One thing you MUST expect and prepare for before entering the world of birth photography is that no matter how hard you try, you may miss a birth at some point.
The unpredictable nature of bringing a child into the world means that no matter how much planning goes into making it to the hospital on time sometimes it just won’t happen.
As soon as you accept that missing a birth is inevitable, then you can prepare for how to handle the situation.
Why you may miss a birth
You may miss a birth for a wide variety of reasons.
- The baby came three weeks early, and you were out of town since your ‘on call’ window for the session didn’t start until 38 weeks gestation.
- The client didn’t call to notify you that she was in labor early enough.
- An emergency cesarean section was required before you arrived at the hospital.
- Labor progressed very quickly.
- You were photographing another birth when the client went into labor.
- You had a family emergency.
- You forgot to show up to a planned cesarean section…yikes…
Preparing to miss a birth
Now some of the above reasons are just part of the birth photography game. Some are nobody’s fault, some are the client’s fault, and some are your fault. Some reasons you can be prepared for and others cannot.
So what can you do to avoid missing a birth and what can you do to prepare for the inevitably missed birth?
#1 Have a contract specific to birth photography
This point is VITAL. There are so many unique considerations that only apply to birth photography.
Some examples of what needs to be added in your contract to help avoid missing sessions are:
- Update expectations for your client. For example, if your client goes to the doctor at 38 weeks and they tell her she is likely to begin labor soon, she should provide you that update.
- Notice expectations for your client. Set a ‘time’ where the client MUST notify you that she is in labor, such as when they are on the way to the hospital, contractions are 3-5 minutes apart, or they are 5 cm dilated. If they don’t notify you until they have been laboring at the hospital for hours and were 8 cm dilated, it may be too late for you to get there.
- What will happen if it looks like you won’t make it to the birth on time. Have a contingency plan lined out in your contract for this instance. If you get the call from your client and you are in the middle of a family emergency or photographing another birth, have a plan in place to replace yourself with a backup photographer or an agreement to provide an in-hospital newborn session in place of the birth session.
- What will happen if you miss the birth? What happens after a missed session should vary based on the reason you missed the session. Make sure your contract is clear on what will happen for a ‘faultless’ missed session, a ‘client fault’ missed session and a ‘photographer fault’ missed session.
#2 Go over the contract with your client
In order to make sure everyone knows the part they are to play in the session and what to expect in the case of the unexpected, make sure to go over ALL of the details of your contract with the client.
In addition to the normal points to discuss (number of images provided, compensation, etc.), make sure to also point out what the client is expected to do and when, when a refund (if a deposit was made) will be given, when full payment is required despite missing the event, etc.
#3 Consider a backup photographer
Since missing a birth is likely at some point you may want to consider arranging for a backup photographer. This arrangement could take a wide variety of forms.
One arrangement could include a deal with another local birth photographer where you serve as each other’s backup photographers. In larger markets, there are often birth photographer groups where you can reach out in this instance for a backup volunteer.
Depending on your arrangement with a backup photographer, there may be additional legal considerations to take into account. This may include ownership and copyright claims, compensation, and employment relationship designation.
Whatever the case, make sure that this is a part of your contract and discussion with your client. They may not want another photographer, or they may have a specific photographer they would like as a backup.
What happens after you miss a birth
It is important to have a plan in place for anytime you miss a session. Taking appropriate steps to ameliorate the situation will not only keep your customers satisfied, but uphold your reputation as a professional photographer. The ‘remedy’ for a missed session should vary based on why the session was missed and ALWAYS be outlined in your contract.
Some ideas for remedying the situation are:
- Faultless: Use the deposit (if one was charged) towards an in-hospital newborn session or another future session of the client’s choice.
- Client’s ‘fault’: Full contracted payment due. You can choose to provide still an in-hospital newborn session.
- Photographer’s ‘fault’: No charge to the client. You may even want to consider further customer service actions, such as a gift certificate for a future session or a free mini session of the baby in the hospital.
Remember that you are human and ‘life happens’! You can be perfectly prepared and still miss a birth, so try not to beat yourself up when it happens!