Birth Photography is probably the most incredible gift you can give yourself as an expectant mother. There is such freedom for both you and your partner to really focus on your birth experience without having to remember to capture it. Then, you get to live it all again from a totally different perspective. You get to see the love, support, excitement, and power of your work in the birth space in a way that really completes the story. You get to know that you will never forget the little details like the room number or the names of your favorite nurses. Best of all, you get to keep it forever and show your babies when you tell the story of their birth.
Naturally, most moms inquiring about birth photography are concerned about the possibility of the photographer NOT making it for the birth. Personally, I always want to be 100% REAL with my clients and make sure they are fully aware before booking that there is nothing that anyone can do to completely eliminate that risk. The majority of the time things work out perfectly, but the ever pertinent questions is always…what happens when they don’t?
To help you fully understand and prepare to evaluate your options, I want to go over with you some of the reasons that a photographer might have to miss a birth, the measures I take to mitigate risk, and what would actually happen if I were to miss your birth. This is a long one, but the information in important, so hang with me.
WHY THE RISK?
To put in quite simply, birth is unpredictable and largely uncontrollable. We all know this, but when you really think about it, the only two people you can be 100% certain will be present for your birth is (a) you and (b) your baby. Your doctor might not make it, your spouse or partner might not make it, heck…YOU might not even make it to your preferred birth space. The difference is, none of those things are really going to significantly change the outcome. There will (nearly) always be somewhere you can deliver with someone available to step in if your doctor doesn’t make it, and your spouse/partner can Facetime if they don’t make it. But birth photography? Yikes! That’s an art form that not just anyone can provide and it has to be done in person. So let’s talk about the reasons that I, or any other photographer, might not be able to make it.
Illness. When you’re really sick, you call into work and take the day off, right? Employers expect this and often provide time off to be used as needed for personal illness. They don’t want you coming in sick, spreading your germs, and getting everyone else in the office sick…Well that goes double for anyone who’s work involves babies. If I go in to work a birth sick I am putting your baby at risk. Keeping you and your baby healthy will always be priority numero uno.
Emergency. Much like illness, life sometimes gets in the way of your ability to report to work. Sick family members, accidents, death in the family…There are always unexpected things that can demand our immediate attention that can throw a wrench into our very best laid plans. This also includes situations where your medical provider(s) may restrict photography or even deny my presence for all or a portion of your birth for the sake of your own safety or the safety of other patients.
Act of God. This is actually a clause in almost every service contract ever. Dangerous weather conditions, freak accidents, natural disasters, a state of war…anything that any other business might shut down for in deference to the safety and well being of their employees is something that could potentially prevent me from attending your birth.
Inadequate Communication. It is totally up to you to advise me as soon as you believe you are in labor and provide regular updates on your progress. If you fail to do so as directed, for whatever reason, the risk that I will not make it in time may be greatly increased.
Unexpectedly Rapid Progress or Emergency C-section. Labor generally follows a fairly predictable pattern of roughly one centimeter dilation per hour once you’re in active labor. But there are always outliers. Some labors are inexplicably long and slow to progress. Other times a woman can make incredibly rapid progress without any real indication that it’s happening. I’ve had a couple of moms go from 5 centimeters to ready to push from one vaginal check to the next, with no pain or physical signs of rapid progression. Additionally, if your baby goes into distress before my arrival, your practitioner may make the call to rush you to the OR for an emergency c-section.
I know, looking at all of the reasons a birth photographer might not be able to photograph your birth can make you wonder why anyone would take the financial risk of hiring one. In reality, the number of births missed altogether are small. It is important that you know how extremely passionate I am about attending births. There is pretty much nothing I would rather do and I will always make a Hurculean effort to be there for the birth each and every one of my mamas. It devastates me to even have to send a back up photographer. I never, ever, ever, want my mamas to walk away feeling disappointed, even in the situations I have zero control over. So here is how I go about mitigating the risks wherever I can.
Preparing YOU For Success. I meet with each of my mamas to go over their expectations and plan for birth, and discuss how their preferences might impact their final collection of images. Part of that communication is to explain (and stress) how and when you need to notify and update me. Spoiler Alert: It’s EARLY and OFTEN.
Planning Around On-Call. When I am on-call for a birth, my whole life revolves around ensuring I can drop everything and make it to that birth within the on-call window. That means I do not leave town, make plans, or any appointments that cannot be rescheduled last minute or covered by someone else. It means I am behind the scenes coordinating with my husband, parents, and babysitters so I know where my kids are going at any given time should you call me. It means I know I might miss family time, school plays, birthdays, etc and being ok with that..
Backup Photographers. My premium birth package includes a dedicated backup photographer. What this means is that when you book it, I coordinate a backup photographer to be on-call with me during your on-call period. I pay these photographers a stipend to ensure that they will stay in town and reschedule their own sessions and appointments in the event they are needed to cover for me. They are paid regardless of whether or not I actually need to call them in. But if you choose not to book that top package, unless otherwise noted, I will still make every effort to secure and send a backup photographer for any portion of your birth that I cannot attend.
Lower Cost Packages. If you just can’t wrap your head around spending thousands of dollars with the known risks looming. My Off-Call birth package might be just what you’re looking for. Basically, this package is a Fresh 48 AND a newborn session, but birth coverage can be substituted if I am available when you go into labor. This option saves you money either way and provides a lot of flexibility.
BUT WHAT IF YOU STILL DON’T MAKE IT IN TIME?
The first thing I need to say here is that once you have reserved birth photography services, your birth photographer is turning away other potential clients and opportunities that couldn’t be rescheduled to ensure she is available to attend your birth. As much as we LOVE what we do and feel a great responsibility to make sure our mamas get their money’s worth, we are still running a business and cannot usually offer a full refund if all of our efforts to mitigate the risk fail. It is up to you to consider all of the package options and decide if the risks are worth the likely reward. Here are some of the things your photographer may offer in response to your question ‘what happens if you don’t make it?’
To capture the hours after birth or apply your entire investment toward other services.
To apply your retainer toward another service and refund the remaining investment.
To provide a Fresh 48 or Newborn session (or both) and/or a refund of the difference.
The options are likely going to depend upon the scenario in which a birth is missed. Here are a few examples to give you a better idea either what I have done or would do:
Scenario 1: Client did not keep me sufficiently updated during labor/Refusal of medical staff to allow photography. In both of these cases, the client would be in breach of contract and no refund or compensation would be available. If it’s your lack of communication that causes me to not arrive on time for the birth or you have neglected to obtain permission for photography from your hospital or OB, I will capture as much as I can and stay to capture newborn moments, bonding with parents, siblings or other family meeting baby, and baby alone.
Scenario 2: Unexpectedly rapid progress/emergency C-section. Here is a scenario I have actually encountered. I had a mama stuck at 5 centimeters thru several vaginal checks. We all decided to settle in and try to get some sleep after her epidural was administered. An HOUR later I was awoken by a call from Dad saying they were ready to push. I leaped from my bed and hit the road immediately (I was dressed and the car was loaded). Five minutes later Dad called back to say the baby had pretty much just fallen out and the nurse almost didn’t even catch her, no doctor or other staff were present. As it turns out, no one even thought she was close to delivery. The nurse was going to leave without checking again, but mama ASKED to be checked just so she could update ME. That’s what I call making a solid effort to get me there. In a case like this, I would capture all that I can as soon as I arrived AND offer to come back the next day for a Fresh 48 or to do a newborn session at home to make up the difference. Mama’s choice.
Scenario 3: My Illness/Emergency. My first course of action is going to be to call a backup photographer. Even if you haven’t chosen the package that includes a dedicated backup, there are many photographers in the area that I would trust to step in and cover all or part of a birth in the event I knew in advance that could not make it. In fact, even if I don’t have a client in labor and I have an emergency or am sick during a time I am on call, I am already reaching out to see who is available and give a few backups a heads up that I may need them. However, if you haven’t chosen to spring for a dedicated backup and I can’t find someone to come in, you will receive either a Fresh 48 or a Newborn Lifestyle session. You may choose to apply the remainder of your investment to another session and/or prints OR to have it refunded.
Scenario 4: Act of God. This is the only scenario in which a client might be entitled to a full refund, depending upon the circumstances. In general, I would take my cue to suspend on-call from local school and business closures. If you were to deliver during a time that on-call has to be suspended, you would be entitled to a full refund. Though I hope you would still choose to apply some of the balance toward a Fresh 48 or newborn session. (SIDE NOTE: Here on the Gulf Coast we have hurricanes. For the duration of a declared state of emergency, non-essential personnel are not allowed in the hospital at all. I won’t be allowed to stay and I’ve been told that your spouse might not even be allowed to stay if driving conditions are still safe. If you are due during hurricane season, I encourage you to have an evacuation plan in place and not to hesitate to execute it.)
ABOVE ALL, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TO REMEMBER THAT YOUR ARE HIRING A PASSIONATE PROFESSIONAL WHO CARES ABOUT YOU AND WOULD BE GENUINELY HEARTBROKEN TO HAVE TO MISS YOUR BIRTH FOR ANY REASON AT ALL.
As of the time I am writing this article, I have only missed 2 deliveries. The first was detailed in scenario 2 above. The second was the one and only time I have had to call in a backup photographer…for half an hour. I was there the rest of the labor and after. Lord willing, I will have a long a prolific career as a birth photographer and I have no idealistic notions that these will be the only two that I miss. But you can bet that I’m going to move heaven and earth to be there for each and every one of the families that put their trust in me to capture their most precious memories.
Are there questions, concerns, or other things that I have neglected to consider? Let me know below!