Huge life update ahead.
10 years ago I had a list of photographers sitting on my desk. I regularly referred to it because after I shot my first birth I started getting requests to travel. I had 3 children at that time, Jude was just a baby so traveling with the unpredictability of birth was not an option. I used that list to refer clients. Can you imagine writing out every birth photographer you know and having it be less than 10?! As I photographed more births, I received requests from photographers drawn to birth for me to mentor them. Later that year I started a mentoring program called The Birth Experience. It was a small group of photographers around the world. These days mentoring looks much different than it did back then! That list on my desk continued to grow and by the time it got to 22 photographers the mentoring group started to talk about how we needed something bigger. There weren’t many who publicly took on birth. Did people do it and not share, YES. But the mindset of it being a private event was very different even just a short time ago. This industry is still in its infancy. We are still fighting battles to be recognized, to see birth and women as strong, to promote birth choice and fight birth trauma and violence. Birth photographers have a unique situation on their hands. They have the ability to tell a story, as most photographers do, but they also have the ability to empower, show what options, informed consent and birth choices look like. There are battles on when and how much a woman’s body while birthing should be seen. Those first moments outside the womb are precious and it’s a huge honor and responsibility to document it. 10 years later that little list on my desk is now an International Association with over 1100 members in over 50 counties.
That boggles my mind every single day. We started small. We had growing pains. We wanted to quit more than once. We fought really hard in those early years for birth to be seen. I’m sure that’s hard to relate to now, because we’ve come so far in this regard. Birth is not only seen daily, its showcased, honored and adored. My first interview with The New York Times was a huge breakthrough for the industry, yet they didn’t share even one single image. Not one. We continued on. We started with a small image completion for members. Our first one included 40ish entries and was little more than a blog post with no media coverage. We grew. A lot. Both in membership and visibility. Over the years our image completion grew to hundreds of entries reaching 1-2 million people per year! Media coverage included People Magazine, The Today Show, Vogue, Yahoo News, The Huffington Post, national news media outlets and so many others. I say this not to brag, but to say that we had A LOT of doors slammed in our faces. I was told over and over and over again “PEOPLE DO NOT WANT TO SEE THAT!” Slammed door. Not a handful of times, many, many times, for YEARS. I had to fight so hard just to get people to listen, much less see what we were trying so hard to put out there. Most new birth photographers cannot imagine what the industry was like then. It was so very different. And I’m so glad it has changed so much. One of my favorite stories of birth photography came after the 2016 Image Competition. Krista Evans received an email from the Middle East. It stated that a group of women had gathered together in a closet to view the competition. To marvel and cry and speak for the very first time about their own experiences. In a closet. Bonding. Together. That story will stay with me forever. I still can’t believe I had even a small part in that. I’m not sure how I got to be the lucky one to lay the foundation that is IAPBP. It didn’t always feel lucky, it felt hard and challenging and there were times I cried and wanted to give up. There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears in that foundation, not only from myself, but from many of our founding members. I’m so glad we didn’t give up. I have my husband to thank for that, always encouraging me in the background. And ultimately keeping things afloat when I could not.
As many of you know in 2016 Jason and I went through 3 difficult pregnancy losses. Then, in 2017 my family went through a serious birth trauma. I’m going to be completely honest here, as difficult as birth trauma is, it was exaggerated by my role in the birth industry. I felt like we were on display, like we were supposed to “get it right” and when we did not, our failure was before a large audience. I’m probably not describing it well, it just felt like a lot of pressure that I put on myself. It’s something a lot of birth workers feel when it comes to their own births. After the trauma it was difficult for me to constantly be exposed to birth images, birth stories, birth was *everywhere* in my daily life and online because birth was my job. Exposure therapy to the max. But I wasn’t ready for that, not even close. It wasn’t healthy for me.
We had an emergency home birth transfer that ended in a traumatic caesarean section. My body broke through anesthesia and I felt part of my surgery. Even two years later, the sounds of surgery and my own screams still haunt me. Zachary was born grey, without a heartbeat. Thankfully, he was revived. Moments later I took a turn for the worse. We both survived. Recovery was brutal. I was very quickly diagnosed with PPD, PPA and compound PTSD. We haven’t shared our full birth story. It’s been two years but it hasn’t felt right yet. Maybe there will come a time it will feel right. I hope so. After 2 years most people think I should have just moved on by now. I’ve heard that pretty often actually, “just move on” and “but you have a healthy baby”. In some ways we did move on. We sold our home because it was too difficult for me to live in after the trauma. My therapist was supportive, “do it”, she said! “We don’t expect women who have been through body violating experiences and traumas to return to the scene, we generally encourage them to move.” My body trauma was certainly different than a rape but the therapy models and practices for rape and birth trauma are very, very, similar. If our home was too difficult, we could move. And we did. We moved out temporarily before selling it all to RV around the US full time. Nothing like a little bit of change right? I started to talk to my therapist about selling IAPBP because it was triggering me every single day. She asked me to hold off awhile until we finished EMDR therapy, because things might get easier. Many of my triggers did get easier. It took a year but I was able to drive again and able to be near water again. EMDR helped me immensely. So I agreed to hold off. Jason agreed. Mostly because we were also changing literally every single other thing about our lives. I was mostly walking away from shooting in Austin and my business of 13 years to hit the road. We sold our house and 90% of our things, so yeah, lots of change. But there was also talk of finding a way for birth work to be healthy for me. I mean, it makes sense, a lot of birth workers come from a place of trauma, they find solace in working with and supporting mothers as a doula, midwife, photographer, etc. I personally know many people who have found healing this way. And that’s wonderful for them. I was pretty jealous of them. People would say to me “You can be an advocate!” or “You understand now so you can use your platform to help others!” or “Turn this in to something good!” It may sound awful, but I didn’t want that. Those things felt hard and I wasn’t anywhere near healthy enough to share my trauma. I didn’t need to turn it in to something else. I selfishly didn’t want an inspirational spin because it wasn’t going to help me be ok. For some people, it helps and that’s so great. I was suffering too deeply to wrap my head around that. I just needed to sit in the pain long enough to be ready to heal. And I needed to not involve my work in that. It took me a long time to understand that those feelings were ok and I shouldn’t feel guilty about that. I needed to do everything I could to survive PPD and be ok again. PTSD doesn’t allow your brain to “move on”. It tells you that you are in a perpetual state of danger, constant adrenaline spikes. I never felt safe, I couldn’t talk myself in to it because it wasn’t a choice. I knew immediately after Zachary’s birth that being in the birth space as a photographer would never be healthy for me again. My feelings about that haven’t changed in the last two years. I feel angry about it sometimes. That the thing I loved so much was taken from me by our very own birth and trauma. Angry and sad that I will never experience witnessing another birth like I did with so many clients. I loved it. I was good at it. It’s definitely been a mourning process to let go of that part of my life and job. Then thinking about walking away from a business and industry that helped define me professionally and personally for 10 years, that was also a difficult decision. One we didn’t take lightly. We tossed it around for a long time. Jason took over 99% of the daily operations of IAPBP after the trauma. That helped a lot. But when image competition came back around in 2018, it was clear it was just too difficult for me. And as willing and supportive as Jason has been, running a birth photography association was never his dream. He’s stepped up so many times, in so many ways. He was willing to do all of the work and all of the things for the association, but he wasn’t willing to let me suffer any more than I already had. IAPBP is what it is today because of him. But I can’t ask him to spend his days doing anything if he doesn’t really love it. Simplifying our lives, selling our home, seeking a life with joy through our travels has taught me that.
So, we decided to sell.
On June 6, 2019 Jason and I sold our business, the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers to Liz Cook. Liz is an incredible person. She’s kind, she’s committed, she has a passion for birth and motherhood. She’s a veteran birth photographer and educator. She was actually one of our first 20 founding members. She knows and loves the birth industry and as soon as I saw her proposal, I felt instantly at peace. I know she is the right person to jump in and take IAPBP to the next level. There are so many hopes, dreams and plans we had for the association and I am so excited to see Liz move forward with them, plus many of her own. We are here to support her through the transition and beyond. We will be the 2 people in the back row wildly cheering the loudest when IAPBP has a success. It’s such a big part of our family and who we are, it’s hard to move on. But it’s time. As we signed the contracts, Jason sat and held my hand. He said “It’s time to move on.” and for the very first time in over two years, that phrase wasn’t triggering, it was healing. And there was a feeling of peace within me that this was the right decision.
If you’ve made it through this entire post, thank you for giving me the time and space to share about our life and moving on. If you are a member of IAPBP, thank you for sticking with us, through thick and thin, through all the growing pains and offering your support along the way. I’ve met so many incredible people I hold so dear, members, judges, members of the media. The birth industry will always be a special part of our life and story. I feel immensely blessed to have been a part of the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers.
So now what?! We just sold our only source of income. Yeah, that’s pretty terrifying. When we started traveling full-time I left a very busy, financially thriving, photography business in Austin. Four months after launching out of Texas Jason was laid off as a part of a reorganization with a company he’d been with for 10 years. Losing 2 income sources in the first year of nomading around the country was a huge adjustment. This last year has been hard. We knew we wanted and needed a change. We are SO excited to finally share this with you, we’ve been working on it behind the scenes for a long time! We spent a lot of time thinking about the life we want, if we want to continue to travel or stop and put down some roots. But mostly, we wanted our future to involve something that Jason would really enjoy doing. He deserves that.
And that brings us to our next big announcement, we are starting a new business! We’d like to introduce you to Seriously SEO
Jason jumped in and started educating himself and taking courses many months ago. He’s worked so hard on his education to get this off the ground, I am so proud of him! It’s been a lot of work but it’s also been a pretty easy transition with his software development experience. Plus all of his experience working on birthphotographers.com and Life in Motion Photography through the years, he has such a good handle on not only the technical aspects but also on what people need out of SEO. We are so excited to launch Seriously SEO, an agency that caters to small businesses. We will be sharing more about our services soon. If you know anyone who could benefit from search engine optimization we would love it if you would share Seriously SEO with them. Please come like us on social media! We will be sharing a lot of SEO tips in the coming days, as well as specials discounts for SEO services!
Seriously SEO on social media:
Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Youtube | Twitter
We have been preparing for this, planning, working, studying behind the scenes for such a long time. It feels good to be excited for our future and our new business.
So, that’s it, huge life update all in one super long post!
With love and gratitude,
Thank you so much for sharing. I have been around since it’s early years and have really enjoyed getting to know your family and supporting/cheering you on from afar! Congratulations on your new venture, but also for doing what needs to be done. It’s inspiring because it’s often not easy! Peace, Stradtners!