Appletree Photography
By Athena Raypold

A Child’s Story

As a child, Melissa Appleton, photographer and owner of Appletree Photography, was captivated by her story. “I always wanted to look at photo albums,” she says. “Those things that are tucked away that you get in trouble for pulling out, like your baby blanket, or Grandma’s dancing shoes. I was always obsessed with the idea of a story… all those memories.” Now, Melissa curates family memories starting at the beginning: birth. “These moments are a part of your story,” Melissa says. “They’re a part of what builds you. This is maybe the first time this woman is a mom, this is the moment that gave her that title. The kids, as they grow, this is their story, this is their beginning.”

Sometimes, that birth is literal (single parents, couples and even surrogates), but Appletree Photography also photographs figurative births: adoptions. Melissa herself has a complex family: two biological children, an adopted daughter and a foster/kinship son, who is a biological sibling to their daughter. In fact, the name, Appletree Photography stemmed from the adoption celebration she had for her daughter, in which a hand-drawn apple tree acted as a guest book. “Apple trees make me think of family,” Melissa says. And, she will photograph the beginning of any family’s story.

Birth photography is about connection. - Melissa Appleton, owner and photographer
Appletree Photography offers birth photography for families
Melissa Appleton, owner and photographer at Appletree Photography. Photo by Hobbs Photography.

Intimacy and Empathy

Melissa inspires people to share their most personal, intimate feelings and memories with her, which is why expectant parents are willing – eager even – to let her photograph the most vulnerable, intimate experience of their lives. Capturing the intensely raw process that is labour, childbirth or adoption is Melissa’s passion. While she began her business with general photography, Melissa says, “I feel that I can’t do weddings and birth. You’re on call for both and they are both once-in-a-lifetime experiences. As much as I love the love, the birth – the connection, the emotions – it just means so much to me.”

Service and empathy come naturally to Melissa. “I am a human first before I am a photographer,” says Melissa, telling the story of a very long labour and delivery. After she finished, “The mom was getting stitched up and I didn’t need to take any more pictures. At that point, I’d been with this family for 32 hours over two days, and I was finally able to just put my camera down and hold her hand – be with her as a human being. Being able to give that is very important to me.”

Appletree Photography gives parents a way of looking back at their child's birth and the connections surrounding that moment
Photo by Appletree Photography

Creating a History

Many mothers are nervous about birth photography, worried about how they will look, automatically rejecting the idea of a photographer’s presence during one of the hardest, most painful and emotional events of their lives. But Melissa offers a unique service given that mothers often don’t remember the labour: Appletree Photography creates a history – tells the complete, visual story of your child’s beginning, of their entrance into the world. “It’s an experience you only remember pieces of,” says Melissa. “It’s capturing your partner supporting you, the look that your baby had when he or she was born.”

Melissa even captures video footage of babies being born and their mothers’ visceral, emotional reactions. “You don’t always get to see that side of yourself,” she says. “And, you don’t really realize how empowering, beautiful, and amazing it is.”

Appletree Photography captures a baby's story from the beginning of life - birth
Photo by Appletree Photography

Privacy and Connection

Sensitive to her clients’ privacy and their memories, Melissa is an invisible outsider, sticking to the sidelines in order to allow families to connect, to “tell the story, not be a part of the story.” In the end, Melissa captures the important moments: the relationships. “Birth photography is about connection. Sometimes it’s between a husband and wife. Sometimes it’s between the parent and the child that’s born. Sometimes it’s between siblings, sometimes it’s a doula or midwife that’s really connected with the mom. [I capture] all of these connections, all of these supports, surrounding and supporting the mother,” says Melissa.

Appletree Photography also values the financial accessibility of birth photography. To do this, Melissa offers payment plans and, at times, discounted packages for low income families. Melissa is also a volunteer photographer for The Tiny Footprints Project, a non-profit organization which pairs volunteer photographers and families with infant babies in the NICU for newborn photos. “I was a preemie myself,” Melissa says. “There is only one photo of me from the first two months of my life, and it’s not even a parent holding me, it’s a nurse. And so, to be able to give those families those first memories, is so meaningful.”

Appletree Photography does birth photography, including photos and videos in the delivery room
Photo by Appletree Photography
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