It's taken 6 years of me being a professional photographer to finally figure out why the good Lord gave me the gifts of photography/creativity/compassion: I truly love people... and the human condition. At my core I love deeply, feel deeply, I give deeply. I think that is why birth photography suited me so well. I've wanted to hang up my camera more times than I can count and just be a mom to my kids. But then someone tells me that God gave me "this gift", or "the Lord has truly blessed you with a talent", etc. If I had a dollar for everytime someone said that to me I genuinely could probably pack my camera away. The penny finally dropped. I can be a wife, a mom, and a photographer... and this gift the Lord has blessed me with is an outlet to glorify Him. He's moulded me through the years to get to this point, to use my photographer FOR something: For Him, for women, for mothers, for healing, for education, for awareness, for giving testimonies, for normalizing birth/postpartum, for redefining beauty... showing beauty in weakness, showing beauty in strength. The Lord has given me this platform, and always to my humble amazement, He's given me an audience that listens, and keeps coming back. So aside from capturing these pure, real, and stunning moments in your lives... know that with each session, in my heart there is greater meaning. I hope that the photos and the experience add something more to your lives than just a few photos hung on your walls.
All of this leads me to the reason for this post. The kick off if you will, of these posts with purpose. A few weeks ago, just before Mother's Day I shared a blog post with a project I had been putting together for the last few months. You can see that post HERE. The cliff notes being, it is a project aimed at empowering women to embrace, love, and accept their imperfections, to realize that each scar, each line, each blemish on their body or their heart has made them exactly who they are. It's a bold idea, but I want to be a part of a dialog that is aimed at redefining the cultural norm of what is considered BEAUTIFUL. STRONG. FEMININE.
Not all of these imperfections are made equal and not all of these imperfections are of the physical nature. Kristi participated in this photography project more from emotional scars, unplanned pregnancy, postpartum difficulties, a baby battling horrible colic, all while being a single mom. After participating I wanted each person to write a small excerpt of how the experience of being stripped down to expose their insecurities effected them. Kristi wrote a few great sentences about her experience and the post went live. With resounding positive response the first post in this series was a huge success. Afterwards, Kristi approached me and said she wanted to tell more of her story. The parts that she's never told anyone, the parts that aren't pretty. Each story my clients are brave enough to share could encourage just one woman sitting quietly in her struggles. This is somewhat my mission if you will, my ministry. I feel the Lord has given me a gift of photography and the platform to bring Glory to Him and empower/encourage/support women.
Here is Kristi's story, make sure to scroll down to the bottom to see all of her images:
April 29, 2011, I gave birth to a red haired 7 lb. angel. After twenty four (literally) hours of labor, the doctor came in. Placing his hand on my forehead, with tears in his eyes, he said “her oxygen levels are low, we will need to do a C-section instead.” I crumbled with exhaustion and disappointment. I had wanted so badly for it to happen naturally. Four years later, looking back on that moment, I realize it was foreshadowing of how my life would be as a parent. They are their own little people and things happen you don’t have control over. Before having my daughter, I was caught up in an unhealthy relationship, which involved drugs and alcohol. I had lost my way for a long time. My daily routine consisted of sleeping in, working at night as a server and then partying until the early morning hours. I became pregnant with my daughter and things changed. They had to. I stopped everything. I didn’t drink caffeine, I ate healthy, took my vitamins, went to my doctor appointments, and exercised as often as I could. I thought I was doing everything I needed to do to create a happy, healthy baby. I breastfed for about two months, but she had such bad congestion that it was very hard for her to nurse without having to gasp for air. She was colicky and coughed and cried so much, all of the time. Needless to say, I felt like I had failed. This was my fault. She was sick because I did something wrong. Elevate, humidifier, Vicks baby rub. I did everything the doctor told me to do to help alleviate the congestion. I even had her wrapped up in a blanket on top of the running dryer in the middle of many nights to soothe her. There was not any piece of clothing that I owned that did not have spit up on it. We existed in baby vomit. There wasn’t much point sometimes in changing my clothes when I was never safe from getting thrown up on so I walked around, shopped, and ran errands, smelling pukey. The doctor reassured me that she would grow out of it. I wasn’t satisfied with that answer. “When? How does he know? He isn’t with her like me, something else must be wrong” were thoughts that constantly plagued my mind. At five months, she ended up in the hospital from not being able to breathe properly. We were there for 2 days, receiving breathing treatments and medicine. No one had an answer. I still heard she will grow out of it. I was worn out and frustrated. No one had an answer and I couldn’t do anything. It was my job to protect this tiny human being and my responsibility to make the right decisions for her.
In those moments, I had no idea what I could do for her besides just be there to comfort her. Gratefully, the doctor was right. She did grow out of it. She is a very healthy, thriving, loving four year old. She is loud, stubborn, curious, independent, funny, and gives the best hugs and kisses. I will tell you that going through all of that and still what comes unexpectedly now, I would do it all over again. Saying that, it still took its toll on me and honestly, it came out of nowhere. Physically, emotionally, and mentally. Looking back, I did what I needed to do but I had no release, no outlet. I was like a gerbil in its cage, going round and round, no time to think about what I was doing, no time for self-reflection.
About two years ago, it got to be too much for me. I had just gotten a good paying job and we were doing alright, I thought. I was marketing for an imaging center, calling on doctors. I would be in the field all day long. I found myself losing track of what I was doing, headed in the wrong direction and not remembering where I was supposed to be. I would start to cry for absolutely no reason and not be able to visit my offices, as I sat sobbing in my car. I would call my sister and I could never tell her the reason of my outbursts because I had no idea why I was crying. I wanted to sleep. I had no motivation to do anything. I had to use all of my energy to get up on the weekends and take my daughter out to do something fun. I was exhausted. I lost more weight than I should have. My temper was quick and I started arguments with loved ones blaming them for things when in reality, it was me that felt inadequate. My self-esteem was at an all -time low. When my daughter went to spend the weekend with my parents, I took this as an opportunity to find my release in going out and drinking. Needless to say, this never made me feel any better. I never wanted to harm myself. However, I did start to daydream about what would happen if something tragic happened to me. I became obsessed with thinking too much about what would happen to my child if I wasn’t here anymore. My head took over and I was consumed with negative energy I couldn’t shake.
A friend of mine suggested I go and see my family physician. He put me on a mild anti-depressant. I was apprehensive about being put on medicine. He understood my concern but thought that this would help. I knew that, for me, there was another way of handling what was going on. The same friend suggested that maybe I should go and talk to a professional. This woman came to be one of the most influential people in my life. She doesn’t like me giving her too much credit and I am aware there are many factors involved. However, the whole experience and me allowing it to be effective, brought me to a place I had never been before, both spiritually and emotionally. Allowing myself to give in and be vulnerable and using the tools that I was given has been beneficial in my healing. I now am confident in myself as a mother and as a woman. There are still bad days, of course. There are days when I just want to lock myself in my bathroom and have a moment(s) of silence.
There are days when I am overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of this beautiful child. My daughter’s eyes are always on me. I am her greatest influence. It scares the crap out of me but at the same time, it is a great honor that I have been blessed with. My life is only better because she came into it. She wasn’t a planned baby in the conventional way but she wasn’t a surprise to God. He knew what he was doing when he placed her in my anxious arms. I did this project for the reason that the past four years have been a great learning experience for me. Now, I have never felt more confident in myself or been at ease with my responsibilities as a mom. There are tougher days ahead but I have been given the tools to handle them and I know that we will be just fine. I want my child to see that I am trying to be the best for myself so that I can be the best for her. This was an amazing opportunity, for me, to celebrate how far I have come. I also wanted to share my story to mothers who may be struggling more emotionally than physically, post children. I want mothers to not be ashamed to seek outside guidance. It shouldn’t be a taboo thing and no mom should feel embarrassed of it. It is not an admittance of defeat, only an acceptance that you are courageous and want only the best for yourself and your children.
Kristi, your willingness to not only want to share this, but your transparency and honesty is so so brave. I commend you for acting, for listening to your heart and sharing your testimony. I pray it encourages someone out there, silently in need of these words!