By Alda Smith
I recently saw a video of HEABC‘s Michael McMillan’s 2016 speech at Health Talks, Canada. It struck a chord with me – not only as a professional who has a passion for social innovation in healthcare and education, but also as a daughter, granddaughter, wife and mother of three who has personally experienced the importance of tackling health and educational challenges with people. Many scholars, clinicians and social scientist are, in fact, in agreement that optimised wellbeing is co-created in the context of committed relationships where minds truly meet.
Effective communication is, however, central to building relationships that deliver compassionate and optimised services and solutions in healthcare and education. True meaning, understanding and knowledge are the result of an ongoing collaboration – a continuous meeting of the minds. In fact communication can be viewed as a central clinical (and educational) function that is at the heart of healthcare delivery (Irvine, C., Spencer, D., Rivera Colsn, E., Marcus, E., Spiegel, M., Hermann, N., Charon, R. and DasGupta, S., 2016).
But communication that has the ability to heal and change, requires participants who are empowered to share and able to receive. Albert Einstein said: “If we want to improve the world we cannot do it only with scientific knowledge…we must begin with the heart of man…the humanities & science go together. Science without the humanities is lame and humanities without science is blind. They are interdependent and have a common goal…”
Health and education systems around the world are, however, plagued by various socio-economic, psychosocial, demographic, behavioral, pathological, professional and system- or policy-driven divides. There are many barriers that prevent transformative relationships. In healthcare, for example, patients’ fear, burden of work, fear of litigation and unrealistic expectations get in the way. The discourse between those who campaign for patient experience and relationships and professionals for whom clinical excellence is often rooted in reductionist medicine, is also far from ideal.
These divides and barriers, together with an overestimation of ability amongst role players in healthcare to express, listen to, interpret and act with compassion, contribute to the breakdown of much-needed relationships and the dwindling of the aforementioned collaborations. Over time this leads to ‘compassion fatigue’, professional burnout, complications, traumatic experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder and, in severe cases, preventable mortalities.
Today I am campaigning for the humanities in healthcare and education – for greater teamwork, better communication, interdisciplinary discussions and a willingness to break down the personal and professional barriers that keep us from transforming our healthcare and education systems. True healing can only begin when we build bridges, let our minds meet and make deep fluid connections that lead us to innovative, creative, co-created meanings and solutions.
Irvine, C., Spencer, D., Rivera Colsn, E., Marcus, E., Spiegel, M., Hermann, N., Charon, R. and DasGupta, S. (2016) The Principles and Practices of Narrative Medicine. USA, Oxford University Press
The article was originally written and published by Alda Smith.
1. Birth Photography is a calling – not a ‘gap in the market’
With the newborn, family and wedding photography markets being saturated and the growing interest in birth photography, many are turning their attention to what seems like the next cash cow in photography. Birth photography is however about much more than recording once in a lifetime memories and being paid for it. It takes commitment and sacrifice beyond the regular requirements. It is a specialized calling, which requires more than simply being passionate about birth, photography or both. It requires the right balance between your own needs and something much bigger than yourself, which brings forth a sense of purpose and meaning. It is truly a labor of love.
2. Birth photography is a service within the healthcare realm
It is not enough to be a good photographer when it comes to birth. You also need to comfortable with the clinical and emotional aspects of birth (being a mother does not necessarily mean that you are) and have trusting relationships with hospitals and professionals in birth (see www.sabirthphotographers.com)
There is no such thing as a neutral presence in birth and even though you are not the doula, midwife or OBG, you form an integral part of the birth team where your role is to hold the birth space, whilst capturing memories.
Birth photographers are facilitators and guides in their own way. They offer gentle, nonjudgmental support – walking alongside their clients in the journey they are on, without trying to impact or be part of the outcome or memories they are capturing.
3. Becoming a birth photographer should be a choice to specialize
“Jack of all trades master of none” often rings true in this profession as well. Being truly successful as a birth photographer might require you to specialise. This sometimes means sacrificing other niche’s (and the income that comes with it) such as wedding photography, engagements and family shoots.
Apart from the practical and time constraints with not specializing, you might struggle to hone your skills in birth when you offer a bit of everything – even if it is to stay afloat. Also not all people can appreciate the art of birth photography and one needs to be sensitive to the fact that someone looking for a wedding photographer might not want to be to be confronted with birth images – regardless of how precious they are (separate websites and social media platforms, might partially help with this dilemma if you’re not ready to specialize or specializing is not ideal for your particular business model).
Although most birth photographers have the hearts and presence of doulas (and in some instances are qualified as doulas or midwives), it might not always be that easy to offer both services at the same time. Both roles require an immense amount and a very different kind of focus and dedication and doing both these invaluable services justice (at the same time) is not easy and should rather be left to professionals who are seasoned in both and understand the unique challenges that come with offering these services simultaneously.
4. Burnout is one of the very real risks when becoming a birth photographer
Much like private midwives, birth photographers do not have the luxury of scheduling their appointments, which means they can be on call for weeks on end. Leaving family events and travelling at odd hours of the night are all part of the job, as is working in difficult, unpredictable conditions, whilst still holding the space for the parents. When a client’s birth is over, the birth photographer’s work just begins with editing and post-production.
Emotional and creative exhaustion is common in this particular healthcare service. Characteristics of the work environment, including being on call, time pressure, lack of control, sometimes strained relationships with co-workers and the emotional intensity of the work, together with the pressures of home life and often parenthood, put birth photographers at high risk for burnout and can lead to empathy-fatigue.
It is therefore important that birth photographers (and in fact ALL professionals in birth) acquire the skills to nurture themselves, whilst cultivating the ability to understand other people’s perspectives and feelings without being overwhelmed by it or letting their own emotions get in the way. Birth photographers should become masters of compassion and not just sympathy or empathy.
It is also important that birth photographers charge specialist fees – not doing so has a negative impact on the quality and representation of the industry and is simply not sustainable in the long run.
Peer support and representation by professional associations such as the South African Birth Photographers Association (www.sabirthphotographers.com) can go a long way in nourishing birth photographers and holding the space for them, whilst they do the same for their clients.
5. Natural, low light photojournalism
Birth photographers capture emotions and stories. If you prefer to have more control over your image – if styled, happy, well-lit shoots are more up your alley than fast paced moments and emotions which often play off in dim-lit and sterile rooms – then birth photography might not be for you.
Birth is raw and authentic and sometimes beautifully messy. It not predictable and even though tears of joy are mostly at the order of the day, there are also sometimes tears of incredible sadness.
Being a birth photojournalist does, however, not mean you simply take candid photos of birth – it is still an art form that requires planning, deliberate compositions, dedication and technical skill, over and above an understanding of the narrative medicine component to it.
So if you have considered the above and you’re still up for becoming a birth tog then I would like to end with the following encouragement: There is absolutely nothing like being present at the birth of a baby. It touches your heart and changes you for the better. There is no other experience quite so precious. It’s tiring, but it never gets old!
Visit www.aldasmith.com for further free birth professional resources and articles like this one.