For over 8 years I've been attending births in Atlanta as a Doula, Birth Photographer, or both. It's been amazing, and I've always felt so honored to be a part of a family's journey in this way. Over the years I realized that two things about this job were pushing me toward burnout.
The first thing I learned rather quickly, and my husband reminded me of it regularly: the hours and unpredictability of birth are crazy. As a birth photographer and/or Doula, you go "on-call" for a client at her 38th week of pregnancy. For up to 4-5 weeks you are then on-call 24 hours a day. That means no traveling, trouble committing to plans, and I even missed my son's birthday one year. I considered changing the signature on my email to "unless I'm at a birth". It's hard to live this way, and that's why there are not many occupations that are done like that...in fact I can't think of one.
The second thing I learned was that it is a lonely job. With each birth I attended, I gained a "family" of clients, some of whom went on to remain friends. But the lack of co-workers meant that I didn't have anyone to process--or even just chat with. Births can be traumatic to witness, and sometimes I had questions or thoughts during a birth that I had nobody to bounce off of. And so I began searching for community. I even completed a certification to be part of the Doula Trainings International community, because this is a problem they recognize and try to fix as an organization. For me the problem remained, because I wanted more than a quarterly get together or Facebook group.
In addition to these two realizations, I was constantly terrified by the idea of not making it to a client's birth. I had back-up plans in place, and people to call, but I would have been devastated to send a stranger to a client's birth. Because if this I limited the amount of due months that overlapped, and thankfully never had to use a back up.
Last December I was daydreaming about a different way of doing this job--a different way of life. I thought of Midwives and OBs, and wondered if Birth Photographers and Doulas could use a similar model. I reached out to two amazing women who I had a "backup" relationship with, and they were interested. It helped that we lived a few blocks from each other!
We decided to go all in, and create The Birth Story Collective. We now take all birth and Hours Old (Fresh48) sessions together, interviewing and meeting with clients together, and we share call for births. We rotate every three days, so that two people are always on call. It's been glorious. Life changing. Marriage saving (ok, a bit dramatic)...
(That's me cracking up with Brittany and Claire)
We can rely on each other, support each other, and provide better services to our clients. I'm sure this way of being a birth photographer and/or Doula will catch on, otherwise people will continue to simply burn out. I feel so lucky to have found my Collective!