Pieces of Me, Angela Z.

What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day, than to post my first Pieces of Me portrait series, celebrating the women who have inspired me and impacted my life.  A process and expression of gratitude, as well as a dialogue between me and these women and the world, about what it means to be live a meaningful life that impacts others.

Before I get into it and introduce my first subject, I want to take a minute and thank everyone who read my original post, shared their thoughts and responses on the topic, and offered their own take on some of the questions that I posed.  It means so much to me to know that I am not alone in this process and that you took the time to read and share with me.  As I stated before, sharing online does not come without it’s slight moments of fear and hesitation.  After pressing “publish,” I often take a deep breath, my eyes getting bigger while I think, “should I be sharing this?!”  I write because it clarifies how I feel about something.  The thoughts are a mish-mosh in my head until I spew them out and get them down on paper.  So, thank you.  I hope you stick around because there are some fabulous ladies coming your way that will inspire you to be more, to do more, to strive to make a positive impact on others.  <3

So let’s get to it.

When I was thinking about this project originally, I thought of all the successful women that have made an impact in my life along the way.  There are many of them, but this lady jumped out at me, without hesitation.  I knew immediately I wanted to photograph her and include her in this project.

Almost 7 years ago this May, I planned to have a natural birth at a birth center with my first child.  Long story short (I am sparing you the details), after an early water breaking at 38 weeks, many (many) long hours laboring followed by many hours of pushing, I was transferred to the hospital because even though the baby nor I was in distress, I was exhausted and could not push him out, he was stuck.  After all of that effort, Coen was born via c-section.  My recovery from such a long labor and pushing, followed by major abdominal surgery, was rough to say the least.  I was traumatized and disappointed and felt like I was broken.  This is what my body was made for, giving birth.  For as long as humans have been on earth, women have given birth all naturally, without medication and surgery.  Why could I not do what billions of women have done before me?  {Side Note: I realize there is a time and place for medical interventions, and that many moms and babies have been saved and birthed safely due to that intervention, so please spare me any negation of my feelings based on this!}  For months, I could not shake the feelings.  I expressed my sadness to my doula who suggested I attend an ICAN meeting.  I had never heard of ICAN, which is the International Cesarean Awareness Network, but they so happened to be meeting THAT night at a restaurant in MY neighborhood.  All signs pointed to yes, so I went.  A group of women surrounded multiple tables pushed together in the front of the restaurant, some pregnant and some holding babies, women I had not known before that day.  I sat down quietly and listened as the leader of the group started the meeting, followed by introductions around the table.  It was then time for discussion.  I raised my hand and began to speak.  I told my story, my desires and intentions, the details of the labor and the c-section, how I felt the days and weeks following, how I felt like my body didn’t work right, like I failed, like I was broken, like I let Coen down, like I was forever changed by the puffy pink scar on my belly.  Disappointed.  Sad.  The tears streamed down my face. When I was done, I lifted my head to see that these women, these strangers, were crying with me.  They knew my pain, they took it as their own and grieved with me.  They created a safe space to be vulnerable and did not say to me “at least your baby is healthy.”  They said, that sucks, and I’m so sorry that happened, that you feel that way.  I left feeling better, feeling lifted, and surrounded with love and support.  I attended monthly meetings and continued to feel nothing but loved and supported.  I learned many things, including how to cope, how to come together and connect with women, lifting each other up, how to heal, how to take control of my health and have a voice in the medical decisions that affect me.  I received strength and was inspired by their enduring and never-ending capacity to stand up for themselves and for their rights and for the rights of all women.  I stopped going to meetings for a long time until I got pregnant with my second.  I was scared, I wanted to attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), but was worried about so many things.  Will my body work right this time?  Will I fail again?  Will I give up?  What are the risks with a repeat c-section?  Again, nothing but love, support, and education so that I could make the decisions that were best for me, my body, and my baby, and not being dictated by doctor’s schedules, fear of liability, and insurance.  In the end, I had a home VBAC with my daughter, Arden, that was nothing short of amazing.  To this day, I have not felt elation like I felt when Arden was placed on my chest.  Pure joy.  Pure love.  Pure strength.  Pure empowerment.  I received that strength from the women at ICAN.  I would not have been able to have the birth that was right for Arden and me without ICAN.  Over time, I became stronger in my conviction that women know what is best for them and their bodies and became less and less afraid to speak up for what I believe in.  I came to believe that I am strong and can rise to meet the most demanding of physical, emotional, and mental challenges.  I learned to believe in myself, my instincts, and my body.  I learned that women are amazing and that I, for the first time in my life, truly appreciated what it meant to be a woman, what a true gift and blessing it was to be a woman.  I was and am proud to be a woman.  I am forever changed from the women at ICAN, and one in particular, the one who was the local Central Florida chapter leader for many years.

Meet Angela Z.

orlando portrait photographer

She is bold.  She is fierce.  She is not afraid to stand up and speak her mind.  She fights for women’s rights.  She is fearless.  She is unwavering in her beliefs and does not back down when challenged.  She is also full of life with a sparkle in her eye.  Basically, I want to be her.  As I have said before, it took me a long time to come into my own skin, to not be afraid to share my thoughts and opinions, especially when those opinions may not be the most popular around, not mainstream and a bit on the crunchy, hippie-dippy side.  She inspired me and continues to inspire me to stand up for myself when something is important to me, to not back down from confrontation or adversarial situations just because they make me feel uncomfortable or out of fear of offending or upsetting someone.  My life has been touched by her life.  Her life story is now a part of my life story.  I am eternally grateful for the role she has played in my journey into motherhood, my journey into womanhood, my journey into my own skin.

When Angela came to my studio for her shoot, I hadn’t told her too much of what I was thinking, the reason for my request that she come in and be photographed.  Yet she was so willing to share with me, to be open and talk with me about my questions about living a meaningful life, about how her life was meaningful to me, and that I was grateful to her.  Tears were shed.  I can image it was a little like being on Oprah.  😉  She told me about the incredible challenges she faced as a child and how she overcame them to be the person she is today.  I loved her even more after our talk and her session.  I was so in the moment when we talked, that I did not remember the exact details enough to quote her here, so I asked her to answer some questions in writing and she graciously complied.  {Side note: Angela is a speech and language pathologist specializing in adult brain injury and stroke rehabilitation and pediatrics by day, the leader of the local ICAN chapter by night.  How amazing is she?!}

How do you define success?  

Being successful, in my eyes, means being the woman my daughters will look to for for guidance and advice as they grow into women. It means serving my clients and patients in a way that brings forth meaningful change and inspires them to realize their own strength and courage. It means being the best wife I can to my husband and being willing to work on all the sticky and challenging things that inevitably come up along the years. It means serving my community. It means being as much a sister as I am a friend to my friends. And then it all comes back to my daughters. I do it all for them in hopes that I can be they don’t have to work as hard as I have to be successful because a path has already been laid out for them.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment to date?

Finding my true self and learning to be unapologetic for being me. Without having built that foundation, none of what I have done would have been possible.

How do you believe you impact the people around you?

Every month when women and their partners show up for a support meeting, every time I have watched a woman birth herself into motherhood, every time I have helped a client find his or her voice, I know I have positively impacted the people around me. I impact those around me by holding their space. I impact those around me by believing in them and telling them as many times as it takes for them to believe me. I impact people around me by listening to their stories. I spend my time doing this because for a long long time so many people did this for me, during a period of time when I wrongly thought I didn’t have anything to offer to anyone, not even myself.

Do you believe you live your life with purpose and meaning?

The purpose and meaning I live with is to make life better for family and my community. In my day to day work with patients who have had strokes and brain injures, as well as kids who have trouble saying their R’s, to role playing with my kids when I hear them struggling as well as recognizing their ordinary successes, to making myself available to women in our community who need support and encouragement in finding their own voices, all the way to practicing profound self control and not skipping ahead to the next episode of Mad Men and saving it for my husband and I to watch together…..I want to hear all of their stories, I want to better understand their lives, and I strive to do what is in my power to make our collective lives better, if only by listening. That is how I strive to impact others through my life’s purpose and meaning.

Do you feel like you still have things you want to accomplish and do?

YES! Living without a plan is like living without air! Sometimes it drives my husband a little bonkers with how much I plan, but I know that he really does appreciate it. I have clear goals set for the next year and five years that I revisit every month or two to make sure that I am on track and actively working towards my vision.

How do you think you inspire others?

I believe I inspire others with my willingness to speak up when something is not right, my grit in overcoming personal challenges, and my ability to connect with other women. I truly believe in the saying “stand up for what is right, even if you stand alone”, and to be totally honest there have been times that standing up for what I believe is right has been at a high cost. Sometimes that cost has been incredibly painful for me, however, I am willing to make that stand if I truly believe in a cause.

I have overcome a lifetime of adversity to get to where I am today, and I am very much forging my own path. I am proud of that, and I am not afraid of talking with others about the hardships I have overcome. These challenges have made me who I am today, as painful as they might have been. And if by speaking out about my painful early years helps one woman to get the help she needs, to find a counselor, or to consider making serious changes in her life, then any backlash I have experience for being unafraid and unashamed has been worth it.

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After meeting with Angela, I was energized, uplifted, and felt alive and connected with myself and my world.  My heart was full knowing she felt loved and appreciated and that she knew that her life had impacted mine.  That she was important to me.  After my initial post, it has become clear to me that living a meaningful life does not need to be on a grand scale – you do not have to impact the entire world to live a meaningful life.  One of the most important things is to be true to yourself.  Be yourself, believe in the importance and relevance of your own voice.  There are SO many people on this earth and so many have walked before us – every single person is different.  Celebrating that difference by embracing yourself, your own thoughts and opinions, living the life you want for yourself, is the basic tenant of living a meaningful life.  And then, once you do that, you are free and open to impact others positively.  If Angela had not overcome adversity to find and embrace herself all those years ago, would she have been at that ICAN meeting that night?  Would our lives have ever crossed?  That is the beauty of life.  We do not know why or how our paths are the way they are or why they go where they go, but we can for sure as shit believe that there is a reason and that we can positively or negatively affect those around us, it’s our choice.

So go forth, and be like Angela.  I love her.

Thank you, Angela, for being YOU.  YOU are important.

xoxo,

Rebecca

END NOTES:

– There are MANY women that I met through ICAN that supported me, loved me, and empowered me.  Highlighting Angela in no way diminishes their roles.  I would guess that they feel the same way about Angela as I do 🙂

– ICAN is an amazing organization.  If you are trying to prevent a c-section, recover from a c-section, attempt a VBAC, or educate or empower yourself to make the best decisions that are right for you, your body, and your baby, please look them up and go to a meeting!

– If you want to read my first post that started this project, you can do so here.

– I have many photos of Angela smiling and laughing, but I picked this one because this is how I will remember her:  unapologetically fierce.  I love how she is coming out of the darkness, only one side of her face illuminated by the light, because it is reminiscent of her story, she overcame darkness to be the person she is today.  She came out of the darkness to be the best version of herself she could be, inspiring others with her strength, her grit and her light.  Out of the darkness and into the light that she shines on those around her.

 

 

2 comments
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  • Angela ZieglerMarch 8, 2016 - 11:29 pm

    I love you to, Rebecca. Thank you for being so brave and so creative in ways that complete you and inspire others, too.ReplyCancel

  • Erin MonroeMarch 9, 2016 - 5:58 am

    beautiful image of a beautiful heartReplyCancel