I cried. I sat in the lobby of an empty hospital, and cried. I was exhausted. I hadn't slept in 2 nights. My breasts were engorged from not nursing my baby. I had been subsisting on trail mix and granola bars. I had no idea if we'd have a baby in one hour or another ten. I texted my husband (at 2am) and told him I was ready to quit.
If you've been a birth worker for more than a year, you've probably had a moment similar to mine. And I'm sure you've also had dozens of other moments where you look around and pinch yourself, "How did I get lucky enough to do this job!?"
Birth work is incredible. I wouldn't want to do anything else in the world. BUT (and this is a big but) if you don't practice self-care, you will burn out. I've photographed over 200 births, and I'm happy to say that I'm looking to photographing 200 or 2000 more. But I know that the key to me staying in this career has little to do with my camera equipment, or my marketing strategy, and everything to do with the art of self-care. Below are a few tips that help me stay healthy and happy doing this wonderful and demanding job.
My husband is key to my success. If you have children (and I know many of us do) you need to have someone who can step in day or night to care for your children, and you also need set hours each week to edit and market. I am blessed to have a husband who supports our family by taking on primary childcare responsibilities. He takes the girls to school. He picks them up. He works too, but he cares for them 70% of our work day. Think about it this way: if you were a CEO of a company or a high school teacher or a doctor everyone (yourself included) would expect that you had help with childcare. But for some reason, many of us imagine that we can do birth work while also taking care of our families 24/7. Sweet friends, you can't be everywhere. You can't do everything. Running a family and running a business is hard. Doing it on your own isn't possible or sustainable. If you want to do birth work part-time (taking less than 12 clients a year), then it's easier to balance both. But if you want birth work to be your full-time job, you need to find/establish support for your family. And it's more than just finding someone to watch your kiddos during births. You need structured time each week to market, to edit, to plan, and grow your business. You need time for self-care, for a night out with friends, for a massage. This work/home balance looks different for each family. Many of you might not have a partner who can take over responsibilities at home. Consider hiring a nanny...or joining a co-op. Build these costs into your business plan because they're necessary.
You also need someone you can call after you've experienced a traumatic birth. A friend who understands the demands of your job. Who can listen to you cry, vent, scream. I'm so lucky to have my dear friend, Jennifer, in my life. I can call her 24/7 (and believe me...I have). Find this person. If they aren't local, find a fellow birth worker through social media. SO many amazing friendships are now being born online. We need to be here for each other.
You're going to have many sleepless nights in this career. It's unavoidable. Babies like to come when the sun goes down! And while you can't control this aspect of our jobs, you can do everything in your power to ensure you get deep and restful sleep during the rest of your month. When I'm not at a birth, I go to bed the same time every night. I've bought black-out curtains that block out the early morning sunshine. I take baths with Epsom Salt, which help me unwind at the end of a long day. Lavender essential oil, a cup of tea, and a good book help me wind down, and and I follow this magical formula every single night. After an overnight birth, I actually AVOID taking naps. I find that an afternoon nap can sometimes mess with my next night of sleep, and so I try my hardest to make it till the evening. My husband will also wake up early with the girls if I'm catching up on sleep. Remember, that it's OKAY to ask for this support and help. You are working. You are contributing to your family.
3. Good Food.
I can't emphasize how important this is to me! Each day for lunch, I make a huge bowl of vegetables, seeds, homemade salad dressing with lots of healthy fats, and lean protein. We spend a lot of money on organic food because we've seen what a huge difference it makes on everyone's health! When you're working a demanding job, you need to support your body and immune system, and whole food is one of the best ways to do it. I pack as many healthy, whole foods in my birth bag as possible. Fruit, nuts, veggies and hummus, hard-boiled eggs....and I avoid the processed food that so many hospitals seem to serve. I notice a HUGE difference in my immune system when I'm eating well. I don't get sick even though I spend a lot of time in germ-infested hospitals. I also find that my energy is much higher when I'm starting and ending my day with real, nutrient dense food.
Birth is unpredictable. It's crazy hard. One of the hardest parts of what we do! So while I never know when a birth is going to happen, I have established routines that guide our days, weeks, and months. In the mornings, I work. In the afternoon, the girls and I go to the park, run errands, and visit friends. In evenings, we all cook together and go on a family walk. This pattern not only gives me a sense of stability and control, but it helps my family. When I leave, they can follow the same daily pattern that we're all familiar with...and it helps my girls not notice my absence as much. Sundays are some of our favorite days. We go to our favorite coffee shop, order Almond Milk Lattes, walk through our favorite neighborhood, and then spend a few hours at our favorite park. Establishing routines for yourself and your family can help you cope with the "OMG, someone is in labor" moments that will happen again and again.
My daughter turns 4 on June 25th. I've told my June clients that if they go into labor during her birthday party, I'll be sending a back-up. I'm not taking any clients in December because I want to be home for Christmas. In 2018, I'm taking off 3 months to just be with family. As you establish your business and as you attend births, you'll begin to notice what you and your family needs to make this sustainable. My daughter's birthday matters to her. It's important. And you know what...my clients get that. Communicating clearly and openly about your own boundaries is SO important. I also have a clause in my contract that I may call a back-up in if I'm at a birth for longer than 12 hours. This clause isn't a rule. Believe me, I've attended MANY births for much longer than 12 hours. But in the event that the baby is sick, or I'm dangerously exhausted...I can call in help. I'm not afraid to do it, and you shouldn't be either.
One of my midwife friends nearly lost her life last year when she fell asleep on the road and drove off the interstate, rolling her car several times. She hadn't slept for two nights. She was driving to another birth on no sleep. Her story made me realize that this kind of behavior doesn't make us heroes. This isn't "part of our job." Do we miss sleep? Absolutely. Do we leave dinner parties and movies? Yes. Do we push our bodies to the point where we risk our lives and the lives of others. No. Find a good back-up. Establish that relationship. Set SAFE boundaries with your clients and don't be afraid to call them in when you need to.
Interested in learning more about how to succeed as a birth photographer? You can purchase our birth photography toolkit here.
Monet Nicole is a Denver Based Birth Photographer, who photographs and films births across the front range of Colorado.