I’m so excited to present the third installment from an ongoing series of photo essays that explore individual rituals of self care.
About these Photo Essays: This project began when I started recognizing marketing around the concept of self care - especially marketing geared towards women - that seemed to summarize acts of self care as treats to be purchased, and/or overwhelming missives of things we “should” be doing to cope with expectations of busyness, the hustle, ingrained capitalism, the pressure to stay plugged in, perfect, et al. While I believe that every act of care we give to ourselves - big or small - is a triumph, I also believe that self care goes deeper. It doesn’t begin and end with self-soothing - self care is not always easy, or easily accessible to all. However, as this project has grown, I feel the need to reiterate - self care can be as simple as brushing your teeth. Eating a meal. There is no wrong way to give yourself care. But self care is more than what’s sold to us.
I believe self care can also involve us nurturing ourselves through the ecosystems in which we thrive, caring for ourselves via caring for the air we breathe into our lungs, the earth that supports us, the plants that nourish us - and so much more. Discovering our needs and the voices of our body and spirit and what they are asking for is a unique and individual journey - and I truly believe that recognizing and giving space to listen, explore and develop this is an act of self care in and of itself.
The concept of this project grew from wanting to tell stories from a unique female-identifying perspective about some of the individual ways in which we engage in self care, however, over time I began to realize that self care culture is often targeted specifically towards women. In addressing this, I opened the project up to all voices, all perspectives, all identifies. Self care is for everyone, and I invite all to share their stories.
In documenting these self care rituals, I engage with a self care ritual of my own: visual storytelling. I am often compelled to make & create projects, and being able to document processes has always brought me peace. The interesting thing to me about this project is that it engages my own desire for self care as well, but doesn’t involve purchasing a product, or a list of things I should be doing to keep up. Instead, it mingles with the parts of myself that will always be fascinated by rituals of soothing, nurturing, connection and creation - while documenting the very real and incredibly individual stories of how we define care.
This is an ongoing series, and will slowly be developing over the next year or two.
One thing that’s been very important to me in developing this project is being able to hear the stories from the subjects - and so the words to follow were written by Brenna Vink, a local doula and mom of 2. We shot the session inside her beautiful home, hanging out with her daughter and newborn son, and her and her husband’s small pack of dogs (and one slightly ornery turtle!) When the images were done, Brenna reached out to me and said, “I really feel like we’re missing the breadbaking aspect, it is such an essential part of my self care”, so I went out and we shot again (the images with the bread).
It struck me, in going back, how much I truly enjoy documenting these stories, and how much I want them to be reflective of the people and perspectives writing them. My heart in sharing these stories is to also protect the process - to make sessions that are soothing, comforting, engaging, sacred, and to present stories that are authentic to the person living them. Going back and shooting another part of the story resulted in more images I love, and doing so felt right - it didn’t feel like work, it felt like connection.
This session is probably one of the most structured ones I’ve done thus far, but still, Brenna would take the time for pause and for herself through out the shooting process - and I’ve presented the story this way as well, juxtaposing time spent parenting, and time spent in care & solitude.
The Condition of my Heart
By: Brenna Vink
TW: Traumatic Birth, Ectopic Pregnancy
As I reflect on the last two years, I am continually brought back to the condition of my heart. I have this deep desire to always be growing, I find it pointless for my life to stay in a season for too long without growth.
In June 2017, my husband and I welcomed our daughter into this world. I remember my pregnancy being hard and not enjoyable. Now that I look back on it, I realize it was the condition of my heart that was in the wrong place. I wasn’t prepared for motherhood, or to welcome a new life into this world that was fully my responsibility. The day she was born my greatest fears were realized and she was born lifeless and not breathing, followed by many days in the NICU. This was extremely traumatic for my husband and now that I look back on it, me as well. We spent the next year trying to mentally recover from her birth and trying to find a connection with our new family member. PTSD and PPD are no joke; I’ll never forget the feeling of not understanding why I didn’t love my baby, why this wasn’t the blissful experience everyone spoke about.
The following year, while celebrating our daughter’s first birthday, I began to feel ill and not myself. My first thought was that I was pregnant or miscarrying. The fear and excitement I had at seeing that positive pregnancy test filled my still healing heart with a determination I hadn’t felt before. When we found out the pregnancy wasn’t “valid” , but called an ectopic pregnancy, and that the doctors needed to terminate it immediately or else I’d lose my fallopian tube, it was a huge blow to that newly determined heart of mine. I once again was in a state of confusion and misunderstanding of just “why”? I was so heartbroken for the baby I “couldn’t have”, and in that I took that determined heart and decided I needed to heal. I said to myself, if I can’t have this baby, I’ll have another, and I’ll do the work to grow from my past in order to enjoy pregnancy and motherhood.
September, I got another positive pregnancy test and this time it was real. I welcomed the uncomfortable stages of pregnancy and knew I had a timeline for growth and didn’t want to waste a moment. I spent time with my daughter; loving her and exploring with her. I took time to renew my relationship with God which I felt was the stem for lifelong growth for myself and my family. I took time for myself. Now, many people have that one thing that brings them joy or provides the self care they need to get through the week. I didn’t feel this way; I saw self care as a variety things. I saw it as my heart healing and growing; and there are so many things that bring me joy. Anything from baking dessert for my friends on Thursday nights, to learning how to make sourdough, to planting flowers in my garden with my daughter, to sitting out on my porch and watching the cars on the highway drive by, to taking a bath and reading my bible in the silence of the night. Having just one thing seemed like a chore or an obligation, but I’ve found it so healing to just have self care be a part of my day in whatever I’m doing, allowing it to bring joy and care to my heart.
Making the time to do these simple activities became an integral part of caring for myself, and by extension, my family. Ultimately, a huge part of my self care started in the time I made for myself to engage with it.
As my upcoming birth crept up, I gave myself space to feel the fears and anxieties of my past experiences, I didn’t let them control me, but I invited them and learnt from them. Then the day came, and the birth of my son was the most healing and powerful journey I’ve had yet. I am still in awe of the female body and what it can do if we release the fear and allow it to do what it’s been created to do. I am now in postpartum land but this time with a very free spirited, wild toddler that doesn’t give me much time for burnout. I am continually reminding myself to be kind to myself and remember to do the things that bring allow my best self to shine, for myself, and my family.
It’s all a process, and I’m constantly falling and picking myself back up, but it’s a reminder that getting back up is where the growth is and where the joy begins.
How We Self Care is a small batch project happening over the next two years, sharing self care stories told from all perspectives. Each story is developed into a visual process through conversation, documented in photographs chosen by each participant, and explained in their own words. If you have a self care story to share, please consider sharing it with me - while I can’t shoot every story submitted (part of my own self care), I would so love to hear your perspective of the world. Comments, Questions, and Inquiries regarding the project are welcome!