The on-call lifestyle

I call it a lifestyle, because when you do a lot of births, it really is a change in how you manage your life. First off, I want to make it very clear that the first rule of being on call is:

Don’t just sit by the phone – get out there and live your life!!

If you don’t do anything while you are on call, you will waste your life. So get good cell phone coverage, make backup plans, and do (almost) everything you would normally do!

Some other tips for living an on-call life:

  1. Many calls come in the middle of the night, so someone needs to know what to do in the morning if you are not there. I used to have a big markerboard calendar in the kitchen that listed anything and everything that needed to be done if I left during the night. And ONLY those things. So dh would get up in the morning and check that. It would say things like “get carpool substitute” “arrange ride to dance class for K” or “cancel dentist appointment” – and the phone numbers or other info he needed to do it would be right there, too. These days, I use a google calendar, but when I started in 1999 there was no such thing.
  2. Have backup plans for your obligations. If you have other photo shoots scheduled, have a plan for what you’ll do if you’re at a birth. You may want to schedule a time and a second fallback time for each session, and offer a print credit to clients who have to wait for the second time. If you’re scheduled to volunteer at the school, teach a class, drive a carpool, or go to the dentist, have a plan! Sometimes you have to be creative. The dentist was always the hardest for me, because they would charge $50 if we canceled with less than 24 hours notice. But I don’t GET 24 hours notice of births. We worked out a compromise – we schedule appointments for me and my husband a few days apart. If I’m not at a birth, I take the first appointment. If I am at a birth, my husband goes to that appointment and I go a few days later. That way, dentist doesn’t have an unfilled slot and we don’t have a $50 fee.
  3. Do things ahead of time – don’t procrastinate. If your child needs to make a diorama for a book report, or has a big science fair project due – anything that they need your help – finish it a day or two before the last minute, because you may not be there for the last minute. I’d like to say that being on call has cured me of procrastination, but the truth is, I still procrastinate, I just have a different “last minute”.
  4. When you leave to go to a birth, it places a heavier than usual burden on the other people in your life. Your husband might have to get up earlier to do the job of both parents in the morning routine, your mom might have to skip lunch with a friend to pick up your kindergartner, your carpool partner may have to drive an extra time. Be mindful of this, and do what you can to make things easier on them by planning in advance or taking extra turns when you are not at a birth. Because births can -and do!- make you miss things like birthday parties, family dinners, Halloween, or Mother’s Day (I’ve missed all of them at one time or another) remember to make a point of placing your family FIRST at times when you are not at a birth. Sometimes this means I miss a gathering of friends in order to spend one on one time with my husband, or rescheduling an appointment with a client to accommodate an unexpected school performance your child forgot to tell you about. I’ve never had trouble with clients not understanding that I need to prioritize my family over non-birth things.
  5. Be ready to go at all times. Bag packed, gas in the tank, memory card or two clear, batteries charged. I go more into detail on this in another article.
  6. If at all possible, have a backup photographer. Stuff happens. You might be sick. You might break a leg. There might be a death in the family. You might have two in labor at the same time. I’ve known ALL of these to happen, usually as the backup, and having someone to step in for you is important. Births cannot be rescheduled for a few days later, and capturing the event is important enough to your clients that they hired you! Don’t leave them without any photos if there is any other way.

And finally, I want to remind you of that most important rule:
Don’t just sit by the phone – get out there and live your life!!

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