By Erica Bray
Jessica Cook photographs newborn babies for a living. Day in and day out, she surrounds herself with doting parents and their bundles of joy, delicately dressing and posing sleeping tots for their first-ever photo shoot. “I just have a way with babies,” says the 28-year-old owner of Fat Baby Photography, a Dallas-based photography business that focuses exclusively on capturing newborns within their first few weeks of life.
Cook also has a way with words. She chose the name “Fat Baby” for her business because it makes it unforgettable with strangers. “People don’t remember my name,” she says. “But they remember the name of my business, and that’s all I care about.”
The desire to be unforgettable extends to her business domain name, too: www.FatBaby.photography. Cook selected the ‘dot-photography’(.photography) domain after discovering that FatBabyPhotography.com was going to to cost her $5,000.
“That was ridiculous,” Cook says, reflecting on her frustration in trying to secure a URL for her new business before learning that ‘dot-photography’ was an option. It’s one of hundreds of new extensions available to better brand a business URL. “I was so excited to have something new and different, and stand apart from everyone else,” she says of her domain name.
A heart of gold
Cook also stands apart from everyone else in her unblinking generosity. After several years of listening to heartbreaking tales that so often come from couples who spent years trying to conceive -- tales told to her while she was behind the lens of her camera documenting newborns -- Cook decided do something remarkable: become a surrogate for a family that desperately wanted a child.
“I hear people’s stories all the time, the ‘Oh, we struggled to get pregnant and we tried for a long, long time,’” she says. “The more I heard it, I really want to have a baby for somebody. Everybody has the opportunity to change somebody’s life, and this was my chance.”
In February of 2016, Cook gave birth to twins, Knox and Nova, for a woman in Illinois after undergoing in vitro fertilization with two donor eggs. It was the first pregnancy for Cook, who has also donated her eggs to another couple trying to conceive when she was 21. (“That was an amazing experience,” she recalls.)
Both experiences have forever shaped how she approaches her business.
“Moms are superheroes," Cook gushes. "My clients are superheroes, and now I can understand them better. The amount of dedication it takes to carry a tiny human in your body for nine months is like nothing I could have ever imagined."
Most may be floored by what Cook's faith and love for babies helped to inspire. After all, the single twenty-something continued to grow her one-woman photography business while enduring morning sickness, heartburn, sleepless nights, ER visits and a four-week bed rest during her pregnancy. Not many would have been so willing to do this for a perfect stranger.
But Cook is used to bucking status quo in order create something beautiful. This is reflected not only in the twins she birthed, but in her very business -- including its unique name.
Birth of a name
Babies have always been a big part of Cook's world. She grew up with a mother who owned a day care and worked as a nanny herself for six years, specializing in newborn care. “I’m obsessed with babies,” she says with a laugh.
The opportunity to fuse this with her photography hobby manifested into a dream job around 2013, when she started taking pictures of newborns for fun, then as part of her college curriculum at Southern Methodist University, which she attended while slowly growing a small photography business.
Word spread, more bookings came and now she’s charging $500 per session -- a far cry from the $75 she charged her very first client.
“When I graduated, I was terrified,” she recalls of the moment she struck out on her own. “It’s not like an 8-to-5 where you know you’re getting paid. So I was scared,” she recalls. “But I’m like, ‘I’m going to hustle as much as can and do what I have to do.’”
Cook's hustle paid off -- in part, due to its memorable name. She didn’t want to name it after herself because “that’s boring,” she says. “I wanted people to remember it when I walk away from them.”
After playful brainstorming with family and friends around the couch, she says she came up with the name in five minutes after one of her friends prompted her with the question: “What do you want the name to reflect?”
“And I said, 'Fat, squishy babies! Fat, squishy babies!'" she recalls, laughing. “So he goes, 'Then call it Fat Baby.'”
Cook polled her Facebook community on the name and found that her younger friends loved the name; the “older crowd” of aunts and grandparents, as she describes them, not so much. She decided to run with the name, however, since the demographic she is targeting -- a.k.a. the ones having babies and the ones who would ultimately be her clients -- are Millennials.
While the business name came easily, the domain name was a little trickier. When she couldn’t get the ‘dot-com’ she originally wanted, she began scrolling through a bunch of what she calls “random” options before she stopped on FatBaby.photography. “I was like, ‘Dot-photography, that’s the coolest thing ever. I have to have it!’” she recalls. “So I bought it.”
Cook revamped her website -- a cornerstone for any photography business as a lead generator given the nature of the profession -- and has received a lot positive feedback on it, along with leads that have kept her booked since raising her rates in June 2015. “Every time someone emails me, I know they’ve interacted with my site,” Cook says.
The future of Fat Baby
Cook secured new studio space in October of 2015, in the midst of her pregnancy, after months of being “slammed” with business and needing the space. “I think I had 10 babies in September,” she says. “Everyone kept saying, ‘You need to slow down, you work too much.’ But I love my job. I’m going to work every day I have the opportunity.”
Cook's workload doesn't appear to be slowing down. She has photography sessions lined up into the fall, booked by still-pregnant parents ("Some mommies email me the day they find out they're pregnant") and former clients.
"The fact that most of my clients know my journey and have followed me through has been amazing," Cook says. "I have a lot of clients waiting for me to return for some milestone sessions."
As for twins she delivered into the world, Cook has made arrangements with the family to remain in Knox and Nova's lives as "Aunt Jessie." One of the perks: "I get to be their personal photographer."
Fat chance that wouldn't have been the case.