"It was the most intense, terrifying and beautiful moment of my life," says Maria Crider. The Apopka, Fla., mother is talking about the birth of her baby boy after she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer when she was 11 weeks pregnant. Crider went on to endure multiple procedures and chemotherapy, right up until she and husband, Brandon, welcomed son Logan via C-section at in Orlando on April 13.
"I cried when I saw him," she tells GoodHousekeeping.com. "In that moment all the bad went away, I forgot the cancer, I forgot about the chemo and all I saw was this perfect, healthy little boy and my husband — there holding my hand, with so much love."
That raw emotion was captured on camera by , who tells GoodHousekeeping.com that the photo shoot was "one of the most incredible experiences to watch."
"I've been allowed in the operating room a few times before, but this was totally different," she says. "It was so special."
The powerful images show Crider, 28, before and during the birth — and the precious moments she shared with her husband post-delivery. Perhaps most striking is a photo of the new mother, who underwent a unilateral mastectomy, nursing Logan in her hospital bed — a large scar where her breast used to be, clearly visible.
"The pictures are beyond anything I could have ever hoped for," she says. "I'll cherish them forever."
Crider says she was still breastfeeding her now 2-year-old son, Liam, when she discovered the lump on her breast in October 2016.
"Doctors told me it was a clogged duct and a number of other things," she recalls. "But I had a feeling it was something more."
That very same day, she found out she was 11 weeks pregnant. Crider and her husband were ecstatic — but, still, something felt "off," she says. "A week later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer."
The family's world was quickly turned upside down, as they began discussing treatments, survival rates and even termination.
"It was confusing, emotionally, because on the one hand I was excited about my pregnancy, but I was terrified when I found out about the cancer," says Crider, also mom to 5-year-old Tristan. "I didn't want to do treatment if it harmed the baby in any way, but I was also thinking, 'What would my baby and my kids do without me [if I died]?' "
Doctors told Crider she wouldn't need to terminate her pregnancy. However, they gave her, at most, a 40% survival rate if she were to forego chemotherapy. So, she made the difficult decision to seek treatment during her second and third trimester, which "seems to be safe for the baby" according to the .
"I was terrified, but we were assured our little guy would be safe," she says. "The whole time I was scared of how I was going to tolerate the chemo and when I'd get ready to take it by IV, I told the nurses, 'I'm scared for my baby, are you sure this is okay?' "
Crider went through four cycles of and , during her pregnancy before she was admitted for her scheduled C-section in April.
"Our journey through cancer and pregnancy has been such an emotional rollercoaster," she says. "I had decided beforehand that I wanted to have photos of it."
Crider discovered , where the photographer had posted about a "giveaway" photo shoot, and decided to apply for the opportunity to have her poignant labor documented.
"I messaged her with my story and said 'I'd love to win this,' " says Crider. "Bonnie immediately said 'Give me all of your details' and, then, all we had to do was ask our obstetrician if it would be okay to have a photographer in the delivery room."
Six weeks after Logan was born, Crider stopped breastfeeding him, so she could pick radiation back up. Her son has been receiving donor milk from her best friend, who is currently pumping.
She's now completed all 28 treatments and, on October 19, underwent a bone scan to determine if the cancer is still present.
"We're playing the waiting game now for results," she says. "All we can do is hope for the best. If this journey has taught me anything, it's to cherish every moment you have with your family.
"So, that's exactly what I'm doing."