Each week we share a piece of us on our photographic journey. We have titled this series, “Courage to Grow”. We hope that our own soul searching will inspire similar introspection in our readers and that together we can make our best art and live our best lives.
This post is incredibly personal and may not be for everyone. It chronicles an emergency situation regarding my son. He is now fully recovered and fine, but the event was harrowing and I do discuss details in this post.Last Wednesday evening I was enjoying the end of our first full day visiting my family. We had driven the 16 hours from Seattle the day before and were finally recovering and settling in. My brother had come over with my toddler nephew and everyone was happily chatting. I walked in the other room for a minute and then heard my mom calling me. She had my thirteen month old son on her lap and I knew immediately something was wrong. He was awake and holding himself up, but it was clear he wasn’t getting enough oxygen. After trying the Heimlich with no change in his condition and no reaction from him, we rushed to the Emergency Room that was about a mile away. He rested against my chest the whole ride there, like he was cuddling, but I knew things were getting worse by the second. The moment I stepped out of the car in front of the ER, his whole body went completely limp and I ran as quickly as I could, yelling for help the whole time. The paramedics took my sweet, colorless, baby boy and rushed him into a room where they prepared for him to crash. Fortunately, within seconds of their interventions, he regained his color…and then he started to seize. Up to that moment, what I knew about seizures was based on my experience having an epileptic dog as a child and my extensive watching of Grey’s Anatomy. I thought they lasted a couple minutes and then they were over. As I watched my son’s little body seize for more than 20 minutes, through three doses of Lorazepam, I was confident that I was watching my sweet little boy leave this world.Those twenty minutes seemed both like an eternity and an instant. My body was calm, not because I was at peace, but because I was frozen. As I sat about 3 feet from the foot of the bed, watching the nurses, paramedics and doctors tend to him, my mind was slowly moving from thought to thought. I thought about how my husband was sleeping peacefully in Italy with his phone on “Do Not Disturb” for the next hour and a half, I thought about my daughter, I thought about what had happened to cause this, I thought about our lives after what I was sure was his imminent death, and I thought about pictures. Had I taken a picture of him today? If I had, had I kept it? Did I consider it “worthy” enough to add to my archives or did I pass it over and delete it because it wasn’t art? What about yesterday? Did I take a picture of him then? Did I get his face in it or was I too focused on a perfect photo to go with my collection of faceless images? Please, please, please, tell me I have a picture of him happy and smiling. Please tell me that I didn’t delete the last photos I would have of him.
Finally the seizure slowed and ended. Within a couple minutes he opened his eyes a sliver and could move his left side. After a couple hours he was able to once again move both sides of his body. When he awoke for real, he opened his eyes fully, looked in to mine, and smiled. I knew he would be fine. As his body and brain recovered, my mind became more and more focused on the questions I had asked myself. Was I missing the moments that mattered, the moments I will most want to remember, because I was in pursuit of my art? When it came to photography, had I let slip the fact that while my subjects in my art are often my children, there are the moments outside my art, moments of my children, I want preserved?I recently read a wonderful book titled “How We Do Both: Art and Motherhood” about career artists who have become mothers. I really loved the idea of myself as an artist and a mother, with my art often in the forefront. I resonated with the idea of my art sometimes taking precedence over everything, even my family. I often don’t feel like I’m cut out to be a normal mom. I love my kids and love being around them, but if my kids are playing well by themselves, I never insert myself so I can be a part of it, but instead relish the time without them. I have no desire to be a room mother or volunteer in any extra curricular activities they may one day have, but would rather use that time for me. I think “Elf on the Shelf” sucks and I sometimes don’t wrap presents because I flat out don’t feel like it. I love that I have found an identity that is separate from being a wife and mother, one that is important to me and that I don’t ever see myself quitting. This experience with my son, however, showed me the truth and a truth that I now refuse to forget. In those moments of what I was sure were the prelude to unimaginable loss, I didn’t want art, I wanted his face; I didn’t want a cohesive collection, I wanted a smile. When approaching the abyss, I stand solely as a mother and a wife; there is no other title even on the horizon. When on the edge of the chasm, if all I have along with my memories is a photo to remember, I don’t want a photo that is stunningly evocative that features my child. What I want is a picture in which I can just see him because he is the greatest most magnificent work of art, far more important or impressive than anything I will ever create with a camera.
So, I proudly declare myself as Mother and I will leave the other titles to fall in where they may. I am in no ways giving up on my art and will continue to work even harder at it, but I will also work harder to see more of my life through the eyes of a mother, rather than an artist. I will be more present in the moments and when I do take pictures of my children, I will make sure that I take some of my children looking at the camera so I can see their whole face. Whatever else I am photographing, I will also take pictures of my children happy and smiling, because in the end (however temporary or final you want to take “end” to be), what I want in my deepest of hearts is to see and know that my children are happy.
Amanda Voelker is a fine art and lifestyle photographer, focusing on capturing the fleeting moments of childhood. She is currently located in the Seattle, Washington area. With her children and light as her inspiration, Amanda finds beauty in the everyday and is constantly amazed by all the wonder in her life. She strives to capture the subtleties of human emotion and connection in a beautiful way that showcases both the moment and a piece of herself. Amanda is also the co-founder of 30 Minutes in the Life. Aside from photography and family, Amanda is passionate about the ocean, seeing the world, diet coke, reading, and chocolate. You can find more of her work on her website and facebook