One of the hardest realizations as a parent, is that each day, if we’re raising them well and loving them fiercely… they will inevitably wander further and further from the warmth of our arms. They will wander out into the world, and we will hold our breath waiting for them to wander back home through our doors. These years, while they are home and still snug in their beds, while I can still wrap my arms around their tiny but growing bodies… These are our Wander Years.
This sweet family hired me to come capture their family together before dad’s job took him out of the home for the next year. His heart feared the older, tween boys might not want to snuggle him as much once he returned. So snuggle was the name of the game this session.
Intimacy is at the root of love, and although it changes through the years with our kids. It’s always there, we just have to look for it.
There’s a song that no matter how many times I hear it, I cry. Tears streaming. CRY. It’s what I like to call an ass kicker. It kicks me in proverbial emotional rear end, every time. I’ll even inflict self torture by playing it if I need a good reminder.
There’s a fight to be won
For the love you find at home.
There is work to be done
Before you rest your weary bones.
I’m finding peace don’t come
To everyone I know,
So I will love in this life
Til I finally have to go.
Growing up child
Is just a matter of time,
For giving all you’ve got,
So won’t you dance under the sun.
Feels like you’re giving up your soul.
I’d rather give it freely
To the ones that I call home.
Now maybe you can see where I’m going with this post. I’m growing older, and if I’m growing older, that means my children are growing older, my parents are growing older. I keep searching relentlessly for this peace I so desperately want. I realized earlier this year that the peace I wanted doesn’t exist. So I settled for “seasons”. Seasons where my career thrives and my family had to wait, and seasons where my family came first, and my career had to wait. As you can imagine, there is no peace there. I’m continually in a state of letting someone down: My precious husband and kids, or clients who I love like family.
One of my birth photography peers recently wrote about Birth Photography not being just a career, but a lifestyle. In the past I relished in that lifestyle. I prided myself in the hustle. Even boasting about how many births I’ve shot, or how many hours without sleep I had gone, how many consecutive days I had spent at the hospital. And in some warped way, I prided myself in the amount of sacrifice that comes with this job (ie. missing my child’s birthday, and staying home while my family goes on vacation). While yes, that does show the dedication of a job that I’ve loved for a decade, but it’s a difficult lifestyle to sustain. So while I love the work… I love my clients… I love watching new life come into this world time and time again, literally hundreds of times. And I love KNOWING that I make a difference in these women’s lives. I KNOW my being there matters, to them and their family. I KNOW my work influences other communities and countries to educate/inspire women, and encourage other hospitals to think outside their boxes. I KNOW there is more work to be done. But I KNOW this line of work has become detrimental to my happiness, my family, my physical and mental wellbeing. I love this work, but I can no longer carry the burden of the lifestyle that goes with it.
I have wanted to show my kids that women can be strong and fierce business owners. I know what I’ve accomplished so far in my career as a birth photographer will impress them as they get older. Hell, I’m impressed with myself (only took 10 years to be comfortable openly being proud of what I’ve done). But just as I want to have inspired them to aim for the stars, I also want them to slow down, be present, and admire the stars. I want them to know it’s ok to walk away from success. That there is strength in that. Beautiful strength in our most difficult weaknesses. How am I to teach them that, to show them that, if I’m too busy or stressed to enjoy the stars with them.
Admittedly I’ve grown to despise the word hustle. It’s a cute word. It’s a trendy word. But to me, it’s come to represent a word wrapped in deception and lies. It’s a word that fools us into chasing things we might shouldn’t chase. It’s a word that often makes us compare and feel less than. It’s a word disguised in empowerment, that often brings disillusionment. Like I said, I’m getting older. And the older I get, the wiser I become. The easier I can see through the fluff. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely NOTHING WRONG WITH HUSTLING. I did it for years. It’s literally why I am successful. But if you aren’t careful the drive, the “hustle”, can detour your ambitions. It can make you seek things for the wrong reasons. Here’s my cautionary tale folks, my moment of transparency. My “hustle” became better known as my “ego”. And an ego driven career is not one that will lead down any path of creative fulfillment. It will leave you depleted. Creatively drained and confused. BURNT OUT. The “hustle” clouded my “why”. Every artist has to have a ‘why’. You have to LIVE by your ‘why’. It’s what makes you YOU and sets you apart. Your ‘why’ is your creative fingerprint. I lost my ‘why’ in the ‘hustle’.
I don’t mean for this blog to be a total hum-drum, Debbie Downer post!
So let me change gears. This revelation has been two years in the making. Two difficult, beautiful years of crying out to the Lord. Two difficult, beautiful years of “being still” and knowing He his God. And two difficult, beautiful years of waiting on the Lord. Let me just say, being STILL and WAITING…. are truly the hardest for this restless creative! But that is where the refining happens. Where the Lord is whittling down your selfishness, wearing down the ego. Being still is where you hear His voice again, you hear your voice again, you reconnect to your ‘why’.
Am I quitting birth photography altogether? NO. Will I take random requests as they fit into my life and family. YES. Will that make people mad? Will it disappoint a great many? Unfortunately yes. It’s taken a long while, but I’ve learned (the hard way), that I can’t make everyone happy. I can’t be everything to everyone. Saying no with grace is my new motto. If you find yourself on the receiving end of one of these no’s, please believe it wasn’t a decision made in haste. It was not a decision that came lightly. And there is a high likelihood, that even days/weeks later I’m still worrying about how I may have disappointed you.
Lastly, my heart longs to tell other stories. As a creative, we tend to sound like spoiled children. “I just don’t feel creatively fulfilled anymore.” Specially when from the outside looking in, a career and life look picture perfect. When you’ve told variations of the same story for nearly 10 years, your creative soul longs for a challenge. It longs to stretch it’s arms to the sky and grab something never seen before. Because isn’t that what every artists sets out to do? Aren’t we always in some way or another in a constant state of rebirth, revival, a renaissance? Create new ideas, new styles, challenge the status quo. Sadly, I’m so far in the mire of an absent creative abyss, that I don’t know what my “new” or “next” is. I think I have to detox. Cleanse my pallet. Disconnect to reconnect. TURN OFF MY PHONE.
I was blessed to go see Annie Leibovitz recently. This woman who is the pinnacle of success as a female photographer, my biggest modern inspiration. The timing of sitting in that audience and listening to her talk about the entirety of her career was serendipitous. I sat there in awe as she shared stories, insights and antidotes. Her career is wide, it is long, it is varied, it went up, it went sideways, it ebbed and flowed. When she spoke of her lulls, it gave me peace that even with her success at times she needed rest. Time with Family. I want to think those lulls are where we usually find ourselves again. We come out the other side having grown, refined, more resilient, wiser, humbled, refocused, centered, RESTED… READY.
My wheels have been spinning for over 2 years for “what’s next”. Sometime next year I will launch my Wander Years sessions, and focus intently on family documentary sessions. I hope to find a project to become involved with in my local community. But above all, I want to photograph my family. I want to edit our photos. I want to PRINT our photos! I want to travel with my husband. I want to be spontaneous again. I want to reconnect with friends. I want to be present in a given moment.
And while these ideas tumbling around in my head like tumbleweeds, may or may not be my next act… One thing is certain, I’m content in the waiting, in the being still. I’m certain my creative cup will overflow once more. I’m certain the Lord will give me a voice to speak stories of His love. I hope you guys will follow me on this journey. I have so much left to share. I have so much more art to make. I have so many more stories to tell.
Let me leave you with some photos of my greatest treasures, the ones my heart beats for.
It is with great anticipation that I FINALLY get to share this birth. And the reason I finally have permission could not be any sweeter! The Hollifields have been waiting to finalize the adoption of their second youngest, a mere 4 months older than her younger brother. Baby H, or should I finally say, precious Haley… officially OFFICIAL TODAY. I spent the morning at the courthouse to documenting the occasion, and it couldn’t have been any sweeter! But consider this her official “Birth” announcement as well! Welcome to your forever family sweet Haley! The Lord could not have found a more perfect home for you, you are loved and blessed beyond measure!
So where do I even start with this birth?! Stephanie had hoped for her VBAC victory with this birth, her 3rd delivery. Unfortunately it wasn’t in the cards for her, and in hindsight sweet Silas came earth-side the safest way possible given the thinness of her uterus. And boy, did he come into this world surrounded by love, and a head full of luscious hair!
Stephanie did however get the next best option which was a family centered c-section. I applaud St. Francis and their practitioners, specially Dr. Strozier, for giving these families such wonderful, and healing options. The drape was lowered, dad was able to cut the cord, and baby went straight to mom’s chest for some legit skin to skin time. Mom and baby stayed together nearly the entire time she was in the OR. It’s amazing the difference these small gestures make for these families. The inclusion, the bonding, the instantaneous relationships that are built! These little things, make all the difference in the world.
Join me in congratulating this amazing family on their TWO newest additions!
I’ve stared at this blank page and blinking curser, taunting me to pour my heart out. But where do I even start?! I’ve written, deleted, re-written again. I’ve walked away and come back to this screen more times than I can count.
Let’s just get this part over with.
I’m stepping away from Birth Photography for a while. Not forever. I need a break.
Whew. There I said it. It’s out there, announced to the masses to hold me accountable.
Now for the why. Not that you care to know, but I hope this is an anthem, an invitation to others struggling with the same battle I’ve fought, literally the last 12 months. I hope you feel a sisterhood of solidarity that you aren’t alone: In your all consuming guilt, your self doubt, your regret, your passion to do great things and make a difference in the world, your desire to prove something to yourself and the masses, your hopes of being the wife and mother you always saw yourself to be, the successful businesswoman you’ve fought nearly a decade to become, THE FEAR of making the wrong/right decisions. You aren’t alone in this battle. And it’s ok to walk away, even like me, at the peak of my career… I’m saying, enough… for now.
In 2013 I wrote a blog called I Just Had to Let it Go. It was the blog that announced I was walking away from weddings. Again for my family. Every Saturday I was shooting a wedding was a Saturday I was missing with my then 2 year old. When I walked away from weddings, it was easy. The Lord spoke that truth into my heart, and I came home and wrote that blog. The words flowed freely and clearly. It was kind of like breaking up with the jerk ex-boyfriend that you were glad to get rid of. But this time. I’ve been negotiating with the Lord, trying to convince Him of what I wanted. Because I love birth. I love every bit of what I do. Walking away from something you love is naturally a bazillion times harder.
I had already shot a couple of births in the years prior to 2013, and around the same time I walked away from weddings, I distinctly and naively remember thinking to myself, “I’m going to specialize in birth. I mean there can’t be that many people that “get” this or even want it.” There was no one really doing it on any sort of consistent basis, meaning no one was specializing in it, and my marketing brain saw an opportunity to grow the genre here in Columbus. Had you told me back in 2013 I would be where I am today, I would’ve laughed in your face. I took on birth photography to slow down, and have more time with my family. Bahahahahahaha…… ahahahahahahaha…… Believe me the irony isn’t lost on me.
And here I am, ON-CALL with my life ON-HOLD. This time it wasn’t a quick decree from the Lord like last time. There wasn’t the same instant clarity like with weddings. This time I argued with the Lord, I pleaded, cried, begged, and prayed for balance. And by balance, I mean the Lord giving me what I wanted, not what He knew I needed. But nonetheless, when His timing was right, He spoke. And it was loud and clear, it just took me longer to listen, and I had to reach a very broken and vulnerable place to hear Him. I was at my laptop in bed working on my presentation for the Off-Call Conference, and I had a total mental block. I sat there staring at the outline, and couldn’t string a single coherent thought together. I started bawling. Ugly crying, snot pouring, the works. My poor husband, he’d been listening to me process my feelings for the last year. He’d heard it all. But here I was, at my weakest, frozen in anxiety. And y’all I love my husband, and he knows this so I’m not giving him a hard time, but the words he spoke next were not his own. Wes is a fixer, and usually has some wonderfully, analytical, helpful solution. This time, without doubt, the Lord gave him the words to speak. I looked up at him, and all he said was, “It’s ok to say it….” I mean hello, that’s some profound insight right there. And I knew exactly what the Lord was saying in that moment. Through tears, I looked up at my sweet husband and with my voice cracking, simply replied, “I want to quit.” If you’re a believer you know what it means to have peace that surpasses all understanding. It was the strangest thing. As soon as I uttered those words, honestly, and humbly…. I felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders. It was the permission I was seeking to say those words out loud. That peace I had so desperately sought for the last 12 months, washed over me instantly. The Lord gave those words to my husband, because He knew I would listen.
Even with that peace, I am actually going to struggle being away from birth. This time I’m not breaking up with the jerk ex-boyfriend. We all know that really cliche saying, “If you love something let it go, if it comes back it’s meant to be.” Well, not sure how many of you know this, but I broke up with my then boyfriend/now husband, we were apart for 2 months. And it was AWFUL. I used to tell him, it was like Ron Burgundy jumping into the bear pit and saying, “I immediately regret this decision”.
As much as our break up sucked, and challenged us in so many ways, we came back stronger. I knew I wanted to spend my life with him, there was a giant piece of my soul missing when he was gone. When I walked away from weddings, I never looked back. I don’t think that will be the case with birth. My hopes, my prayers, are that this break up will look a lot like the one with my sweet Wes. I pray that I will come back stronger, rested, and creatively renewed, and with a healthier personal/work-life balance.
As wives, mothers, creatives… we can’t keep serving from an empty cup. And for a long time I’ve felt like I was doing an O.K. job at all of the above. I’ve felt like everyone thinks I have it all together. I most certainly do not. I’m messy. I’m broken. But I’m real and I’m transparent in my weaknesses. I want to be a more present wife who loves my husband with purpose. I want to be a mother who is more present to make memories and traditions my children will remember when I’m gone. Heck I want to take photos of them and have time to print and make albums! Lastly and actually most importantly, I want to be more present for myself, to listen to my body and take care of ME, so I can take care of everyone else. Self care y’all! It’s crucial!!! I want to rest and recharge so I can be passionate about the art I create.
If you’ve made it this far bravo! Here’s my biggest piece of advice to anyone in birth photography, or getting into it…. be diligent about carving out off-call time. I’m not talking about a few weeks here and there like I have for the last 4 years. I mean good solid chunks of off-call, where you can travel, turn your cell phone off, sleep in, take more than one shower a week, let your kids play hooky from school and take them somewhere fun, get caught up editing, and HAVE A SOCIAL LIFE!
By no means have I “arrived”, and as Leilani Rodgers so poignantly said during her class at the Off-Call Conference, “I hope I never arrive.” Yet here I am at the precipice of my career (thus far, I hope there is much more ahead). I’ve met so many of my goals. I’ve chased this place I’d been working so hard to reach since 2013, and guess what……… the grass isn’t greener. Of course I’m SUPER proud of my accomplishments, and hard work. But I’m not any happier. I’m not more fulfilled. My success hasn’t brought me the emotional payoff I thought it would. Instead. I’m tired. I’m creatively burnt out and in a complete standstill as how to redefine who I am as an artist. I miss my husband and kids while I’m at the hospital or in my office editing in the ungodly hours of the night. I miss my family and friends. In such trying times you need community, but being on-call makes a social life so hard. The life of a birth photographer can be a lonely one. Make sure you have your tribe, your people that can help you navigate the hard seasons.
I still have 10 births to finish out this year, and I will give them 110% of myself. In the meantime I’m diving into mentoring, and hopefully shooting more family documentary sessions to fill the financial void. I’m really excited to see what the Lord has up His sleeve. But for now, I’m being still and waiting. Stepping out in faith that He’s got this. He’s got me. It’s pretty amazing the kind of peace that covers you when you know you’re walking in line with the Lord’s plans.
My sweet 2 year old from 2013 is now going on 6. We love to have chats while she colors at the kitchen table. Yesterday I told her that a lot of mommies were going to be having their babies in the coming weeks, and that mommy was going to be quite busy, but that very soon I could slow down. She looked up from coloring and said, “I thought you were going to be home more, I like having you home.” I then explained to her that mommy’s money from work pays for my car, their schooling, and it’s what lets us do the fun things like buying the play-set for the backyard, or taking a trip to Disney World. I asked her to answer honestly…. would she rather have things like that, or have mommy home more? My child, pure of heart answered without hesitation that she would give up Disney World, and play-sets to have her mommy home more. Done. Easiest decision I’ve ever made.
“Dear Birth Photography… It’s not you, It’s me. I still love you so much, and I still see a future with you. But right now I need some space to figure out who I am. I need some space to take better care of myself, and love my family deeper. I can’t wait to get back together and be stronger than ever, when the time is right for us both.
-Sincerely Neely Ker-Fox”