Be gentle with yourself.
That's what the counselor said to me as I choked back heaving sobs and lifted the damp tissue to my eyes to wipe away big heavy tears that had been storing themselves up behind my eyes for the two months since we lost her.
In September 2009 I birthed our much wanted, much loved, much wished for first daughter when I was 20 weeks pregnant and she died before she even saw the light of day. I never looked into her eyes. I never saw her face. I never held her in my arms. I never gave her kisses and told her how very much I loved her.
The week she died I thought the well had run dry of tears and I'd be able to return to my regularly scheduled life as a school teacher; stoic and unfaltering.
I thought wrong. I was more like an iceberg. Slowly melting and breaking off in tiny pieces until I finally cracked under the pressure of dealing with what had happened.
When the tears began to flow uncontrollably: in the middle of an uneventful workday, on a car ride to pick up a few pantry staples at the grocery store, at the dinner table with my husband, we finally decided I needed help. I surrendered, and reluctantly made an appointment with a counselor the next week.
In therapy, I discovered just how healing art was for my soul. More specifically, photography. The brand new fancy DSLR camera I was gifted as an early baby gift, I instead picked up and used as my place to hide from the world, to process my emotions, and to reflect on who I was and who I'd become since losing our baby.
I began a photography blog that chronicled my grief journey and allowed me to embrace my broken entry into the world of motherhood.
I nourished my soul by devouring inspirational photography books and websites. I immersed myself in the process of learning how to master the technical settings of my camera, and I enrolled in classes and workshops that set me off on an entirely new journey where I launched a portrait photography business fueled by the love and passion I was discovering with a camera in hand.
It was somewhere around the time my second daughter was born healthy, and happy, and beautiful that I had an epiphany.
Be gentle with yourself.
That's what my conscience echoed when I no longer wanted to be capturing the memories of other families every weekend. Motherhood was amazing. It was flying by fast. It was harder yet more rewarding that I ever imagined it to be.
I finally had my own family memories to be making, and I wanted so badly to be at home making them.
I closed my portrait business and instead melded my two passions together.
By combining my expertise in teaching and my passion for photography, I carefully crafted the class I wished had been available when I was first learning about my camera. The four-hour Momtographie class launched in the DC metro area in February 2011 with the intent of inspiring moms to make the most of their DSLR camera investment. To take their camera (and, oftentimes, their lives) off of auto mode, take control of their memory making, and discover confidence, happiness, and love from behind the lens.
Momtographie is more that just a photography class. It's a place for moms to come together for an afternoon of connection, away from their children (a luxury many busy moms are not given often enough). It's a safe place for them to practice photography side-by-side with other women who love it as much as they do.
Now after teaching over 200 moms locally, Momtographie will expand this spring into a six-week online option, joining two other online classes: Illuminate, a five-week photography class designed specifically for the mother healing after pregnancy or infant loss and Radiate, an eight-week journey into the world of photo editing and self-discovery behind a camera lens.
I never imagined that my solo journey to heal after tragic loss would birth a thriving business that allows me to connect with women from all over the world.
Be gentle with yourself.
The words I now share with my students as they play with technical photography for the first time. As mothers, we all want to make the most of the time we have with our children while they're little. We want to remember and record every last detail. We want to creatively capture images just like the gorgeous ones we saw on Pinterest yesterday.
It's easy to become frustrated when the expensive camera we invested in isn't producing the beautiful images we expect, when our kids aren't cooperating or posing the way we'd like them to, or when we spend so much time fiddling with camera settings that once we finally figure out the right ones to use the moment is lost forever.
Many moms are surprised to hear that even professional photographers struggle with documenting their family memories. I know I sure do. My daughter has meltdowns mid-shoot, I often set my camera settings all wrong, I've forgotten to charge my camera battery on more than one occasion. I miss precious moments all the time.
But our life is a marathon, not a sprint, and our photography should be treated the same way.
There is power in knowledge and you should undoubtedly give yourself the tools to understand how your camera works so you can be in control of your picture taking. But, also give yourself time and space to simply put the camera down and enjoy your children too. And, give yourself permission to practice photography without the pressure of producing beautiful professional results in manual mode every time.
Our cameras are complex. Our children are fickle. Photography is hard. Motherhood is harder.
Be gentle with yourself first, and the beautiful images will follow. I promise.