Picture Perfect Parenting

Rue magazine art director Maia McDonald Smith makes parenting look easy with the help of husband Travis Smith.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY SMEETA MAHANTI

Like many new parents besotted with their infants, Maia McDonald Smith has a trigger finger on her iPhone’s camera app, ready to capture sweet moments with her four-month-old daughter, Ingrid. But this Oakland, Calif. mom, 28, is no amateur. She’s curated a rotating set of go-to wardrobe pieces and backgrounds, a few favorite camera and filter apps, and a personalized hashtag (#ingridgram) to organize photos of her daughter that she posts online. Followers see Ingrid strolling through graffiti-tagged alleyways with her dad, breastfeeding in parks, and sprawling atop shaggy sheepskins in artfully raking light.

Maia’s stylish sensibilities are on clear display in her role as a new mom, and as a freelance graphic designer and the art director at Rue magazine, the lady has a leg up on most of us. She treats her 5,000 Instagram and nearly 2 million Pinterest followers to daily doses of design and lifestyle inspiration—and mere mortals can be forgiven for the twinge of envy they feel at a few too-cute-to-be-true posts.

The truth is that Maia’s life can appear picture perfect thanks to some deliberate decision making with her husband, Travis Smith, 28, who is a part-time student and full-time stay-at-home dad. They traded the security of corporate gigs for the flexibility of freelance work, and while the transition has been challenging for both at times, they feel like they’re finally getting the payoff.

Maia McDonald Smith and Travis Smith of Oakland

Maia McDonald Smith, right, and Travis Smith, left, cruise downtown Oakland’s historic district with Ingrid.

Maia and Travis met while working at Shopbop headquarters in their home state of Wisconsin, where she worked as a designer and he worked in the warehouse. In search of better weather and a new lifestyle, they moved West two years ago, and Maia started her own freelance business as Travis looked for work. In the meantime, he took over household duties and started studying web development to align with his wife’s design business. “She’s hiring out those parts of her job right now,” says Travis. “So this way we’ll be able to keep the money in the family, so to speak.” Maia’s decision meant building a business from scratch, but would also allow her the freedom to channel creativity when it struck.

That became increasingly important when Maia had a difficult pregnancy characterized by hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition that causes extreme, persistent nausea and vomiting, throughout the full nine months. She couldn’t keep anything down, lost weight during her first trimester, and was so dehydrated at times that she ended up in the emergency room with an IV drip. Her illness prevented her from taking on new work, and more than once, she broke down in tears, not able to remember what it felt like to not feel sick. “It was the opposite of what I was expecting going into pregnancy,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to give birth just so I could feel normal.” Early relief wasn’t in the cards, however, and Maia was a week overdue when she finally went into labor.

She gave birth with the assistance of midwives at the Pacifica Birth Center in Berkeley. “My mom had all three of my sisters and I at home, so my family was very supportive of going the natural route,” Maia says. The perks at the birthing center included a queen size bed and a large tub that usually provides some relief from labor pains. “It didn’t help much, I’m not going to lie,” she says. “Labor was very painful, and I can definitely understand the desire for an epidural.”

Maia McDonald Smith with Ingird

“Instagram was a big part of my life before I got pregnant,” says Maia, pictured snuggling with Ingrid on a favorite fuzzy sheepskin.

Following the delivery, Travis moved straight into heavy-duty daddying when Maia was bedbound for a week due to a painful uterine infection. He’d long ago planned to be a stay-at-home dad. It made sense for the couple financially, as Maia was always the bigger earner, and it’s a role he now embraces fully as Ingrid’s primary caregiver. “It energizes me,” Travis says. “I feel like I’m living off way less sleep, but I have something reminding me at all moments that I need to be aware of what’s going on. And awake.”

He plows through online coursework at night, during naps and during feedings, when basic anatomy requires that his wife take over, and still handles most of the household chores. As Maia resumes her full-time hours, she frequently pitches in to give him breaks, and so far, her flexible schedule have made the transition really smooth. “Compared to my pregnancy, having a newborn is so much easier,” Maia says. “But it’s not the standard setup,” she adds. “Even among most of my friends who have kids, the father is the one who works outside the home. So just in terms of being the primary caregiver, he has a harder time finding other dads who are doing the same thing,” she says. But in a poetic twist, Travis is actually in good company—he’s upholding a tradition started by Maia’s father, who raised her and her sisters while her mother worked.

Because both parents are home during the day, they give each other a lot of parenting support—which makes those ‘gram-worthy moments so much easier to come by. But they’re quick to give credit where it’s due. “Sometimes I think that we’re so good at this, but it’s definitely more her than us,” says Maia. “She’s just a really awesome baby.”