I have a dream job -- I photograph people for a living. And over the last 10 years, I've been blessed to photograph some of the top musicians and celebrities in the world. During the first part my career, I was laser focused on one priority: being the best, most reliable photographer for my clients, and I devoted every ounce of my body, mind, and soul to work.
When I became pregnant with my first child, it was a game changer -- suddenly, I had two priorities. Being the best photographer I could be -- while simultaneously being the best pregnant-Mom I could be. Some days, these priorities worked well, hand in hand. Other days, my unpredictable and high-pressure industry made my shoots challenging.
I want to start a conversation about how photographers and other independent creatives can approach having children, while maintaining their careers. When I was pregnant with my son, I devoured every word of Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg. However, because I was a freelancer, and in a career that had physical demands, I found that guidance targeted toward women in the corporate world just didn't apply to me.
I think it can only benefit us to openly talk about our experiences as freelancers who are starting families. I would love to hear from other photographers, directors, cinematographers, assistants, and other independent creatives about your experience working while pregnant. Or, for women who are hoping to start families soon, what are your biggest questions or concerns about going through pregnancy in your job?
I'm certainly not trying to compare my life as a pregnant photographer to any other profession. I know that my work is worlds away from the experiences of a pregnant police officer, nurse, surgeon or soldier. I can only talk about my experience, in my profession, in hopes of finding ways to support women who want to safely and confidently have children while working in photography and film.
#1 Unpredictable Environments
Because my work ranges from studio to documentary, my shooting environments are completely different on every job. Sometimes, I didn't even know the actual locations of a shoot until I arrived on set. I found myself on shoots where people were smoking cigarettes or marijuana. There were shoots with fog machines (see #10) and studios with recently painted walls. There was loud -- way, way too loud -- music in recording studios, cars, and concerts. There were long days, with not nearly enough time to sit down, rest or eat. I often struggled with keeping myself in an environment that I considered safe for pregnancy, while still getting the job done. I had to find ways to stand up for myself and my growing baby, but in a manor that wouldn't affect my work or my relationships with my clients and subjects.
#2 Pressure to Seem as Capable as a Non-Pregnant Photographer
I never wanted my clients to think I wasn't a capable photographer because I was pregnant. In fact, I hid my pregnancy from Facebook and social media, partially because I worried that clients wouldn't want to hire a pregnant photographer. While women in the corporate world are (supposed to be) legally protected from being fired due to pregnancy -- the same protections don't (and possibly can't) be applied to freelancers. Luckily, I was blessed with clients who were extremely understanding of my pregnancy -- most continued to hire me and had no problem when I set some basic limits on my work, such as excusing myself if there were people smoking. Still, when it came to more physically strenuous shoots, I would do my best never to appear tired or uncomfortable. And as anyone who has been pregnant knows, it isn't always comfortable. It isn't always easy. I didn't want my clients thinking I wasn't performing at the same level as I did pre-pregnancy. So there were times that I pushed myself way past my comfort zone in order to get the job done without looking exhausted or in pain.
#3 Not Knowing How a Break Would Affect my Career
Prior to pregnancy, I had never taken time off from work. In the 7 years I was shooting before getting pregnant, I took two vacations, which were each less than a week long. When I got pregnant, I knew I would have to take time off at the end of pregnancy and during my recovery. Because of this, I often worried that if I was unavailable for work for a few months, my clients might find replacements for me, and I would lose the momentum I had worked so hard to build. As a freelancer, there is no maternity leave, so I had no guarantees that my work would be there when I returned. Because of this, I started taking work as soon as I possibly could after my son was born, taking my first shoot when he was 6 weeks old. Given that I had a (very unplanned) c-section, I look back now and realize how emotionally and physically challenging it was for me to start shooting so soon after his birth.
#1 Connecting with my Subjects
One of the most important parts of my job is quickly connecting with and establishing trust with people I've just met. In my work, the single most important thing is making sure the people I'm photographing are comfortable with me. And I found that, during pregnancy, this was especially easy. Pregnancy is such an incredible common experience for those that have experienced it, or whose loved one's have been through it. There were many shoots that I found myself immediately in an intimate, honest discussion about pregnancy, birth and motherhood before I even took out my camera.
#2 Parenting Advice from Superstars
It was a pretty amazing experience, getting to talk about parenting with so many well known people. Swizz Beatz was adamant that I was having a boy, even though I told him that everyone in my family has girls. Spoiler alert: he was right :) I got to talk with musicians, actors and executives about their pregnancies (or wives' pregnancies) and children. I got to see family photos, and hear stories about the hilarious things their 3 year olds said at dinner the night before. There were musicians who were so protective of me that they would insist on carrying my camera bag and opening the door for me. There was even a K-pop star who ordered me a whole meal because she was worried that I hadn't eaten enough during the shoot!
#3 Telling My Kids About All the Cool People They Met When Growing in my Belly
I love when my son hears a song on the radio and I get to tell him "That's Colbie Caillet! Mommy worked with her when you were growing in my tummy, and you got to hear her sing just a few feet away from Mama's belly!" My son loves Ed Sheeran's music and I've often wondered if he somehow remembers hearing Ed singing and playing guitar next me when I was pregnant. I love showing him photos of him in Mommy's belly, backstage at Radio City Music Hall or on set shooting magazine and advertising work.
Balancing pregnancy with life as a photographer was harder than I expected, but also provided me with some unbelievable opportunities. It was physically challenging, especially on days that I was having extra aches and pains, and emotionally challenging when trying to balance the needs of my clients vs the needs of my body and baby. At the same time, it provided me with a rich network of Moms and Dads who had been through pregnancy and parenthood in my industry.
Please comment below or on Facebook, and let me know -- how was your experience? Or, if you are considering having children in the future, what are your questions or concerns about approaching pregnancy while maintaining your career?
I have so much more I want to discuss about life as a photographer and Mom. If you'd like to stay up to date with these conversations and more, please sign up for my newsletter below. <3