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Tammy and Phil Bradshaw, of South Philadelphia

The Bradshaw family, from left: Phil, Rayna, Tammy, and newest member Ember, born March 24, 2014.
The Bradshaw family, from left: Phil, Rayna, Tammy, and newest member Ember, born March 24, 2014.Read more

There is one moment that Tammy wishes someone had captured on film: the instant in the birthing suite at Pennsylvania Hospital when she reached down and touched her daughter's back for the first time.

Even though she is a photographer herself - shooting urban streetscapes and family portraits on weekends while teaching eighth grade full time - Tammy hadn't wanted a camera anywhere near her labor. She felt too nervous, too self-conscious.

So memory has to make do: the long walks she and Phil took, holding hands in the March wind, during a few days of on-and-off contractions; that moment when she pulled the baby onto her chest.

They named her Rayna Cyan - the first name a variation of "Rain," which Phil thought was "too hippieish," the middle name that elusive shade halfway between blue and green on the color wheel.

The name made sense for the daughter of artists - Phil is a filmmaker with his own production company, Freshfly - who spent several years seeing the world before trying to get pregnant. They loved the spontaneity of travel, the architectural details, the tranquillity of a temple in Chiang Mai at the top of a twisting mountain path.

In every place - Thailand, Belgium, England, Ghana - they fantasized about returning someday, with kids in tow. "We loved the idea of them seeing things, not being stuck in the same place or living in a bubble," Tammy says.

They were about to leave for another trip - a road jaunt, this time, to Alabama and Kentucky - when Tammy had a feeling she was pregnant. A test stick confirmed the hunch. Her reaction surprised both of them. "I was terrified," she recalls. "[About] whether I could be selfless enough. I was excited half the day; the other half, I'd be filled with nerves."

For Phil, who typically had a passel of kids crawling all over him each time he walked into a gathering of friends, Tammy's pregnancy was an absorbing research project; he's the one who read the books, peppered the midwives with questions, and learned about the option of a home birth. Tammy's friends dubbed him the "Daddy doula."

For this first baby, they decided to go the hospital route, though Tammy vowed to avoid an epidural. But Rayna's birth changed her - not only because she pledged, the next time, to give birth at home.

"That was the moment that made me want to do birth photography. Before, I saw the beauty in pregnancy and babies, but I couldn't see the beauty in birth. Now I knew the blood and muck of it all doesn't matter when you're dealing with a new life."

There were other shifts. Sitting on the couch with their newborn, memorizing her fuzzy dark hair and her serious face, like a miniature version of Tammy's grandmother, the couple talked their future gradually into focus. They didn't want to become people who felt robbed of time, argued about money, and reported dutifully to jobs they loathed. They wanted to spend extended hours, not just stolen weekend moments, with their kids and each other.

So they gave up one car and cut back on other expenses. Instead of returning to her teaching job, Tammy ramped up her photography business; Phil had already rejected the time-sucking option of joining the film lighting designers' union and decided instead to be his own boss. They would both work from home.

"We realized how quickly time was already passing, and we both decided that we wanted to find a way to enjoy our family," Tammy says.

At first, they thought they'd wait until Rayna was 5 before having a second. But Tammy was smitten by the newborns she was photographing - "they're so sweet, and their feet are so tiny." Once again, she had a feeling she was pregnant even before her period was due.

This time was different; Rayna was a toddler, tugging for attention, and Tammy was often tired. She felt her first serious contractions during a birthday party at the Please Touch Museum, and Rayna threw a tantrum when her parents announced that they'd be leaving early because the baby was on his way.

The midwife arrived at their home later that night, and Ember was born close to midnight. "It was a very fast birth," Tammy recalls. "We had a birthing tub filled up, and I never even got in it."

This time, she did invite a friend to photograph her labor, and those photos help flesh out the couple's memories: the black-and-white taken from the end of their hallway, with Tammy laboring while leaning on Phil; a later shot of a giddy Rayna using a toy camera to take a picture of her mother and newborn brother.

Their home is filled with such glimpses: photographs pinned to the refrigerator, loose in a basket, framed on the walls and shelves. Phil loves the picture of Rayna on their front steps, surrounded by all her stuffed animals and dolls; Tammy cherishes one of Ember in a tie-dyed onesie and a huge grin, lolling on the bed.

The photographs help bend time: When Tammy goes to document families whose children are 1 or 2 years old, she is simultaneously tossed back into Rayna's toddlerhood and launched forward into Ember's. They both take dozens of pictures of the kids, though Phil tends to hoard them on his computer, while Tammy will select a favorite few, post one online and pop another into a frame or the children's baby books.

What they know - as artists, as parents - is how fast it all clicks by: Rayna will never again be that fuzzy-headed infant, and Ember has already grown out of his minuscule baby feet. They still hope to travel, someday, with the kids, but for now, long walks around South Philly suffice: the Christmas-tree lighting on Passyunk Avenue, the Singing Fountain, a stop for ice cream. There is so much to savor, so much to see.

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