Birth Photography Burn Out: It’s Not All Sunshine and Roses

••• This was written in one sitting, stream of consciousness… This is a snapshot of my heart after a challenging year of doing a job I love so much. •••


This is going to be a post where I kind of pour my heart out. Professionally, there are probably things I shouldn’t talk about. But I’m a firm believer in transparency. Transparency for anyone thinking of becoming a birth photographer, and transparency to anyone wanting to hire a birth photographer. If there’s one thing I’ve found is that we all need GRACE, on both sides of the camera. 

Being On-Call:
The most common and obvious stressor to being a birth photographer is being on-call for each client. I give each client 3 weeks of on-call time, guaranteeing to drop everything and be there for their birth, no matter what I’m doing, and no matter the time of day. I constantly stress about where my phone is, is the battery charged? Is the ringer on loud enough? Sometimes it means leaving kids soccer games, missing school plays, and yes even their birthdays. Taking even just 2 clients a month, and giving them each 3 weeks of on-call time often means I’m on call for months, not just weeks. If we want to take family vacations I often have to plan them out 9 months in advance, and even then I have to pray that none of my repeat clients or close friends end up being due while we’re supposed to be gone. And guess what? If I knew I could leave my vacation spot and make it to your birth. I would. And my family would be bummed, but they understand. And of course babies don’t always come in their allotted 3 week window, and I will get phone calls while I’m out having a date night with my husband for the first time in 6 months, and I have to drop what I’m doing and try my hardest to be there for my clients. I say all that because even when I’m off-call, mentally I’m not really 100% off-call. 

I Don’t Do This For The Money:
Yes, I’m expensive…. and I could write an entire blog on why Birth Photographers charge what we charge (and maybe after reading this post my price will make more sense), but I will save that for another day. That being said, I know I’m expensive. I know having a baby is expensive. It’s not like a wedding where Mommy and Daddy are helping fit the bill to all your desires. You’re thinking about insurance, and diapers, and college. I give grace upon grace with my clients and how they pay me. My contract may say I have to be paid in full 2 weeks before your due date, and about 90% of my clients can do that. The other 10% need more time, and we communicate those needs, and I’ve been happy to accommodate. But TWICE in the last 6 months I’ve had over $5,000 floating out there in unpaid balances. And throughout the year have chosen families to discount sessions to that came close to $6000 in discounts. I don’t advertise these things. I don’t do Facebook giveaways asking you to share and like so I can capitalize on your grief or your struggles. I listen to my heart and I GIVE. Being a business owner is HARD. Knowing the financial stresses of your precious clients is HARD. But seeing the realization that I have a business to run, the realization that my family depends on my income, and the gut punch that is asking people for money… Ugh. Its sucks. And I admittedly suck at asking for money. I guess the silver lining of all that is that I clearly love this job so much that I would probably do it for free in some parallel universe where money wasn’t needed.

neely kerfox birth photography

Emotional Warfare:
Birth is one of the most joyous days of a collective family’s life. But this is also a job of tremendous loss. If you do this job long enough, you will find that nothing is promised. Nothing in this life is guaranteed, and sometimes it’s just down right not fair. My career as a birth photographer started with shooting the birth of a Rainbow baby, Finn. His brother Cale was born sleeping at 39 weeks a year prior, and because of Cale, and his rainbow brother Finn, I came into this job with the understanding that birth isn’t always happy, and neatly packaged. And for both of those boys I am eternally grateful. There will be a day you cry uncontrollably in the hallway after a client loses a baby. There will be days you will be playing with your own kids in the yard when you get a phone call out of the blue from a nurse at the hospital asking you to come and photograph a sweet baby who didn’t make it. And you will walk into the room of total strangers and feel the grief suck the air out of the room. There will be days where your client calls you shortly after booking you, only to tell you that they lost the baby. And the overwhelming emotions that come with knowing you were one of a handful of people that knew that baby existed, and felt that family’s joy and pain. I can’t tell you how many due dates have come that I’ve written on my calendar, yet there will be no baby born. And part of me wonders and battles in my heart, if I should call that momma and tell her I’m thinking of her, or has she tried her hardest to forget that day? This is the other side of coin, most don’t ever see. Or talk about. I carry these emotions like quiet scars.

Simple Choices Aren’t So Simple:
Everyone’s life can be changed by one simple choice, but most of us don’t live with that realization on a daily basis. For me another HUGE stressor of being a birth photographer is the complications and consequences that come from simple every day choices. Do we take two cars to my kid’s soccer game and gymnastics meets in case I get called away? Or can we just drive one? Even though I’ve stated the importance of no guests when I come for the Hours Old session the next day, do I risk offending grandparents and looking abrasive when I ask unexpected guests to leave the room so I can do my job? Or do I not speak up, and leave you unhappy with the results, or lack there of? Do I need to carry my camera bag in the car today and risk my car being broken into, or will I have enough time to drive 30 minutes to the house and get it and drive 30 minutes back into town? You’re having a longer than usual labor, and I truly don’t mind being there, after all its my job… But in the back of my head I’m wondering, am I in the way? Do they need space? Do they feel like they could tell me to leave if they wanted me to? If I do leave, are they going to be upset if I miss some sweet or powerful moment that happens when I’m not in the room? Do I stay up and edit until 3am tonight because I’m so far behind editing, but run the risk of not getting to sleep at all because I get a 2am phone call that someone is in labor. Or do I go to sleep and save the editing for another day, because I’m dead tired from being a wife and mother all day too? There are so many days I feel like I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t. When all I’m trying to do is give 110% of myself to everyone, every day.

neely kerfox birth photography

Trusting Technology:
I think this goes for any photographer in general, but the stress of trusting technology as a birth photographer, to me, far outweighs any stress I felt in other genres I’ve worked in. Parts of weddings can be recreated, family shoots can be re-shot. But birth, well there’s no going back for a re-do. I back up my images, I back up my back ups, I don’t delete images off memory cards until I deliver images. I do everything humanly possibly to insure your images are protected. But guess what? Technology fails, and 99% of the time without even a warning. Hard drives fail, online backups have can have missing folders or overwrite themselves, memory cards can go corrupt. Or like what happened to me last year, my brand new Canon Mark III, still under warranty decided to have its main circuitboard go faulty. I lost an entire birth. Let that sink in. I lost an entire birth. Through no fault of my own. My legs went weak, I hit the floor, and then ran to the bathroom to throw up. I ended up paying over $1200 to a data recovery company, who thankfully by the grace of GOD was able to recover 95% of the images. But you know what, to this day I’m still haunted by losing that 5%. So that leads me to my final topic….

Overwhelming Guilt:
It comes in all shapes in sizes, it creeps into the most protected parts of your heart. It can consume you. The guilt of watching my kids scream while the sitter holds them because I’m leaving AGAIN for a multi-day labor, and I’ve basically been living at the hospital. The guilt of booking a client the same month as your kid’s birthday because I’m so sure she won’t have the baby near then, but I end up missing their birthday and their birthday party. The guilt of knowing the stress I’m putting on my husband and his work life, and stress I’m putting on my babysitters to drop everything they’re doing. The guilt of wondering if my sitters dread seeing my number show up on their caller ID. The guilt of having to turn clients away because I’m booked. The guilt of not having a choice but to leave and not stay home with my child who is on day three of 103 fevers, wants no one but me, and literally cries until he can’t breath as I leave for the hospital. The guilt of coming home after a long labor to only find my baby even sicker, leaving me to question EVERYTHING I’m doing. The guilt that my family sacrifices SO much so I can do this. The guilt that we can’t take spontaneous trips to the Zoo two hours away because I’m scared someone will go into labor. The guilt of wondering if we’re missing out on LIFE for me to do this. All consuming guilt.

My Goal As Your Birth Photographer:
Given everything I’ve said above. As a birth photographer, making my clients happy is my greatest goal. Making them feel supported. Making them feel loved. Making them feel empowered. Making them feel heard. Making them feel like in that moment, THEY were all that mattered. Making sure they don’t feel a bit of what I just wrote about above. If I can leave your birth and you feel like I’ve done those things, then I have done my job, and all of my worry was worth it.

neely kerfox birth photography

neely kerfox birth photography

If you’ve read through this far, BRAVO! Here’s the crux of this conversation. I’ve been doing this since 2011. I’m tired. I’m on the verge of burning out. I LOVE this job. YOU HAVE TO LOVE IT, or I would’ve burnt out long ago. But as a creative we must find time for ourselves, we must find time to recharge and rest, so we can continue to give of ourselves. I truly believe that as creatives we feel so much more deeply. We are ALWAYS thinking of others, observing others, analyzing how they feel, and so often putting ourselves on the back burner. I think you could insert the word ‘Mother’ into that last sentence instead of creative and it would still be valid. 

I’ve given so much of my soul to so many… My soul is tired. My heart is weary. And I’ve truly neglected myself. I’m seeking rest and balance as I move forward so I DON’T burn out. I love this job too much to walk away. Being a birth photographer takes a tole on so many aspects of my life. I sacrifice so much of myself physically and emotionally. I feel there are such high expectations of me, and I feel those expectations grow each year I’m in business. I’m praying 2017 brings better balance, more rest, and GRACE, and PEACE for my heart. This isn’t some cryptic blog that says I’m quitting. But it is my way of saying. I need grace. I’m only human. Lord show me Your way, I promise to follow.






columbus, ga photographer

Specializing in Family, Birth, & Commercial Photography