disney World when I was in college. I worked in Cinderella Castle sewing names on Mickey ear hats by hand. It's a lost art because now all the embroidery is done by computer! It was the best job in the world and something I had dreamed about since I was a kid. I would love to move back to Florida and work there again. My husband comes from a family of landscapers so we talk about retiring down there so I can work in the castle and he can make topiary trees."
Where would you love to travel?: "My husband and I were just talking about this last night. We would both love to go out west and see the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam."
Favorite Quote: "I have been working on affirmations a lot lately. My current one is 'I am strong, I am worthy, and I am loved' Living with chronic pain and chronic illnesses is not only physically draining but mentally as well. It takes a lot of work and practice to keep myself in a positive head space."
What message do you wish you could give to all young girls about self-image?: "You are strong, you are worthy, you are loved."
Is there someone in your life who you have always looked up to and inspires you?: "It may sound corny but my husband. We've been together for almost 11 years. He knew me before I got sick and has been by my side through everything. Life certainly has not turned out the way either of us thought it would but he has never faltered. He is a man of integrity with compassion and determination. He is an amazing father, a loving caregiver, a strong provider, and a supportive partner. Whenever I've stumbled he has caught me. Whenever I look back at my life and think about all of the choices I've made and the different paths I could have followed I thank my lucky stars that the journey I took led me to him. He's my partner in every sense of the word and I don't know where I would be without him."