Catherine Abegg » wedding & portrait photographer from seattle, wa... specializing in lifestyle, travel, and film photography.

madeline & me in nyc // new york city

I’m writing this blog post on the eve of Madeline’s birthday, which traditionally I’ve always used as an occasion to remember that last night as a person alone, in that hospital, literally alone, patiently waiting to take on the greatest role of my life. Today however, is the eve of Madeline’s eighteenth birthday, so even more than ever, today feels like it deserves a moment of commemoration and more.

So today I will blog about our recent trip to New York City. This trip to NYC—Mads & Mine—is the perfect example of the weird form of internet over-sharing that I sometimes feel at odds with, but in the end I am just soooooo glad that I had all of my thoughts recorded on my instagram! Talk about an emotional trip! Sometimes I think it’s weird that I share so much of my personal life on the internet, but then I quickly remind myself that all of these platforms for which to share my life have become the perfect archive system for our past, present and future. At times the internet (instagram, more specifically) has become my journal that is kind of an anti-journal, but that has actually been just perfect for me. I hardly took any photos, I think maybe two rolls of film and a few iphone photos, but I’ll share them with you here along with the story of our time in NYC, both past & present, as a way to again archive my thoughts on this wonderful & crazy life we’ve lived.

(and a quick thanks to my friend David Pexton who dropped everything to come take a photo of us in front of the apartment where we once lived!)

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This was our very first trip back to New York City since we had left so many years before. As many of you are very well familiar with this story, I moved to NYC when I was seventeen years old to “make it big,” and ended up getting pregnant at that same age and becoming a mother at the age of eighteen. I still think of my time in New York as the best time of my life, though. Even amidst all of the confusion & heartbreak, I loved that city with all of me, and count it as one of my first great loves. Sometimes I claim to be an aspiring writer, but writing about the profound impact that that city had on me, and my deep, deep love for it, is something that is completely lost on me. I’ll never be able to express it, but even as I write this, I can feel with the tightness in my heart how much I feel it.

I’ve always known that I could never go back to NYC until I could go back with Madeline, and I never meant to wait until she was almost eighteen herself, but I suppose life got in the way. But I will say that going there with Mads during a time in life when we communicate with each other more like two adults than like a mother & daughter, going back to NYC at this time was the best timing I could ever hope for. I was able to relive all the stories that I’d told her throughout so many years, but this time with her by my side, with the real thing in front of us… the streets that I love, the noises that I adore, the speed of eveything, the old haunts that you can duck into that have remained exactly the same for who knows how many decades, the familiar warmth of the coldness that this city offers you, that only true New Yorkers would understand. And yes, I consider myself a true New Yorker, only because it has shaped me & my life almost more than anything that came before it; equally, I feel, to my parents or my siblings & the way they helped form who I am today. That is New York to me… a mother, a lover, an old friend. So sharing that with Madeline firsthand was a dream to me, and one that she shared in with equal enthusiasm. When I had my first visit to NYC when I was thirteen, I did everything I could to make sure I returned as soon as I could, which ended up being only four short years later, when I was seventeen… and it didn’t dawn on me until we were walking the long streets together on that first day, that she may very well come here & know in her bones that she will very soon return, just as I did. She was enamored, the same as me, much to my heartfelt pride and heartbreak.

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As wonderful as it all was, going back to New York City brought plenty of pain too. I left so many years ago because raising a child in that city, for the most part alone, is more difficult than even I had the strength for. I also left because there was too much pain & drama there for me, and I didn’t want to bring Mads up that way. Anyway, this trip would be the first time she would be meeting her biological father, named Bill, since he saw her as a baby in what seemed a million years ago. He & I never had a relationship to speak of; in fact, I learned soon after we were together that he was married with children. I’m not afraid to talk about this now, only because I realize that even though I was living like an adult I was a child in many ways, but I knew that raising Madeline in NYC under those circumstances would never be right. So we left. Mads has known about Bill since she was six year sold, and Bill knew about her but didn’t want to be involved in her life, and in fact didn’t even tell his own family about her until she was nine years old.

Mads & I had our struggles upon moving back, and it took me years of regret to finally come to terms with the fact that leaving New York City was the best thing we could have done for us. Being together, she & I, was the best way to make our way through this life… and being together in a small town 3000+ miles away from the place where she was born ended up being the best way too. It took me years to realize that, and to be thankful for it.

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I’ve told people that besides going through this whole life together, that this trip to New York City was the most bonding experience we’ve ever had. It took this trip together, of all things, to really bring it home how much I have to be thankful for. I realized, like a slap in the face I realized, that because of the relationship that Mads & I have had all these years, and because of what we have also found in Michael, that not one thing was missing. We had each other, and there may be parts of her makeup & of our makeup that contribute to the whole of it all, but as long as we had each other there was no need for anything more.

So, eighteen years later, since the eve of the night that my sweet Madeline was born when I felt so alone but so resolute in the fact that it was just going to be her & me in this great big world together… eighteen years later, I can actually say: We did it. We made it. And I did not fail.

I’m going to leave you with a photo that I took of Madeline while we were on the Brooklyn Bridge together. A little backstory is that I originally thought I would name her Brooklyn, but then thought it was silly since we lived in Brooklyn… but then of course had regrets about that decision later since we very soon moved out of Brooklyn.  It was on that bridge, walking it so many years ago, that I’d had my first minor contraction & I knew that very soon my Madeline would be here. To be able to tell her that story while being on the bridge together on this trip, is more than my heart can handle… and then I took a portrait of her standing on that bridge, the bridge that was once going to be her namesake & the very bridge where I first felt her wanting to come into this world, that I realized that I’d been waiting to take this portrait for eighteen years, for half of my life, for all of my adult life. Her, this bridge, this city… Her.

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#madsandmomNYC

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  • May 15, 2015 - 11:03 am

    Karen - You never fail to bring me to tears on your blog posts. This one is so beautiful and personal and it warms my heart to hear your sweet words about Madeline. You are such an incredible mother and have been through so much. I am so happy that you were able to go back to NYC with Madeline and experience this all. It’s something you’ll never forget and neither will she. <3ReplyCancel

  • May 15, 2015 - 11:12 am

    Megan Gielow - Catherine! This is honestly beautiful in every way. Your story is incredible, and I love that you made some powerful, symbolic imagesReplyCancel

  • May 15, 2015 - 7:26 pm

    Jennifer Freeman - Catherine, you are such a talented photographer. The best that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. But even more than your photos, I absolutely love your writing. You are not an aspiring writer. You are a writer.ReplyCancel

  • November 18, 2015 - 8:05 am

    37 years old & 37 weeks pregnant! » Catherine Abegg - […] Why did it take so long, and why now? Also, how strange is it that Madeline & I FINALLY took that trip together to New York City, that long overdue trip that changed everything for us as mother & daughter, just a few weeks […]ReplyCancel

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