Welcome to the family, sweet Reese. Love, Aunt Loo and Leila

They're those friends.  You know.  The ones who make fun of you for hours and it doesn't matter. The kind where you just walk in without knocking.  The sort where you come over, eat dinner, sit for hours chatting aimlessly and head home - glad you spent the time with your friends, until he cracks a joke about coming for a visit at a time when a meal isn't served. They didn't use to be those friends.  I had met Elizabeth at a wedding years ago and decided we would be friends one day.  You know - how I just decide things.  I kept saying hello to her when I moved home and would run into her from time to time.  She kept making this weird, creeped-out face.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Come on, it's Shelbyville - I say hello, you smile back and ask how I am.  Not Elizabeth.  Smile, yes.  Speak, no.  Then one day she sent me a peace offering of an inquiry about maternity pictures and baby images, just so - you knowwhen the time came, she would know what to expect for pictures.  Blah, blah, blah...she secretly wanted to be my friend.  But she still wasn't the most warm or friendly.  In fact, it took quite some time before she would actually be my friend.

I can't recall when things changed, but we became great friends pretty quickly.  Kyle, too.  He helps me with techie stuff, I help him keep Elizabeth's decor obsession in check.  She's more conservative and polite than me, while I'm a bit all over the place - always making things interesting and occasionally funny.  We share the same style and the same breed of dog - oh, and the same name.  We've sat out on the sidewalk, hot gluing wreaths for hours late at night.  We've failed at making baby diaper cakes together, coordinated a gorgeous wedding, worked out for weeks well before the sun came up and joke often about being 'Elizabeth+Elizabeth: Mayors of Shelbyville.'  We've gotten white castle too late at night, crashed a halloween party of old folks and laughed too much, stayed up too late and had too much fun.  Our friendship most definatly came at a time the Lord ordained.  And life was good.

And then one morning, we were working out, swimming along in the pool (keep in mind....I don't swim well, so this was most likely funny) when Elizabeth said something about praying for her to have a girl, because she wouldn't know what to do with a boy and something else about keeping secrets and being pregnant.  Hold the phone.  You're pregnant?

And so it was.  We had prayed for them to be able to get pregnant and have no more miscarriages, and on that day I joined in on the 9 months of worry about healthy babies and carrying baby bird full term.  We kept working out until the morning sickness got to be too much.  And I kept that dang secret - not my specialty, for sure.  We met in Finchville one morning and made secret pictures to use in their pregnancy announcement.  We made all sort of ideas for telling each family member while we worked on the elliptical and I kept my mouth closed.  We talked nursery color schemes, emailed bedding and ruffles, made a blog to document the journey and talked about how the dog would react.

And then Christmas came.  And the secret was out.  The grandparents were pumped and her friends were terribly excited and it was time to start decorating.  We planned showers and drank mimosas (not E!) and debated on chandeliers and paint colors.  And had parties.  Oh, and kept praying that she would be able to love a boy if that was what happened and that she wouldn't think her baby was ugly.  If you know Elizabeth, none of this surprises you and you're surely giggling.  But if you don't, rest assured: she is the most kind-hearted, prepared and concerned person to walk this green Earth.  She's type-A to the max and has to be prepared for all situations - so all these little silly things...they're daily life when E's around.

And then somewhere around month 7 she asked what I thought about photographing the birth.  First words out of my mouth had to do with me leaving if she throws up - and we agreed she would explain everything that would happen beforehand, Nathan would be my backup and she would try her hardest not to throw up. Oh, and Kyle and I both agreed we would cry when it happened but not talk about it, then we moved right along.  Waiting.  Maternity pictures.  Check.  More waiting.

And then Sunday night I was over to help with the baby room.  We were attaching curtains to her armoire when Elizabeth said she had to go to the bathroom right now, and she had some pain below her belly.  She made a weird face, walked away and came back good-to-go.  Laughing about how weird that was, I made a face and said something about knowing nothing about pregnancy, but that was a bitstrange.  She shrugged and we kept up with the final touches on the nursery.  I went home - she went for her evening 3 mile walk with Kyle's mom and I didn't think anything of it.

I stayed up late that night working and opened my eyes at 5:30, checked the clock and said to myself 10 more minutes and I'll get up.  5:47 the eyes open again and all I can see is Baby will be here, on my phone.  I sit up.  Turn on the light and wake my little sister up who was staying the night.  I asked her who we knew that was pregnant in a panic and as soon as my eyes cleared, I saw Kyle had called once and text after that.  We're in labor and delivery.  At 7 centimeters.  Baby will be here in a few hours for sure.  Oh my!  I jumped up and started talking about how I wasn't ready for her to have the baby.  What do you wear to a birth?  Do I take a shower or just go?  I'm not ready for this.  I haven't prepared or asked enough questions.  What am I going to do?  Why did I agree to this?  Abby ironed my clothes, called Nathan to bring gear over and sent me on my way to the hospital.

Willie, Kyle's Dad, was grinning ear to ear in the waiting room when I walked in.  Phew.  I don't have to go back there yet - I can chill with Willie.  That didn't last long.  A few minutes and I was back with Elizabeth - no epidural, breathing through the contractions quietly.  Kyle was amazing.  A.  Mazing.

Elizabeth is one of the strongest folks I know.  She carries pain quietly in her own little box of worry, so to see her in pain made me a bit nervous.  Pain isn't something either of us do - not aloud, anyways and apparently having children requires pain.  Lots of it.  I kept my quiet smile while Kyle kept encouraging, breathing and coaching Elizabeth from one contraction through the next.  Family cycled in and out of the room as allowed and in the meantime we made bets on girl or boy, over 7 pounds or not and the arrival time.

Elizabeth worked through contractions for hours like a champ, and after asking for ibuprofen or advil to help (ohhhh, sweet, innocent, Elizabeth) with the pain, she eventually opted for an epidural.  Best decision I heard all morning.  We had discussed for weeks her preference for no drugs, and I agreed - why couldn't she or I birth a kid without drugs, can't be that hard - well.  If I ever have a child, the epidural won't come quickly enough.  Who cares about the stories of pain - people just want to see your baby.  And your photographer wants you comfortable.  Hah.  Post-epidural, we were smooth sailing until it was time to push.  There was a moment of nausea I stepped out for, and a little trading of people who would be in the room.  From push to finish, I believe I was in for 10 minutes before little Reese made her appearance.  Elizabeth was amazing.  Quietly pushing in her polka-dot headband.  Always kind and always calm.  Except for the news about the baby's full head of hair that could be seen - she was pumped.  The whole morning became a wash of nothing the minute Dr. Brown caught little Reese and showed her to Kyle.  Since E+K waited to find the sex of the baby out until delivery, Elizabeth wanted to be sure Kyle was the one to tell her about their son or daughter.  Remember those prayers?  Kyle got to tell his wife that they would be raising a little lady to wear ribbons in her hair and pearls around her neck.  And to our surprise, Kyle decided to cut the umbilical cord.  It was all so beautiful.

The image below is one of my most favorite of all time.  Elizabeth is one of the most beautiful friends I have had the joy of sharing life with.  To see her and Kyle rejoice over the birth of a baby they painfully prayed and wished for was incredible.  To be asked and trusted to capture their first moments as a family was an honor and a blessing.  And one of the most beautiful things I have ever photographed.  Thank you, my friends.      Ohhhh, the excitement when Kyle walked outside to tell their families Elizabeth was doing well and that they would be buying ammo and guns to keep sweet, little pearl-wearing Reese safe from boys was tangible.  You could have cut the tension with a knife when we walked out.  Their was jumping and screaming, frantic texting, phone calls and many tears when Kyle announced she was a baby girl.  So beautiful to see folks who will love Reese unconditionally for years so excited for someone they haven't even met.  Ohhh, Elizabeth.  You are my dear, proper, gorgeous friend who will always out-dress, out-present and out-class me.  You and that pink headband were too much.  

Well, little Reese.  You have the most incredible mother.  Who will love you endlessly, unconditionally and without abandon.  Just remember when she isn't being her warmest on the outside you can always come play with Leila and I.  Don't take it personally - she didn't like me for a while either.

And your Dad - well, he's said he's taking us all to Disney real soon.  He's a bit of an addict, you see.  I'm coming along to photograph your smiles (and pretend to be your older sister).  You're coming along to see what a big Disney nerd your Dad is.  Always remember - if you don't actually think he's funny, you should still laugh - Dads like that.  And if he ever gets crabby (this WILL happen) don't make fun of him - he doesn't take it like he dishes it - you'll need to bat your eyelashes like your Mom will teach you.  That always does the trick.

And your Mom and I; when you turn 5 we'll take you on your first birthday run....for ice cream.  And then we'll go school supply shopping at the stationary store and I'll bring you up right on paper goods and purses.  Now the pearls - your Mom is on that, while I'm in charge of the pony department.  When you start walking, I'll start sneaking you out to learn my love for the horse.  We'll make necklaces out of field flowers and learn all about how soft horses' noses are and what the noises they make mean.

Now, watch out for Uncle Chase - he's going to pretend like he's not excited to see you, but always know that deep down - he's pumped.  And Uncle Clayton - don't be scared - he's always overly pumped, but he'll be the one who you want to vacation with.  He'll take you to Vegas for your 21st - but don't tell your Dad; that'll get us in trouble.  Oh and Grandpa Willie.  He's going to make you great homemade ice cream and sit in the yard with you for hours.  He'll ask you to repeat everything, even if he actually hears it - but that's because he's already wrapped around your little cries.  Grandma Kathy's going to watch you a few days a week, and it's during those days that you will meet everyone who has ever walked or talked in our town.  She's going to make you all sorts of friends.  Just remember to smile, be real sweet and never be too shy.  You'll miss out on life's goodness if you are.

Grandpa Jerry and Grandma Candora are the ones with too many Christmas trees in their house....you'll see soon enough.  They love to celebrate.  They sent over a giant stork for your birth, were ready with blue and pink polka dotted ballons and are pumped to cuddle with you.  Candora loves to buy you little, pink clothes, hold you, talk about you to anyone who will listen and she'll be the one to teach you how to shop.  She taught your mom.  And your Aunt Catherine.  Oh, yes, Aunt Cat.  She was there when you were born, too.  She cried and cried.  And said you were the most beautiful girl she's ever seen.  That's because your cousin, Mason is the most beautiful boy we've ever seen.  He's gonna beat up all your boyfriends for us.  And your Grandpa Jerry - he's a quiet one.  But I saw him spinning in circles, pretending to make a phone call while he cried a few tears at your birthday.  He loves you, too.

Just know that you have the most welcoming family - they treat me as their own (except for your mother...but we discussed that ;) ) and will love you from here to the moon.  If you ever need a laugh, little lady - you just call up your Mom's sorority sisters.  They're a hoot - and they've been in love with you, too, since before you were born.  We all have.  And we're all pumped to watch you grow into a little Nichols woman.  You're a lucky one, little Reese.  And so am I.

Love ya,  Auntie Loo + Leila (Hudson's girlfriend-dog, errrr, wife)