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”