Yet another person asked me the other day if it was possible to become a mom and keep a photography business going. (The wedding and portrait photography industry is inundated with a lot of 20-something-year-old ladies getting seriously broody it seems.) A few years back when we were thinking about the unknown of falling pregnant, I remember feeling so completely in the dark as to how I could run my business, not knowing what to expect at all in terms of what I could cope with or how much work I could take on.
Over the past few years, I have experienced a whirlwind rollercoaster of motherhood. As I write this, I can hear my 19 month old busy baby girl blabbering in the background, my 8 week old bundle is finally down for a nap and I am grateful that they have brought so much healing to our hearts after losing our bright and busy 18 months old son 2 years ago. Throughout all three of my pregnancies and baby's lives, I have done shoots, worked, travelled and have met the most beautiful people and know that my photography business has given me the space and expression to be a better mother. Conversely, I think that becoming a mother has helped me to be a better photographer. I often feel so lucky that I have the best of both worlds - I can spend time with my kids and watch them growing up and play with them but I can also get out, be creative and have something that is for myself.
While I'm in the mommy-zone, I thought I would write down my thoughts for all the ladies out there who are thinking of taking the (huge) leap into motherhood and sharing what helped me. This is completely personal and might not apply to everyone; it is just based on my own experience and what I've found works for me. Of course until you have had a child you have absolutely no idea what it's going to entail or what you're in for. Every person experiences motherhood and pregnancy very differently and every child is so vastly different.
Shooting with a bump
I have found that shooting weddings and portraits while pregnant has been such a special and positive thing - older people at weddings especially tend to regard you as particularly endearing and guests expressed nothing but intrigue and concern as I jumped up onto chairs or wine barrels to get a shot. As weddings are a part of our lives, so are families and babies.
These are some of the questions I get asked regularly and experienced myself:
How far into pregnancy can you work?
This is a very personal thing. With baby #1, he was due in September - which meant I shot my last wedding in June at around 28 weeks. It was great to have July and August to get myself sorted but I felt that I could have shot for longer. With baby #2, with her being due in December, I shot my last wedding at 38 weeks and I did notice my body taking strain at that last shoot. Also, I started feeling a bit annoyed with my shoot sac resting on my large belly, 2 big cameras stung around my neck, trying to slip past narrow spaces in wine cellars along with the waiting staff. I would advise to take on weddings until 36 weeks at the latest. You can continue for longer - but the worry of the baby arriving early as well as your body taking strain in the last month is not really worth it. That way you can finish up your editing in the last month and be take some actual maternity leave when the baby arrives. Portrait shoots are a little bit less taxing and can be more easily cancelled and I felt fine up until 38 weeks for these.
It's a very good idea to chat to friends in the industry to organize a back-up if you do happen to shoot weddings past 36 weeks pregnant - as babies can often arrive earlier than expected and you don't want to let someone down.
When is a good time to have a baby?
Obviously it's preferable to plan to have a baby during the winter months when the wedding season is at a low... but nature doesn't always go according to plan. With baby #1, we thought it would take at least 6 months to get knocked up and it was pretty instant, with baby #2, I would never have planned to have a December baby as it's crazy season but that's when my daughter arrived... and with #3, it wasn't entirely planned but June is a great time in Cape Town to have a babs when the season is quiet anyway.
When do you tell your clients that you are pregnant?
For photographing weddings that I was able to, I didn't really think that it mattered whether I was pregnant or not as I viewed shoots the same; and aside from being a bit slower in the last trimester, didn't think that being pregnant affected my work. However, because you can't plan exactly when you're going to fall pregnant, I had to cancel a few bookings that were near to my due date. Many people wait until the 12 week mark to announce their pregnancy but I've never felt comfortable with knowing that I'm going to have to let people down and have always wanted to give people as much time to find another photographer - so I have always told my clients as soon as I've found out about any pregnancy. I sent personal emails to couples who had booked me, explaining that I was pregnant and obviously returning their retainer fees that they had paid to me. I found that although people were disappointed, the news of a new life usually brings excitement and people were grateful that I had given t hem lots of notice.
I also thought it was fair to contact my clients whose weddings were in the last month of my pregnancy to let them know that I was pregnant and could possibly go into early labour (but probably wouldn't) and had arranged a back-up photographer. In this case I checked with friends in the industry who could potentially cover my last few weddings in case I did go into early labour.
Don't you get uncomfortable shooting while preggers?
I found that I had to adjust my shooting style a little bit - lying down on your belly after 5 months or so is not that comfortable but else I found it fine until the last month when waddling became a comfortable way of getting about. The first trimester of pregnancy can also be very draining as fatigue and nausea can hit quite hard. I have always found shooting energising and it's been good to be distracted from feeling exhausted. I've been quite lucky in my pregnancies though and know that some people can vomit for the whole 9 months or have complications... so this is also a personal thing.
Working and shooting with a (living, crying, adorable) bundle
It's true - nothing can prepare you for the reality of a newborn baby. They are helpless, utterly dependant little beings who will ravage your life and your sleep and your body. But oh how you will love that pathetic little thing with all of your being. As much as I've loved my babies, it is so fantastic to get out and about and hang out with grown-up people, be creative and not be vomitted on for a few hours.
When can you work again with a baby?
It's true that the first 6 weeks are the most hectic and then things slowly start to get less hectic until 12 weeks when you're in a bit of a routine. It's possible to work from the early days but I would advise giving yourself time to adjust and enjoy your baba. If it's financially possible, try not to shoot weddings for the first 3 months - they go by so quickly. I've found though that after 6 weeks of being completely around kids, I am quite keen to get out and about a bit and do something just for me - so have taken on portrait shoots at 6 weeks postpartum - they are less stressful and shorter in duration and I've so enjoyed getting out and about and getting a break from my own little world.
For shooting weddings, it's a better idea to wait until the baba is 12 weeks when your milk is settled (if you choose to breastfeed) and your baby is in a bit more of a routine. Saying that, I shot my first weddings with baba#1 and #2 when they were 6 weeks old but it can be hectic, especially if you're breastfeeding.
Is it possible to shoot and breastfeed?
Absolutely… I've breastfed all my kids until around 8 months - until they started to bite me. You will need to invest in a breast pump and you will feel like a cow, seriously. Before I had kids, I had no idea that I would have to express milk if I couldn't feed my baby as your breasts fill up and start leaking. Your body produces enough milk for your baba who generally will feed every 3 hours - so if you shoot a 10-12 hour wedding day, you will need to express sometime as else you will feel like your boobs will explode and leak milk all over. It's oh so very glamourous. Realistically you're not going to be able to get away every 3 hours at a wedding but I found that if I could feed the baby just before I left home and then express once while starters were served then I could make it fairly comfortably during the day. During this time I've asked my assistant to cover for me if anything did happen but found that it was never a problem. Sometimes my car has been parked in a discreet enough place or people at the wedding venue have always been accommodating in helping me find a private spot to go with my pump.
I would then bring a little cooler bag to store the milk in so that once I get home I could pop it in the freezer to be used while I was out at my next shoot.
It's worth investing in a good electric pump that is portable and can double pump if possible. It's also worth getting your baby used to the bottle from a few weeks old so that they can be fed by someone else.
Saying all of that - if you're not able to breastfeed or if trying to breastfeed is too stressful, don't beat yourself up - there is enough guilt out there for moms.
How do you get your editing done?
Some babies do sleep a lot during the day but a lot don't. It's a big misconception that you can work while the baby sleeps. Some people may get lucky with good day sleepers, but it's good to have a support system in place and absolutely vital to getting anything done. I have had a nanny at home and on those days that she is there, I go to my office, work like a crazy person and let her look after my kids. On the days that she isn't there, I can fit some work in during nap times but that's a bonus.
It's good to have these focussed days so that I am not trying to do 2 things at once and can give my kids the attention they need when I am there and not resent them for taking up my time.
Before kids I could edit around the clock and potentially waste a lot of time on the computer. Now when I sit down to work, I am so focussed as I know I have a limited number of hours. It's been great to achieve some balance as I know a lot of photographers who sit at their computers 24/7 and who waste a lot of that time like I did before.
How do you cope with sleep deprivation?
I was really worried that I would be able to work with limited sleep but have found shooting to be so energizing and positive. Somehow, even after 2 hours of sleep, it's been so great to get out and shoot that you use resources you didn't know were there. Sitting behind a computer on 2 hours sleep is a different story and sometimes I've just had to leave something till a little bit later after a power nap when I would be much more productive.
How do you achieve the balance between motherhood and work?
Aside from having a support system in place to help look after your child, I think the next important thing is not to take on too much work. If you are spread too thin, you will just get stressed, become grumpy and will not enjoy motherhood or life in general.
Time has become much more precious when I have so little of it - so I am very selective on the shoots I take on. It can take a while to learn this balance for yourself, depending on how you work and what sort of baby you have. I've found that it's perfect to shoot around 3 weekend weddings per month and preferably only 1 portrait shoot per week so I am only away from home for 2 evenings a week. This seems to work well for us for now.
Of course, some days I feel like I have everything sorted and sometimes I can feel like the wheels are coming off - but generally it's so possible to have the best of both worlds and to do them both well.