Columbus photographer Rachel Joy Barehl opened her email and found this unique request:
Just to give a little back story, I grew up with my little brother Taryn and didn't know I had sisters until I was 18. All of us girls share the same father and Taryn and I share the same mother. Over the past 6/7 years, the five of us have become pretty close! My older sister and I have grown to be best friends and have been living together for the past 2 years. The five of us have really become a family with or own unique traditions as siblings. I really wanted to have a shoot where we can celebrate the unconditional love for our unconventional family! But, there are also three amazing, strong women who brought us together, OUR MOMS! Our moms have been so supportive of us finding each other and building relationships together. So, we also want this shoot to be a gift to them as a thank you! We are looking for group shots, single shots, and some paired off.
We love this family's story. We wanted to know more! So we talked to Sydney, the sister who organized this photo shoot as a gift for the siblings' three mothers.
1. Can you tell us about your family? Who is a part of the family, and how are you all connected?
My family, like most families, is definitely not traditional! But, that doesn't mean there's any less love! My family consists of Me, Sydney 25, my brother Taryn, 18, my sisters Jordynne 26, Cassadi 17, and Lauryn 12.
I grew up with my brother, Taryn. We have the same mom, Colleen. Taryn is only related to me by blood, and he doesn't share a parent with any of the these girls. But he has embraced my sisters as his own, which has been amazing!
The girls and I share the same father. I only just met our dad last year, but my sisters have known him their entire lives and have his last name. My sister Jordynne's mother's name is Kristy, and she's the one who found me! The two younger girls' mother's name is Aimee!
Photos and video by Rachel Joy Barehl
2. What was it like to learn that you had siblings you hadn't met yet?
I think initially, it was exciting and scary! My whole life I had only known my mom's family as MY family. Through growing up, I had my former stepdad's family, too, but they never really felt like mine.
My mother's family helped raise me and are the paramount part of my life, but there was always curiosity about the other half. Especially growing up the only brown person in the family, you start to wonder if there are people out there that look like you and have had similar experiences because it can get pretty lonely and confusing...I mean, I have my brother, but we're six years apart, so for most of our lives he's always been the baby!
But overall, I was very excited! Although I went into meeting them a little guarded, trying not to get my hopes up.
3. What was it like to build a relationship with your siblings later in life?
It took a while to get going! I met them when I was 18 and saw them about once a year. Jordynne and I were in college doing our own thing, and at surface level it didn't seem like we had a lot in common. BUT when I turned 21, I asked her to meet for a drink, and it went from once a year to once sometimes twice a week, and she became my best friend who just so happened to be my half sister.
After that, it only seemed natural to move in together. We've lived together for two years, and since we all had a place to meet, that's where we made all of our sibling traditions.
It's been pretty amazing to say the least! I mean, I don't know who I would've been today without them.
4. What motivated your moms to connect you?
When I was about 15, my mom reached out to my dad because I wanted to meet him. That didn't happen, but he shared the emails with Kristy, Jordynne's mom. Kristy saved my mom's email and sent her a message saying something like, "I believe our daughters are sisters, and they're only 10 months apart. What a shame it would be for them to go their whole lives without knowing each other!"
5. Why did you want to gift your moms a photo shoot of all the kids?
All three of our mom's are very strong independent women who all just so happened to be hurt to some level by the same man. They raised his kids by themselves and did a fantastic job. They have been so incredibly supportive of all five of us coming together, and we wouldn't be here without them. I wanted to celebrate them and all they've done for us by having Rachel take amazing photos of us!
6. What were their reactions like?
The reactions were very emotional! I read my original email to Rachel aloud and made a mini speech about how thankful I am for them and my siblings! They cried...a lot. We all cried a lot! After I told them what was happening, Rachel joined us for the reveal and took photos of the reactions and photos of all of us together! It was seriously, one of the best days I've ever had!
Rachel Barehl is a photographer in Columbus, Ohio who is known for her abilities to build community and tell stories. She and her partner Adam live with their pup Clooney and several chickens in a little oasis in the middle of the city that they refer to as the Barehl Homestead. If you want to see snapshots of her life, follow her on Instagram @racheljoybarehl