The International Association of Birth Photographers just held their annual birth photography contest, and like every year before I entered. Birth photography is important because it empowers women, shows birth honestly and helps educate people on how birth can be both an universal experience while at the same time remaining 100% unique to each birth. My entry for the labor category is one I am very proud of and thought it was unique enough and interesting that it would catch the eye of the judges.
I really thought I had a high chance of winning, or at least receiving an honorable mention. I knew once I clicked the shutter that this photo was going to be special.
Fast-foward to the night before the winners were announced and I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. I saw a post from the mother in the photo talking about her how they told her on same day this photo was taken that the baby most likely wouldn’t live through the night; eight months later he was playing with his big brother and doing great.
I felt like I had been sucker punched. I couldn’t breath and I started to cry.
I was getting worked up about the contest and had lost sight of the real story. This birth didn’t go as planned, in fact it was what we would call a traumatic birth. It was so very hard and made me question everything I thought I knew and loved about birth photography. Reading the mom’s post eight months later brought it all back to me on why birth photography is so important. This family, this baby, will always be in my heart as a miracle. Sometimes we all need a reality check.
Yes, we all love to be recognized for our work. Hearing from photographers around the country, and making connection because of this photo has been amazing, and is helping me grow a community. This morning I read that my photo did place in the competition and the feedback from the judges, two photographers I truly admire, Emily Robinson and Erin Hensley, and the founder of the association, Lyndsay Stradtner’s comments on my photo did warm my heart. (I am human.) But I keep coming back to the family, especially the mother’s post on the joy this baby’s life has brought; I know that being part of their story is the real prize.
Often the lessons we need to learn are the hardest or most painful. For me it was clearly seeing my own desire for wanting so badly to win that gave me the perspective on why I choose to specialize in birth photography. I don’t need to be internet famous, have a million followers, or be great at public relations. I need and want to provide my families with beautiful images that tell the story of their birth in a way that I know is uniquely my own. I do it for them and I do it for me as an artist.
To all you photographers that didn’t win, didn’t even receive feedback, take heart. Continue to show your work and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Share your work with others. Tell the families’ stories, and serve them the best you can. Find a space in your heart and mind that allows you to continue with the beautiful work you create.