When I sat down to write this article, there was a voice inside me saying “but you are still in the middle of living this part of your story, just wait and the story will be a pretty package tied up with a beautiful bow.” How many times have I heard this same sentiment from that inner voice throughout my career? To be honest, nearly every day.
As a creative and a perfectionist, my life has always been about goal setting, planning, and executing action in an organized manner. However, this last year of my life has brought many big life lessons which are continually teaching me how to let go the ways of perfectionism and to find a calmness through the chaos that is life. And as I wade through and pass these life lessons, I’m finding a much happier and healthier self, and I want to share with you this part of my journey.
A year ago this month my photography business had finally re-stabilized after a big geographical move from Seattle, WA to my current city in Miami, FL. I was finally starting to get editorial assignments from a few regional magazines and my freelance photography schedule not only allowed for the flexibility to take on a stable contract hosting an online educational program for a camera giant in the industry, but also allowed me the time to take advantage of living in a tropical climate enjoying lifestyle passions like fishing and laying on the beach. It was the ultimate lifestyle I had been working two decades to achieve, and I was feeling successful and balanced in this new life with my fiancé. It was so good that we decided it was the perfect time to plan a wedding and start trying our family together.
Sometimes we are called to be something greater than what we plan, and it was in this moment last October that my purpose and path in life changed in a blink of an eye. On the evening of celebrating our three-year-anniversary, my fiancé and I were in a terrible car accident that put me in a wheelchair for three months. I lost everything: my contracts with magazines and dream hosting job, my independence of having to physically rely on others to help with everyday tasks as I learned to walk again, my finances which quickly spun out of control with all the hospital bills and having to live off of credit cards, and ultimately my pride. The strain of everything tore apart my relationship and my fiancé and I parted ways shortly after my 40th birthday, just a few days before I got the clearance from my orthopedic surgeon that I could walk again unassisted and go back to work. It was a humbling moment in my life and I had no idea what to do next, or how to put one foot in front of the other and go forward to find my purpose and place in life, yet again.
Little did I know that my purpose had already been decided and was currently being formed. You see, thirty minutes after that last doctor appointment I went straight home and took a test, a test that had been nagging at me since the week before when my fiancé left. I took a pregnancy test. Within seconds, a blue + sign appeared and after three minutes it remained. I was pregnant. Every moment from my life sped through my mind in a split second and my purpose came into immediate sharp focus. I was a mom. That meant, it’s not about my journey anymore because my journey now affected someone else’s journey, and until they reach a certain point in life I am responsible for guiding their journey and giving them tools to eventually maneuver their journey on their own.
It was a lot to take in, especially accounting for all the life losses and changes over the previous months, not to mention the rapid changes happening within my physical body. In short, my mental and my emotional state was a hot mess and I knew I needed to work through a lot of issues and gain emotional healing in a short span of time. Very quickly, it became my priority to work through all the pain, anger, sadness, and frustration of the many great losses from my life, because I had the choice and power to have a clean, fresh, spirit for my baby to arrive into.
We all need an outlet and a way to work through our problems in life and find pathways leading through the conflicts and grief that psychologically affect us. My outlet for working through issues and keeping my mind healthy is through art therapy; specifically, by creating and capturing a still moment in time with my camera. So, the first thing I did to start my emotional healing was pick my camera back up.
I decided to turn my camera around and document my changing body weekly the duration of my pregnancy, to express my thoughts in journal writing, and to pair them together in a new blog ShadesofRae.com. I waited to release the blog until I was 14 weeks along in my pregnancy when I had confirmed my baby’s gender (spoiler: it’s a girl!) and my doctor said it was safe to start telling everyone. Releasing it was pretty scary because I literally had just announced being single again and I was afraid of what people were going to think and say. Announcing being pregnant as a single mom isn’t considered a positive life event in our society, and it was important that I be a part of changing this negative cultural mindset into a positive one that celebrated life and independence as a woman.
So I put a lot of thought and time into the announcement and released it as a video made for, and spoken to, my unborn daughter titled “You’re Going to Be My Greatest Adventure” which ended up surprising, and delighting everyone including my own family (don’t worry, I gave them the sneak peek the night before the public release)!
Not all of my posts are this grand or mind-expanding, in fact, most the time they are just my thoughts and feelings as I go through the emotional roller coaster of being pregnant. I don’t filter myself, swear on a regular basis, I say what I mean and mean what I say, am brutally transparent about my failures, share my thought process of getting back up on the horse again and again, and am very raw and honest about it all. Which is why I think people continue reading the story of my journey that is unfolding day after day. I’m a real person going through the same life struggles you have gone through, or are going through. We are connected, one and the same, and are here to help each other through life’s challenges and to celebrate each other’s successes.
My measuring stick of healing throughout this pregnancy self portrait series has ultimately been simply finding peace, calmness, and meaning in the chaos. For instance, recently I’ve had to scratch my birth plan and succumb to scheduling a cesarean due to medical reasons out of my control. After a short pause of disappointment in this news, my response was to find the joy and excitement of knowing that my daughter will be in my arms sooner than expected. As for love? I have found that being able to forgive myself allowed me to forgive and move forward with my baby’s father. Time apart and being alone allowed us to each heal and realize that it isn’t about ourselves and being uncompromising in our ways, but instead it’s about the bigger picture, being selfless, and healing together to redefine our love and start again with fresh spirits as a family unit.
The biggest surprise in healing throughout this journey was discovering a self-love for my body and having a healthy relationship and attitude towards it. Growing up, I was encouraged - and expected - to cover up my body and to never look at it as beautiful by myself or anyone else. Like a lot of women - and men - I had allowed my body image to be measured by the public, not by my own individual standards.
A couple months into the series, I challenged myself to pose nude, strategically covering up the necessary bits with my arms so that it could be shared on social media.This portrait of myself was the turning point in seeing my body as not something that fits into society’s standards, and instead, I saw the incredible beautiful body that makes me a whole woman, flabby baby belly and all. I still love this photo and it remains one of my favorites to this day.
I really desire to wrap my story up here with a beautiful bow and the fairytale ending of “...and they lived happily ever after…” but as I am still living my journey, my story is still being written. My life is about to take another drastic turn with the birth of my daughter and I’m sure there will be so much more that will change in me that I will be itching to share. So do stay tuned to my blog and social media for updates along the way! You can follow my selfie series on ShadesofRae.com and on Instagram @laraelobdell.
LaRae Lobdell is a Miami based portrait photographer, host, and instructor with nearly 20 years of experience photographing, directing, producing exhibits, and speaking in the photography industry.
Her curriculum vitae includes 21 photography exhibits of her own work, the curation of 15 exhibits for other artists’ and museums, the production of 13 private and community events, and two year’s experience as director of one of Seattle’s largest art walks. Her images have been published in The Huffington Post, Broadway World, Yale University Magazine, Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine, and even aired on the Colbert Report.
To view more of LaRae's work, visit her here and here.