Why I Hired a Birth Photographer

When I had my first child the idea of photographing the occasion never even entered my mind. I don’t think I had ever heard of a birth photographer at that point. I didn’t own a camera and this was before the days of decent quality cell phone cameras. I do not have one single picture of him in the hospital. By the time baby number two made her appearance 5 years later Cameron at least managed to get a few cell phone photos. They are tiny and bad quality, but at least I have a few images of her sweet little face.

Each subsequent child has been the same. I few photos taken in the hospital after birth by Daddy. Maybe 1-2 of me holding the baby looking awful. All of them poor quality. As much as dad tries he just isn’t a photographer. His composition often leaves much to be desired, and the auto setting on the camera can’t capture the moment in the way that I want to see it.

Then with baby #6, and my first homebirth, we didn’t get one single picture on the day of his birth. After almost two hours of start and stop labor when he decided to come it was fast, and neither one of us even thought about picking up a camera! The first pictures I have of Jack are the next day when we were visiting with Grandpa and Grandma. I am so angry at myself!

I was determined not to let that happen with the next baby. When I was in labor with Wally I got out my camera, set all the settings where I wanted them, and placed it on the counter. We were not going to forget again! Cameron snapped a few pictures of me in labor and after he delivered the baby he grabbed the camera and snapped a few more. I LOVE those pictures. Seeing myself in those precious moments is such an amazing gift, but like The Little Mermaid “I want more!”

With my most recent birth I determined that I was going to have a birth photographer. I was incredibly fortunate to find Elsa Shaw, a wonderful photographer and person. We met before hand and really clicked. When I was in labor I called her up and she rushed right on over. Unfortunately Miss Hannah decided that she was quite eager to enter the world and arrived just a few minutes before Elsa did. Elsa still got some amazing photos of those precious moments right after birth. Since she wasn’t there very long that night she offered to come back the next day when the siblings came to meet baby. I have NEVER had any pictures with the entire family in them meeting the baby. There has always been a parent or older child missing from them because someone has to hold the camera.

These photographs are completely priceless to me. They show me my own strength. They tell Hannah the story of her amazing birth. They remind me of the nobility in motherhood. They tell a story to others about the value of motherhood. They will exist long after I am gone to remind Hannah and her children that they are part of a family that loves them dearly.

Thank you Elsa! You have given me the most amazing gift that I have ever received by documenting these moments for me.

5 Easy Steps to Reclaiming Your Muchness

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My last post was about my feelings as I lost and then reclaimed my muchness. Today’s post is all about how I got my muchness back. Each person has a unique journey ahead of them, but here are a few simple steps anyone can take to help them create their own new path.

5 Easy Steps to Reclaim Your Muchness | Smithsquad.com | Alice in Wonderland quote | Mad Hatter | Finding your life's purpose

Recognize What You Have Lost

I knew I wasn’t happy, but it took me a while to figure out that it was because I had changed. It was so easy to blame things on my circumstances and relationships. It was much harder to look inward and take responsibility for my own happiness in life. Instead of saying if only I had more money, if only I had a better relationship with my spouse, if only I didn’t have an ex, if only… I started looking back on my childhood and asked myself what about me has changed? What things am I doing differently? What things did I love that I have now given up? What talents have I buried instead of growing? Identifying what exactly it was about me that had changed, and whether those changes were good or bad led me to then ask myself. What can I change?

Identify What You Need

As you look at the changes that you’ve made for the worse you can identify what you need to change about yourself to find more fulfillment in life. Maybe you need to speak up for yourself more. Maybe you need to pursue a talent or passion that you once had. Maybe you need to leave an abusive situation. Maybe you need to work more hours, or less. Only you know what exactly it is that you need. Ask yourself is there anything that I used to love as a kid that I no longer do? Are there any specific character traits I had as a child that I wish I hadn’t lost? Is there any knowledge that I wish I had pursued? What did I want to be when I grew up and do I still want that?

Find a Great Mentor and Support System

Change is hard for anyone. When you are suffering from a lost of muchness you often find that your gumption for making change has been completely eradicated. This is when it is crucial to surround yourself with those who can lift you up and keep you going. Find someone who will ask the hard questions and not let you make excuses. Sure a good rant to a supportive friend is great and necessary, but you also need someone who is going to give you a swift kick to the rear when needed. Use mental health professionals, friends, online groups, life coaches, or any other resource you can. The more support you have the better.

My first steps into discovering who I am were prodded along by Jeff Jochum. He is the king of the question why? Dig deeper, why do you want/feel/need that? He can be quite aggravating at times, but that’s exactly what I needed at that point. Someone who didn’t put up with any excuses and made me ask myself the hard questions. At that point I knew I needed to make changes, but I was still afraid. I continued to build up my support base with an AMAZING church leader, a few close supportive friends, and a weekly women’s support group at church. About a year after working with Jeff I had the opportunity to attend a class at the CreativeLive studio with Julia Kelleher called The Creative Newborn Studio. At the beginning of the class she gave each of us some clay and told us to just create something. It didn’t matter what it was just create. It was such a freeing experience. I was right back in childhood and having a blast. I was proud of my cute little creations. As her class continued the focus on being artistic really opened up a desire I had stuffed down for far too long. I wanted to create. I needed to create. I was then given an amazing opportunity work with Christine Tremoulet in her Blogging Brilliantly course. I thought I was in for a great course on using blogging to help build my business. What I got was so much more. She really focused on making your brand YOU and that meant that I had to find me. She has been an amazingly supportive mentor and cheerleader and still pushes me to keep digging deeper and doing better. She is also the one who helped me create a clearly defined purpose for my life.

Define Your Purpose

I believe that everyone needs to have a purpose in life. That is where the true joy is found, in having and working towards a good and deep purpose. I’m not talking about a specific goal like making 100,000 a year or creating 100 art pieces. I’m talking about a deep and never ending purpose that motivates you throughout your entire life. When you have a purpose and you are working it suddenly so many little things in life just don’t seem to matter as much. Just as every person is unique so are our life purposes. What really helped me refine my purpose was creating a manifesto. This was something I did as a part of Christine’s Blogging Brilliantly class. She had me write down hundreds of statements in different forms and answering different questions. I then cut out all of those statements onto wordstrips and sorted them to decide what were my top thoughts and ideas that had to be included. My manifesto is below and you can read Christine’s manifesto here.

What is my purpose? I celebrate the nobility in motherhood through writing, photography, and art as I care for my own large family. This isn’t just a one time achieve it and I’m done goal. This is a purpose that can and does drive me in everything I do.

My manifesto| SmithSquad.com| I Believe in the nobility of motherhood
Creating a series of I Believe statements can help you to identify your purpose in life.

Take Action

This is usually the hardest part of the entire process. It’s easy to know we need a change adn dream about a change. It’s also very easy to come up with a million reasons why we can’t do it. It’s scary, it’s hard, and sometimes it looks near impossible. This is, once again, where an amazing support system comes into play. I clearly remember the conference call with Christine where she suggested I back away form being a full time photographer and focus on my blog. As she talked to me she had been able to hear the passion in my voice for motherhood. She could feel my frustration that the needs of my large family, which are very important to me, were hampering my ability to make my business a real success. As we talked about the possibility of focusing on the things I could do from home, blogging adn art, and keeping photography and a fun hobby rather than a business it all clicked into place. That didn’t make it any easier to take action, however, even though I knew it was the right action to take. It was very hard to give up that dream of being a full time birth and family photographer. Because I know and embrace my life’s purpose, however, I am able to refocus and accept that maybe that will happen at a later season in my life. I still fear that no one will want to read what I have to write. There are days when I suffer from some major imposter syndrome as I write. There are sometimes days on end where I look at my art supplies and just walk away because the thought of creating something from my heart and having it rejected is terrifying. As I become “much more…muchier” it becomes easier and easier.

 

You Can Find Your Muchness

Muchness isn’t something that we lose and never get back. It is somethign that we can strive to achieve and build upon every day. It is knowing that we have a divine purpose and that we are creating the path that will help us fulfill it. It is taking responsibility for yourself and your happiness. It is the process of shedding the pressure of living up to someone else’s standards and instead creating our own ideals.

Muchness is where the true happiness and joy in life are found.

Have you lost your muchness? Will you commit here and now to seek it out? Have you reclaimed your muchness? Have you found your purpose in life? What is it?

Memorial Day- The Dark Side of Military Service

As I have seen all the media hullabaloo leading up to Memorial day this year it has caused me to reflect on my own military service as well as that of my husband. I joined the Marine Corps straight out of high school and served for eight years. My husband waited a little longer to join, he was a few years out of school, and served for 7.5 years. We met while serving and had our first two children together while on active duty. My husband is now currently serving in the National Guard.

We are both proud of our service. We did hard things. We deployed. We were part of something bigger than ourselves. We were willing to die for our country. This is what you hear from most active duty and veterans. What you don’t hear, and what you probably don’t want to hear, is that there is a dark side to service.

The military is one of the most emotionally sick places that I have ever been in my life. It was a dark time for me emotionally and spiritually. The worst mistakes I made in my life were a result of trying to fit in and be a part of a culture that was the polar opposite of the values I had been raised with. The incongruity between my actions and what I knew to be right caused me to struggle with depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.

veteran suicide awareness| SmithSquad.com | 22 too many | Marine Corps | military suicide | Mental Health

Did you know that roughly 22 veterans commit suicide every day? Some articles will try to tell you that this is a trumped-up statistic as the majority of veterans are older. They say these veterans shouldn’t count because their reasons for suicide are the same as any other civilian of that age. I don’t buy it. Military service affects you in a way that never leaves your mind, especially if you have been in active combat. Sure many of these vets may fight their demons off for years, but that doesn’t mean that it affected them any less, or that their suicide is unrelated to their service.

Why is it that mental issues like depression, anxiety, and even suicide are so common among military members? Well I can’t say it any better than my husband did on a recent Facebook post where he accepted a challenge to do 22 push-ups to raise awareness for veteran suicide:

I wanted to accept this challenge because what I can do to raise awareness is to talk about my experience in the active duty ranks of the military. If we want to see a reduction in suicides, we need to address the culture of the military that pressures service members to be supermen and women without feelings. We need to hold military leaders’ feet to the fire with the claim that they care about families. To the military, caring about families means spending money on them when it should mean creating an environment in which the family member who serves is not destroyed by the pressures of the job. We need to transform the culture that celebrates pornography, promiscuity, and alcoholism into one in which service members can feel it’s normal, okay, and healthy to seek help in overcoming problem behaviors. While service members do have access to chaplains and mental health professionals, they are often called names and counseled that their careers will suffer if they use those resources. Leaders don’t want their people to have problems, be weak, or discuss poor leadership with anyone outside the chain of command.

If you think military suicides are a problem, they are just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is that the American military is the most mentally unhealthy, destructive place on the planet. Going after suicides can and should only lead to the discovery that the problem is much deeper, much bigger than gets reported in the news. If you want to solve this problem, you have to be committed to going all the way. So called “suicide awareness” campaigns are only a last-ditch effort to prevent the consummation of a tragedy that has been building for months and years in the minds of affected service members. Our young people suddenly leave families and friends, endure the pressures of basic training, and enter a world in which power-hungry, ego-tripping maniacal senior leaders bark orders ad nauseam with no (or feigned) regard for the well-being of their subordinates—to say nothing of the horrors of war many of them experience. After work, these young people live in a world where sex and alcohol are easy to find and seemingly limitless. With young people beginning their lives away from home this way—essentially living like college students with the added dangers of a high-stress job, less supervision, more freedom, and more money to spend—it is no wonder so many of them can’t handle it. I’m proud of my military service and what my brothers and sisters in arms have accomplished for this country, but there is much work to be done. Yes, suicides are a problem, but at the root of that problem is the destructive culture. The problem will continue until the root is cut.

About 3 years into my service I went to see a counselor to address my depression. I had one appointment. When requesting further appointments I was told I had to schedule them during non-work hours, they would not excuse my absence from work for a 1 hour counseling appointment. The counselors on base are only available during work hours. When my husband once sought some anger management classes he was advised against it because it could negatively impact his career. When a young marine I was in charge of took rat poisoning trying to end his life the SSgt over me made the comment “If he really meant it he would have succeeded. Don’t worry about him. I’ll straighten him out.” He was then moved to another direct supervisor because the SSgt thought I was babying him by showing concern. I spent many hours sitting and talking with those who had nowhere else to turn with their problems. When I left the Corps a few marines commented that I should be called Mama Smith instead of SSgt Smith. I was an oddity because of the level of true compassion I showed towards my Marines. “They’re tough, they don’t need you treating them like sissies” was once said to me by my top enlisted leader. When a fellow Marine asked those sharing his changing area to remove a pornographic poster that was on the wall he was ignored and ridiculed for the rest of his time in the unit. I could go on and on.

The fact is that the Military is a dark place full of unhealthy attitudes and behaviors. If you don’t conform to their beliefs then you are an outcast, often ridiculed and unjustly persecuted. Add in the pressures of war and the effects of PTSD and it’s no surprise that so many veterans, especially those who were raised with much higher moral standards, are struggling with mental illness and suicide.

 

So what can we do about it. Unfortunately I haven’t found a way to influence a culture change. What I can do is support those organizations who try to assist veterans overcome the problems that their service has created. At the top of my list is The Valhalla Project. The Valhalla Project is a 200-acre pilot property in the Ozark mountains with homesteading programs for post-9/11 military veterans. It is a retreat and reintegration facility for post-911 combat veterans and war zone civilian workers transitioning back into the civilian world. They work the land as a form of therapy to help deal with the trauma that they have experienced. One of the best ways to help them is to check out their critical needs wishlist on Amazon and send them a gift. You can also follow them on Facebook to be updated on any needs, and share their message with others. Direct donation via Paypal is also available on their blog.

Here are some other organizations who are fighting the mental health battle against veteran suicide:

Do you know a veteran or are you a veteran with mental health issues related to your service? Do you know of any additional resources for those who want to be part of the solution? Please share your stories and resources in the comments below. 

Run Like a Girl

Have you seen this video from Always? They brought in several people and asked them to do things “like a girl”. Run like a girl, hit like a girl, fight like a girl, etc. The results were very enlightening.

I joined the Marines when I was 18 because I was sick of people looking at me and treating me “like a girl”. Simply being female made me weak, frail, silly, etc. For many years I embraced that and played it up, but it was like a grain of sand in your shoe that causes you more and more irritation the longer it’s in there. I was more than just make-up, high heels, and flirty silliness. I was out to show the world that even a 100lb skinny little white girl could be tough. I can’t even begin to list the number of comments that I received telling me I’d never make it when I announced my decision to go to bootcamp. Not only did I make it, but I did a pretty darn good job at it if I say so myself. I was one of the first ones to reach the top of the rope in boot camp. I was an E-6 at 7.5 years.  I completed a tour to Iraq. I was the main person from the shop briefing the colonel, at his request. I don’t mean to sound braggy, but you know what, I’m proud of the work that I did while I was enlisted (as long as we don’t talk about my abysmal scores on the rifle range that is).

Then I got out so that I could be a stay at home mom. This time I didn’t get you can’t do it comments. Instead I got the why would you want to? I was told that being a SAHM wasn’t a life and that I would regret not pursuing my career. I had to listen to my superiors tell me on a daily basis that I would regret getting out, didn’t I at least want to go reserve? Embracing my womanhood by being a mom wasn’t something to be proud of the way being a Marine was.

newborn baby born at home|homebirth|unassisted birth
Yeah, I did that, 100% natural home-birth, LIKE A GIRL!

Do I regret my decision? Never. Do I miss my job? Of course I do. Every choice in life has sacrifices. Do I feel less than because I’m a stay at home mom instead of a working woman. Not even a little bit. I am strong. I am tough. I am creating the next generation that will rule the world. Shoot I’d love to see any of those tough Marines I worked with do what I’ve done having a baby at home with no medication. Being a girl is amazing and powerful and I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise!

I run like a girl and I am proud of it!