A Beautiful Story – The Richardson Family {Family Photographer, Battle Ground WA & Vancouver WA}

I was busy planting my garden back in the late spring when my cell phone rang. Marian was on the other end. I didn’t know Marian and she didn’t know me. Something extraordinary had just happened in her family and she was looking for a photographer and wondered if I would be available to do a family session in September. You see after 49 years of marriage {and family pictures} there was one more that needed to be added. A son, a big brother, another member of the family.

As I stood in my garden listening to her story of adoption and re-connection I was covered in goose bumps and my eyes filled with tears. I am so honored to have been a tiny part of this beautiful story. But before I get there I want to set the stage a bit from my perspective. While Marian shared with me the story of a son who was adopted A son they were preparing to meet for the first time 49 years later, I wasn’t part of what would happen over the next few months. What I didn’t know or couldn’t know then, was how quickly this family would envelop their new member.

I always get a bit nervous before each shoot. But I was EXTREMELY nervous for this one. I felt the enormity of what I was to document and my mind filled with doubts. One of my biggest fears was how to make this recently reconnected family feel comfortable with each other. Family sessions are all about physical closeness and connecting. Everyone looking like they are part of the same beautiful team. I worried that it would be difficult to pose these newly introduced family members. What if they didn’t feel comfortable touching or even standing close? These concerns where escalated thanks to the weather. Originally our date to shoot was to be day 3 of their reunion. But because of the forecasted rain we had to move the shoot up to the very day of their meeting!!!!!!!!!  😯  A mere 7 hours after the first introductions we were scheduled to meet for our family photo session.

I asked a friend for advice. She agreed that I should pull Bill aside and just discuss what he would be comfortable with before the shoot began. And that was my plan until I walked up to a totally chill group of people standing on the sidewalk chatting and laughing like they had all known each other their entire lives. I immediately felt a comfortable vibe. These people were not awkward strangers they were FAMILY. My nerves melted away. For the entire hour I was blown away at this happy bunch of beautiful people! It was an absolute honor to meet each of you! Thank you for the opportunity to share in such a beautiful time in your lives!


Enough about my side of the story. Some of you know the people in these pictures other do not. Dad Jerry, Mom Marian and sisters Heather and Kristi (with their spouses) and introducing big brother Bill and his beautiful fiancee Jenn.

Marian and Kristi have shared with me and given me permission to share their perspectives regarding this amazing experience. I will warn you – you should have some tissues near by!



From Kristi Cornwell’s FB post

A long time ago…
a boy and a girl fell in love and found themselves expecting a baby before they were wed and long before they could support a child financially.

They made the excruciating choice of adoption so he could grow up with resources they just couldn’t provide at the time. I imagine at the time they felt very alone in this. However, we now know this was a very common occurrence in those days.

I write this for every adopted child, birth parent, and adoptive parent I know. I particularly choose to share this because someday you may find that your family is larger than you thought it was due to a variety of circumstances and you will face a crossroad. I hope my family’s story helps you decide what to do when that happens.

My story begins in February.
Our parents called a family meeting and read us a long letter.
This letter was from a man seeking to connect with his birth parents. One pre-adoption birth certificate with his mother’s name plus Google and FB made it clear in a matter of minutes that not only had he found his mom, but he had undeniably found his dad and they had been married for nearly 49 years. And, he has two sisters! That’s right folks…Heather and I are little sisters.

The way it works through legal channels, an adoptee has one chance to make contact with their family via a liaison and should the family choose “no further contact,” then the process is over. So, he set about writing his thank you and his life story and anything he would ever want us to know in a single letter.

That beautiful letter, full of pictures and his family history, marked the beginning of a new family story. As you might imagine, each one of us had their own unique reaction to the letter but one thing united us. As we faced the crossroad of choice, each one of us wanted to know him. And so, we reached out to the adoption agency liaison to start the process of connection.

Valentine’s Day weekend will forever be known as the weekend we first heard his voice. My family converged at my parent’s home the morning we would first talk on the phone. It had been decided that Mom should be the first to talk with him. It turns out that was important. As he dialed the phone and let it ring, nerves set in. Can you even imagine?

When Mom answered, all she heard was silence but caller ID let us know it was him. She asked, “Is this Bill?” To be honest, the rest is a blur. I watched her tear up and when we got the signal we all picked up the phone and heard his voice for the first time. We talked for an hour and a half. He later shared that within seconds of hearing his mother’s voice all his nerves were calmed in a way that is only explainable by nature. Even after 49 years of separation, a mother’s voice still has quite an impact.

And thus began a year full of firsts. The first time my parents could openly talk with us about his birthday and shed happy tears instead of silently missing him. The first Mother’s Day and Father’s Day when we could celebrate that we are a “full house” rather than “4 of a kind.” Our first birthdays to receive cards from him. First photos exchanged. First videos. First time singing Happy Birthday to him and sending cards. The list goes on. That’s the fun stuff!

Telling family who haven’t known this for decades…that’s a little tougher. We universally discovered telling loved ones in person was best. Each one of us had to find our own way to tell our loved ones. Due to medical issues, some of his adoptive family do not know yet in order to avoid any potential stressors. This is why I’m keeping the story rather generic, why we aren’t friends on Facebook and why I’m not tagging him. It will remain that way until each member of his family knows he has found us.

Please know he had a WONDERFUL upbringing with his adoptive parents and siblings and we are forever grateful to them for loving him and raising him to be the man he is today. Their family is precious to us, so while I can’t thank them until they know about us, I make it a point to love on any family who has chosen adoption. What a loving, complicated, brave thing to do!

This was probably the longest and most delicate part, the telling of loved ones and friends. Once extended family knew and we all had processed a bit, we set about deciding on when was the right time to gather together for the first time. As it turns out, getting 6 adult schedules to mesh long enough to allow for a weekend together takes longer than we thought it would. He never imagined he would find a full family to connect with. So after 7 long months, the big weekend finally arrived.

Friday morning promptly at 10 am, a knock at the door meant this was all about to get REAL. Hugs, smiles and tears followed as we found our rhythm of connecting. Stories were told. Selfies were taken and it was all incredible but still felt surreal. It was like watching my Dad 30 years ago. Thankfully,Adam Cornwell photographed the day so pictures will come eventually if my family chooses to share those.

Weather changed our picture plans so that we did family pictures DAY ONE of meeting. It could have been all kinds of awkward but Shelly Fry helped us find our laughter that day and by the end of the day, I was seeing glimpses of my brother’s sense of humor and it was AWESOME as you can see here.

To be continued…


From Marian

It was so much fun watching the siblings interact throughout the weekend with each other and with us.   We shared a lifetime of family photos yesterday morning and I think that was very special for Bill.   The missing piece of the puzzle definitely fits.

As we surrounded Bill and Jenn last evening for our final visit before they had to catch a night flight back to the east coast, the family asked me my favorite memory from the weekend.   There were so many.  The entire weekend was absolutely precious, but what stands out as an absolute highlight for me was knowing Thursday night that Bill and Jenn were in flight on their way to Portland.  We followed their flight on the computer.  When we thought they should be coming close to Mt. Hood and starting their descent into PDX which would bring them right over our house, the reality of his arrival hit me and I was so emotional … a day I had longed for for 49 years and thought may never come.   We stepped out into the darkness of the night and looked through a gap in the trees toward Mt. Hood scanning the horizon for any sign of their plane.   Within minutes, a pinpoint light appeared on the horizon that became larger and larger during the 12 minutes it took to reach us.   Just looking up at the underside of that plane as it flew over our home knowing Bill was on it  and that we would meet him in the morning was an emotion there are no words for.  Then to open the door the next morning and finally be able to wrap my arms around my son for the first time was absolutely a dream come true.   It just doesn’t get any better.   



I’m sure your family will have many more happy reunions in the future. Thank you for being such an amazing example of unconditional love!







  1. Marian Richardson September 20, 2016 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    It was a week of happy, sometimes tearful anticipation waiting to meet our son for the first time. I kept a tissue box handy! A wonderful weekend of firsts is behind us now with joyful anticipation of what lies ahead in the years to come for our completed family. It was such a delight to work with Shelly as our photographer. So professional, fun and down to earth. A million thanks Shelly for a job well done.

    • Shelly September 20, 2016 at 10:19 pm - Reply

      It was my absolute pleasure! I’m so happy for you!

  2. TJ September 21, 2016 at 8:21 am - Reply

    I couldn’t imagine the joy this wonderful family must of felt hoping the weekend would never end. Shelly your pictures captured their family as if they were never apart. A job will done.

    • Shelly September 21, 2016 at 9:23 pm - Reply

      What a beautiful compliment. Thank you!

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