Ask Anything – Should You Tell Your Clients If You Are Pregnant Or Have A Life Threatening Illness?

- - Ask Anything

Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.

If a woman freelance photographer is pregnant and wants to continue working, how should she proceed? I’ve been told by many NOT to tell your clients as they will take you off the call list for a while. Either thinking that they are doing you a favor, figuring you don’t want to work, or thinking they are protecting you. A couple said it wouldn’t effect them, but it seems the majority think it’s not a good idea. In relation to this, is there a difference between editorial clients, corporate or commercial clients, private clients, etc.? It seems when the male photographer announces he is expecting, everyone is excited and wants to give him work for his family but the female photographer, because she’s the one carrying, gets the congrats, but not the work. Are there other experiences out there?

Amanda and Suzanne: So we reached out to our contacts and got their advice–we went to women art producers, women photo editors, women photographers and women reps. We started to get some great responses, but it got us thinking about a deeper topic-a life threatening illnesses. I (Suzanne) was diagnosed 7.5 years ago with breast cancer. I thought it would be good to have the support of the community, so I told everyone, but what I didn’t realize is that while folks were supportive, my consulting business dropped and it took me over a year to rebound. I did have cancer assurance, AFLAC, and that helped me pay some of my bills. But the financial strain of getting ill and having months of treatment with very little work, made me wonder, should I have told. So I reached out to friends who have faced the same thing and furthered the discussion by asking, “Should you tell clients when faced with a life threatening illness”?

Pregnancy

Amanda:

When I had my baby 9 months ago, my business slowed down, as well. My clients were very cautious to not to bother me. It took 3 months to pick up to the pace that I was used to (of course I was uncomfortable with this considering the economic climate). My advice is to be open about your situation as my clients were thrilled to be part of this exciting time for me and they were eager to get back on my calendar at the first opportunity. It is definitely easier being able to look back and see what worked best for you at that time, so listen to your gut and do what is best for you at this moment. I am an eternal optimist and believe all will work out as it should (even when it seems as though the light at the end of the tunnel is non-existent or dim).

Established Art Buyer/Producer #1

As an art buyer, past clients, creatives and I never had any hesitation hiring pregnant photogs. Perhaps if I knew someone was working a week or two before their due date, I would be a little cautious.

That being said, I would never begrudge them for not telling if they felt it would influence them negatively. As you said, some people say it’s not a good idea probably because that was their experience.

As any shoot goes, there is always a chance of some emergency. A male photog would probably not set up a shoot on his wife’s due date as well.

I think we need to hope that when you hire a professional, they will come through for you. If for some reason, something goes wrong that was their doing, I expect them to correct the mishap.

Established Art Buyer/Producer #2

This is no different than when a woman applies for a job at a company. The company is not allowed to ask if the woman is pregnant and she is not required to disclose it unless her pregnancy is a detriment to the job she will be performing. For example, if she is applying for a job at the Fed Ex loading dock and she cannot lift more than 5 pounds, she would not be able to perform the duties of her job.

Unless the pregnancy will affect how the photographer does her job, then there is no reason to disclose it.

Established Art Buyer/Producer #3

When I was working, as a Photo Editor, And I would hear a photographer was pregnant and it really wouldn’t effect my decision to hire them. If I needed them to travel then may It did a little bit only because if they were far along putting them on a plane might not be feasible. But if I wanted to hire them I would ask them rather then making the decision for them. A pregnant photographer doesn’t have anything to do with their talent! So to me, it doesn’t make a difference!!

Established Photo Rep

Several years ago, I represented a photographer through her pregnancy and there wasn’t any negative impact on her work. She was actually shooting a job for the San Francisco Opera right up to her due date.

Established Female Photographer #1

I think the relationship you have with the client matters much more than what sector of the market the client works in and the way we handled this reflects that. For long-term clients, we were very open – we knew that they would want to share in our excitement and that it wouldn’t affect our working relationship negatively. In fact, we felt that keeping the news from them for too long would do more damage – imagine working with someone closely and finding out that they kept that kind of news from you.

Now, in that initial conversation, we were very careful to stress the fact that I’d continue to shoot up until I went into labor and that we had lined up a photographer we trusted to handle any projects that might come up while we were actually in the hospital. So our clients knew that no matter what happened, continuing to assign us work wouldn’t place them at any risk.

We did not raise the issue with new clients until the third trimester as up to that point, it was really a non-issue – we didn’t have enough of a relationship for them to feel one way or another about it personally and it had no impact on our ability to get the work done. When booking projects for the latter half of the third trimester, though, we did start telling people our due date and explaining that we had a photographer lined up to step in if I went into labor. We felt that we had an ethical obligation to give people the option to go elsewhere if that made them uncomfortable. Most people didn’t seem too troubled. Our daughter was born December 28th so my last shooting day was about a week before she was born but that had more to do with the holiday than my pregnancy.

Established Female Photographer #2 (Expecting)

Ok, so I only have a few thoughts about this one … since I am not really sure what to do myself.

So far – I have been keeping pretty quiet about the whole thing. I have been feeling pretty good during my whole pregnancy, so in that way I feel that I have been very lucky. But now, I’m at the point where when I show up for jobs and it’s pretty obvious – I just entered my third trimester. I have been telling clients (all types) after I book jobs but before the job itself, I put it out there while finalizing details of the shoot. I will also mention that being pregnant isn’t affecting my work – which is true, at least for now. That way if a client feels uncomfortable with a pregnant photographer, he or she has time to make other arrangements. The last thing I want to do is show up and have somebody worry that I can’t do the job. I also think that if I show that I’m not too worried about it, they shouldn’t be either … right?

But for the jobs where I know the I won’t see the editor or art director face-to-face …. I haven’t mentioned it at all. I figure that if it hampers my ability to do the job, then I’ll mention it. But if it isn’t really affecting my work – then it really doesn’t matter. If I had some other impairment that wouldn’t affect my ability to do a job – like a cold or my car was in the shop – I wouldn’t mention it either, but find a way to work around it. I kind of feel like this is similar.

For the most part my clients have been just fine with the whole thing. Many have been very sweet about it & encouraging. But then again – this is all new for me. And honestly – my biggest worry is taking off time after the baby is born — I know I am going to have to take time off and turn down jobs … I just hope my clients call me when I’m ready to get back to work.

Established Female Photographer #3

Sorry, my 2 kids are adopted

I can’t really weigh in. My gut says, don’t tell anyone in the bizzzzzzzzz. I never tell my clients that I am on a 5-week holiday, they don’t need to know

Established Female Photographer #4

Working while pregnant: I went ahead and told a few people early on and that news quickly spread around town. It didn’t seem to hurt too much on the front end, I did still shoot some assignments, and I even shot one assignment on location with 5 days to go. My client was concerned but hung in there with me.

And I found myself on a plane with an eight week old and an art director for an out of town shoot. People were still hiring me to do work when I was pregnant, and even shortly after the baby had been born.

I had two kids pretty quickly together and things became much more difficult for me mid-way through the pregnancy. I stopped showing my face at events and social functions, and completely backed off of my marketing efforts. At the same time my phone became ominously quiet, and did not begin to ring again until I made a very concerted effort to let people know that I was back in the game again.

That time out resulted in some of my regular clients establishing new relationships that to this day remain hard to rebuild.

My clients are primarily buyers and art directors from advertising agencies. Kids or no kids, I think my story is a testament to the fact that if you are not consistently reminding your clients that you are out there, they will forget about you and you will quickly be replaced by someone with a more aggressive marketing plan.

Life Threatening Illness With Treatments

Established Photographer #1

I wrote a letter that I sent out to loyal clients. Clients I had worked with for years. People I considered friends and trusted. I let them know what was going on and how I was doing. I was upbeat and positive and told them that I would beat this disease. I kept them updated throughout the process.

Several clients adjusted my shoots to fit my schedule around chemotherapy. Several postponed shoot until after my treatment had run its course.

I choose to not tell several clients including a national level magazine that I shoot for fairly often. I shot a major photo essay for them two days after receiving my first chemotherapy treatment and was maxed out on Prednisone. Two months later I shot a six-day story for the same magazine after finishing chemo but before starting radiation. They never knew until afterward.

The friends who faded away while I was sick and the ones who came closer surprised me. The clients who stuck by me have my loyalty till the day I die.

Established Photographer #2

Another photographer is currently dealing with this situation and has realized it is best NOT to tell anyone even their clients. As freelance people it is really scary to face not only a life threatening illness but the chance or lack of income.

Established Art Buyer/Producer #1

My answer to this question and anything similar is that a professional needs to know when they can perform a job based on their past experience and their portfolio.
Who are we to judge if a photographer is pregnant or has cancer is less able than a perfectly healthy photographer who had too much to drink (or whatever) the night before a shoot?

Established Art Buyer/Producer #2

That’s considered personal information unless it impacts the work.

Please Support One Of Our Own

Facebook – Give It Up For Loni Page

Here is her story:

“I was diagnosed on July 13, 2009 with a very rare form of cancer, and have been unable to work since then, unfortunately. But, I have a lot to say on this subject. Unlike some, I decided to fully disclose my circumstances (after debating about it for a time) to my community, including my clients. I do not regret my decision. If you’d like to talk, I can elaborate on why it was a great decision for me. Our photo community has restored my faith in humankind! …”

Loni was going to write more but the recent round of chemo has taken away a lot of her energy and required her to be admitted to the hospital. I (Suzanne) had the pleasure of interviewing her and getting some pointers to convey on this subject. She decided to trust in the generosity and support of her clients, as well as the photo community to understand her circumstances. She does not regret her decision, as the community, and especially her regular clients, have supported her beyond her wildest expectations.

As soon as she was ready to go back to work, they were there for her, with handpicked assignments that were appropriate for her energy level and physical limitations.

She truly feels that her trust in the community, gave the community an opportunity to trust her. She built her reputation over the last 25 years on honesty and never over-promising. She has been adamant about not taking assignments if she didn’t feel she would be able to deliver the job based on her high standards, as well as the standards her clients have grown to expect from her.

Because of her positive attitude, her friends and family have gone way above and beyond the call of duty to establish the “Give It Up For Loni” fundraising effort, which has produced some overwhelming results, not only financially, but more important, emotionally. The moral support has been invaluable.

Loni says, “The realization of the importance of friends, family and community caused me to begin to conceptualize about the yet-to-be-named “Foundation” which we hope to have launched by mid- summer 2010.”

Please see the web site, and especially the “Personal Message From Loni” to learn more about the idea and how it came about.

http://www.giveitupforloni.com

Many thanks,
Amanda & Suzanne

To Summarize: Coming into any personal situation like this puts you into protection mode. How can I take care of myself, my health, and business (maintaining existing clients) at the same time? We have all learned from personal experiences and from the generous insights above that you have to do what feels right for you and your clientele. To tell or not to tell, that is personal. But the number one thing we hope you take from this is to take care of yourself and your health and the rest will follow suit. But to be safe….MARKET THE HELL OUT OF YOURSELF while pregnant and during your maternity leave or while you are going through something deeply personal – so when you are ready to pick up the camera, clients will be ready for you. And the best worst case scenario – if the client calls while you are in labor, we would rather you be able to turn down the job, then not be offered it all.

Be well, happy shooting and safe deliveries

Call To Action: Please check out “Give it up for Loni” because she is not out of woods, she has a long journey ahead of her. We are all in this world together and sometimes our fellow man needs a little help.

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

There Are 20 Comments On This Article.

  1. Thank you for starting this important conversation. I got married last year in June and it took at least 3 months for things to pick up again which was insanely scary since we had just spent a lot of money on the wedding and honeymoon and I was eager to get back to work.

    I’m looking forward to hearing of others experience in the biz.

  2. Thank you Amanda and Suzanne for telling Loni’s story. The strength and spirit coming from this incredible woman is a ray of sunshine. I hope the community that reads APE will donate what they can.

  3. It is definetely a personal decision that can be weighed out bit easier by the personal experiences that have been shared.

    Three years ago both my stepfather and mother-in-law were dianosed with cancer of different types. Stage three bladder cancer and Stage 4 Breast cancer. Close friends knew and those outside of that don’t.

    The one thing that really stands out to me is marketing yourself in the midst is very important and it has been a struggle to rebuild relationships.

    • @Ed Hamlin, I am so sorry to hear about your in-laws. I lost my dear in-laws two months from each other. Only clients I was working with at that time were aware. As I mentioned, when I was dealing with radiation treatments, sometimes I wished I had not told everyone because it was hard to rebuild but now 7.5 years out, it is all behind me- thankfully!

      • @Suzanne and Amanda, Thanks. I add this, to me it is not so much about the disease. It is more about people perceptions and how they relate or simply they don’t know how to relate. You have to educate them which can be time consuming but very important. JMHO but there are many socially inept people who don’t know how to handle life outside of their own when it is not perfect. Thanks for the hearts you have!

  4. As a location portrait photographer with Muscular Dystrophy which affects my leg and arm muscles, I always struggle with disclosing that information on my website some how. I don’t want it to appear as if I’m trying to appeal for sympathy but I also don’t know how the clients feel when they first meet me and I’m obviously semi-disabled. (Walk with great difficulty with the use of a cane.) Do they feel as if I kept something important from them or do they think it might impair my abilities? I don’t know, but I’d sure welcome some feedback.

    • @Mark Feliciano,
      Mark, your work is amazing and I don’t think it matters at all!

      We are sorry that you have to deal with this debilitating disease and wish you all the very best!!

      I had a client who was legally blind (couldn’t drive) and his work was amazing- I told him not to tell because I believe the end results are what are important! And looking at your work- you achieve in that!!

  5. This is from an e-mail we received. The author agreed that we could post it:

    I am pleasantly surprised to see that posting. Rather than comment, I would like to remain slightly anonymous, and just relate a bit about my own battles.

    Due to my own (mis)adventures, and unexpected illness, I have been hospitalized 25 times, underwent 15 operations, and was revived from dead three times. While it sounds like I should barely be moving, I have managed to stay in okay shape, and keep busy with my creative profession. Partly suffering from several orthopedic repairs, the biggest issue I have to deal with is gastroparesis, a condition that affects my ability to eat.

    Last year I had the bad surprise of going to the emergency room, where I had doctors working on me for over 8 hours. It turns out I had a severe kidney infection, and my body was near shutting down. After tons of IV anti-biotics and several days, I was able to go home. The crazy part going through my mind was that I had a fairly lucrative shoot, for an long time repeat client, coming up within barely a week after I got out of the hospital. I was in bad shape, but after that shoot was postponed a few times, the last thing I wanted to do was cancel. On top of that, I already had booked a flight, and taken a deposit for the shoot.

    So I did make the flight, barely had enough energy to haul my camera gear on the plane, but I was determined to make it there. I met the client rep at the location, and then managed to get the shots needed for them. They were happy with the results, though it completely drained me. I couldn’t bring myself to explain what had happened to me, because I didn’t want to give them any impression I might not be able to deliver on the contract.

    I think what I miss from your APhotoEditor posting was that the answer seems to be “it depends”, but does it? I do feel that we build relationships with our clients, but should we draw the line when our problems might be deemed to affect our work?

  6. Another comment- the author has given her consent to print
    This is an interesting topic. From my personal experience, not telling too soon was the better choice. In advertising work, there has always been more men in the field. In our case at Double Image Studio, since we are a team ( male and female) we had some advantage. We however bid against many single or childless men.

    On my first child, I waited until almost 5 months to mention to some clients. We actually bid on some projects and decided to not let them know unless we were awarded the project. One good client said it should not effect us and we should not tell prospective clients before the fact. Unfortunately we never got the project, so it did not matter.
    On a local level, many were happy when they heard, but there were others that questioned if i would be able to handle the work and the child during the pregnancy and after. I found this from more men without families.
    As well, I do feel we were not considered for some projects because of the pregnancy. This is the reality we had.

    It would have been easier to tell people earlier in the pregnancy but my partner and our assistant were always good about helping keeping things quiet.

    On my second child, I told by 3 months- and at this point, most people were ok and happy since they saw that I was able to handle the first pregnancy and child.
    I was very lucky and able to work until the day before my deliveries, very lucky of easy pregnancies and deliveries.

    It is true, that clients are happier for men since they know it would not affect their jobs. On woman, there is no holding back- get it done. I was doing an estimate for a client I had prepped the day I came back from the hospital and delivery. This art buyer had been warned for weeks of my due date but still as I went into the hospital, the phone rang. I did what I promised and then she sat on the estimate for weeks after. This is the nature of advertising in general.

    Some clients have been great to allow me to have my babies at work and on studio projects, They have enjoyed the time with them since they have known me for so long.

    Our side division is family/ maternity photography. In many ways, this was very helpful since I can relate to our clients and them to me. The pregnancies never were an issue with this type of work. As well, there are many more woman in this area of work.

  7. I really deeply appreciated this post.
    I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer about a year ago, right as I was finishing up college. I felt like it was the most inopportune moment — I was just starting to establish myself as a photojournalist and it really felt like cancer dashed all of my chances of going into the field. My doctor told me to avoid carrying more than 20 lbs, which meant no more traversing the country to cover college football games. And things got so bad that I actually had to stop school for treatment as my disease rapidly advanced.
    I was absolutely devastated; a tumor sprouted near my left eye and threatens blindness if it grows more, and it really felt like my career as a photog/journalist was never going to happen.
    However, even through treatment and resulting moments of feeling like I was on the verge of death, I tried to keep connected with photographers and the photo world, and I wrote when I could not take photos.
    It’s definitely excellent advice to continue marketing yourself even if you are indisposed at the moment to take photographs. You never know when your condition might improve.
    I stayed positive, kept working and reworking my blog, portfolio and resume. I kept networking with photogs and started working with a friend on a photo blog throughout treatment and recovery.
    I recently found out that I got into UC Berkeley Journalism school, which I will be attending this fall if all goes well!

  8. There is risk in being innovative, but it is the only way to consistently move forward in a creative profession. Fear dictates that many play it safe and follow trends, making copying ideas the easy path. The reality is that fear ruins potential. This profession needs more risk takers, and less technicians.

  9. fascinating! I am almost 9 months pregnant and would have loved this post, oh, 7 or 8 months ago. the best advice I got then about telling clients was to not do it until I had to, and to tell them in a way that made it clear that it was no big deal and wouldn’t affect them (but also that I had XYZ contingency plans lined up just in case). I felt very insecure and confused about being newly pregnant – happy, but it’s such a life changing thing with your first that it definitely threw me for a loop. and so the second part of that advice would be faking the confidence about how things will work out and how much you’ll be able to work and so on, until the confidence genuinely does come.
    I’d love to see a similar post about working with a newborn, baby, toddler, family… that could be applicable to many men and women in this industry!

  10. actually i have loop.though i have but doctor told me that i am pregnant.is it safe for me.

  11. I have recently told a wedding client that I am pregnant ( due 3 weeks before their wedding) they now want to cancel and get their deposit back even though I assured them I would be fine for the day and have a back up plan just in case. Does anyone have advice on how to handle? (do have a contract too)