For those of you who know me, or who have come to know me better through my website or blog, you know that photography, for me, is ultimately about capturing life in a real and meaningful way. This can manifest itself in many ways, but it inevitably comes back to photojournalistic-style portraiture, which is my favorite subset within the wide field of photography. Very rarely am I inspired to shoot landscapes or pets or sports or glamour or fine art... I appreciate the skill and artistry involved in each, but for me this medium was made to expose the complexities, joys, and sorrows of life through the faces of those experiencing it. One of my goals this year is to really work on capturing those emotions and complexities and stepping outside my pretty picture comfort zone a bit. To that end, I'm starting what I hope can be a monthly feature on the blog, where I conduct a portrait and interview session in which I attempt to capture something about my subject beyond just how they look. Starting now, I'm open to suggestions and nominations. I'm looking for men, women, and children who have a personal story to tell, be it about an unusual job, a particular obsession, an ability or disability, a triumph or tragedy or defeat... you name it: I'm open. The person must be local (or willing to come to the Triangle for their shoot) and be willing to have their portrait and story shared online... other than that, it's a free ride: the session and an 8x10 print are on me.
Today I'd like to share the first of these sessions with you... Meet Beth:
If Beth is in the room, you know about it. Her infectious, easy laugh is rivaled only by her enthusiastic exclamations of opinion... she does her Long Island heritage proud. Beth reminds me of my late grandmother in her devotion to her family and friends, her boundless energy, and her ability to see the humor in any situation, and like my grandmother those characteristics have made her one of those rare people who has never met a stranger. Beth and her husband Chris have two beautiful daughters, and last year found out that they were expecting a third child. The happiness in Beth's voice when she called to share the news cannot be overstated.
Nor can the change in her tone that said it all when she called again a week or so later.
For someone who is hoping for a child, the faintest of pink lines on a pregnancy test is all the spark necessary to ignite flames of fierce maternal love, to send thoughts wandering down the many roads of names and nurseries, loose teeth and slumber parties, driver's ed and college applications. Having miscarried twice myself between our two boys, I know that instant attachment, and the accompanying grief that comes like a punch to the gut when the doctor, eyes cast downward, says "I'm so sorry".
Grief, though, is perhaps one of the easier emotions in the complex world of miscarriage. Though the pain might feel as though it's branded on your forehead, the pregnancy itself is often invisible to the general public, and talking about miscarriage can feel like an enormous faux pas. Even the word itself seems to cast blame: as though the would-be mother somehow fumbled her baby; as though if she'd only tried harder, she wouldn't be in this mess. Everyone I've known to experience miscarriage has suffered some combination of embarrassment, guilt, and the fear of a possible deeper, darker implication underlying the loss.
Beth's miscarriage started like so many others: a bit of spotting that turned into bleeding and eventually landed her in her doctor's office awaiting The News. But in her case, the news wasn't so straightforward: "It might just be too early to tell", they said, "we'll have to keep checking." Days turned into weeks, and Beth and her husband lived on the edge - not wanting to allow themselves hope or further investment in something so tenuous, but also not wanting to ignore what might still possibly be, no matter how slim the chances. Finally, Beth's pregnancy was diagnosed as ectopic, having implanted in one of her fallopian tubes instead of in the uterus. She was given not one but two doses of a chemotherapy drug to try to encourage her body to expel the ill-fated pregnancy before surgical intervention became necessary... that which once held the promise of life now treated like a cancer to be poisoned and banished.
Through all of this - the initial heartbreak, the long wait for a definitive answer, the secondary heartbreak, then the horrible nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain that accompanied both rounds of methotrexate - Beth faced the long, often solitary days of a stay-at-home mom, keeping a cheerful face for her two daughters who couldn't possibly understand, waiting for her husband's return from work. Only then, when the kids were tucked in and she sank into the bathtub each night, did Beth allow herself to cry.
Miscarriages happen every day - an estimated one in every four pregnancies ends that way, often before a woman even knows she's pregnant. If you think about the contrast between that number and the number of women you know who've ever mentioned having a miscarriage, you know that it's a topic that many women choose to gloss over. Sadly, because of this silence, when it happens, it's often incredibly isolating. Most women just carry on about their daily lives, pretending nothing is wrong, while on the inside, a small part of them quietly, unceremoniously dies.
It's not small, though, this thing that happens in the lives of so many. If it were, then Beth - of all people - would've shrugged it off. A month ago, Beth's dog Maddi died. She wasn't young, but it came out of nowhere, and all at once the pieces that Beth had held together over the preceding months came unglued. She'd had no idea those pieces were even there, but letting them fall helped her, finally, to let go.
I certainly hope that one day in the not-so-distant future I'll be posting photos of Beth holding a beautiful newborn, a newborn who wouldn't be if not for the trials and tribulations of the past several months. Whether or not that day comes, though, I know that this experience will stay with Beth forever, strengthening her as a person, and her love and appreciation for the joys in life that we so often take for granted.