Erika Ray Photography » blog

I was incredibly thin as a girl.  Plus I ran cross country and track (not very well I’ll add).  These two things were explained as a reason why I had not started my period at 15.5.  My 13-month-younger sister started two years prior (she hid it for a year and then it became regular).  I wasn’t worried about my nonexistent menstrual cycle.  Why the hell would I want a period?!  It seemed like a hassle.  Just like shaving your legs…  And really?  Does ANYONE want to bleed for a week every month?  No thank you.

“If you haven’t started by 16, I have to take you to visit the doctor” my Mom explained one evening.  “I don’t really want to because you’ll probably have to go on hormones and that means you’ll probably get fat.”  Listen… Almost 35 years later, my Ma will argue that she never added the fat line.  “I probably said ‘gain weight'” she’ll succumb to my insistence.  Nope.  “You’ll probably get fat” was said.  I know this as fact because I was a 15 year old girl who heard a doctor’s visit will end with weight gain and a period…  Gain weight in high school?  Plus have to deal with a period and PMS?!  She said it.  And that was plan.  No period by 16 and this was the solution.

“If you think about starting your period, it won’t happen.  You gotta relax.” a common line from my friends.  So I ignored the fact that I had 6 months to will my body into a menstrual cycle.  Every time I time I felt a little squishy, I was certain I’d wipe and find blood.  Nope.  Maybe I have to wipe twice?  Nothing.  Come on, Body!  Help me out!  Start a period.

That summer I turn 16.  It was the magic number when I’d get my license (took 4 tries), finally be able to date (no one asked for another 2 years) and as soon as my Mom remembered, I was heading to the Lady Doctor!

I worked at an small female retirement home.  One day in July, I was mopping the dining room after lunch.  “Save By the Bell” was over and I pushed the mop bucket to the kitchen.  The kitchen was filled with cigarette smoke and the old radio was blaring Paul Harvey’s latest story. Before I left, I needed to use the restroom.

It was tiny dark closet in the kitchen.  I finished and wiped.  And on the toilet paper was a small smear of red.  I did a double take,  smiled, zoned out until I heard blaring from the kitchen…

“…now you know the rest of the story!”

I made a makeshift toilet paper pad and drove myself home.

I busted into the house and screamed, “I’m a woman!”  Mom, Dad and my younger sister came running in.  “Yup.  I’m a woman now!” (we’re an open family)

Mom and my sister went with me to my parents’ bathroom.  I had two options: pads or some tampons leftover from my older sister’s visits.  Already hating my makeshift pad and figuring I was so grown up at 16, I reached for the tampon.  They waited outside on my Mom’s bed.

I sat down and ripped the plastic wrapper open.  A puff of chemical smelling baby powder wafted into my nose.  “This must be what a woman smells like” I thought with a grin.  Now how to get this in…  I poked Goldilocks style.  Went too high.  Too low.  And then just right…  Done.  How hard was that?  But after a few seconds, it didn’t feel right.  I thought you weren’t supposed to be able to feel tampons.  Hmm…  Maybe it’s just new. There’s got to be a learning curve.   So I stand up and walk out.  But quickly, I had to lay down on the bed.  I had a history of passing out, so my family knew the signs.

“You ok?  You don’t look well” my mom asked.  “I just feel funny.  I thought you weren’t supposed to feel a tampon.” I squeaked out.  “Did you use the applicator to make sure it was in there high enough?” she asked.  “Applicator..?  Whaaat’s that?” I said slowly.  She explained the the plastic outside was the applicator and you had to hold the top and push the bottom up.  Remove the applicator and toss it in the trash.

That would have been some good information to tell your daughter prior to leaving the bathroom!  I waddled back in, pushed, pulled and tossed it in the garage.  The faint wooziness slipped away and guess what?  I couldn’t feel the tampon…

I left the bathroom and joined the other Women of my family.  My mom left and my sister and I talked about the perks of a tampon.  I mean, I was a expert at this point.

A couple minutes later, I ran into my Dad in the kitchen.  Without taking his eyes off his dishes, he asked “Forgot about the applicator, huh?”

Moral of the story…

  • Periods show up.  Periods happen.  Some come early.  Some come late.  But periods are normal!
  • Makeshift toilet paper pads never work.  No matter how much you use or how tightly you pull up your pants.
  • Paul Harvey was a genius.
  • Womanhood does NOT smell like chemical Baby Powder.
  • In my entire life, I’ve only used three tampons with plastic applicators.
  • Show your girls how to use a tampon.  Or at least give them the instruction book.  Even if they’re 16.


  • STACI KENNELLY - My mother informed me that she would never pick me up from school for this kind of thing ever again. Kindness wasn’t king in my childhood home.

    My first daughter was with her dad and sisters. He handled it like a champ. She didn’t want her sisters to know she had started, so he pretended it was “National Candy Day” and that they needed to go get candy at the drug store. While the younger two picked out candy, he helped our oldest buy pads and showed her what to do in the bathroom. Since then, starting your period was something you did with dad. And we still call having our period “National Candy Day”.October 20, 2017 – 7:57 pmReplyCancel


From an early age, women are conditioned to feel shame.

  • Your knees are too big for that skirt.
  • You’re talented, but don’t get too vocal about it because it will make those not talented feel bad.
  • Oh no… I can see the outline of  my first bra through this shirt.  It’s summer so I can’t wear a sweater.  I guess I’ll spend recess fending off bra snaps…
  • “Ladies, don’t burp/talk loudly/use that word.”
  • You’ve come back from the bathroom to hear Paul whisper “Oh that’s why you’re bitchy.  You’re on the rag.”  “What are you talking about?!” you whisper back.  “Girls only take their purse to the bathroom when they’re on their period…”  So the next time, you sneak your purse from the ground.  You use your stealthiest moves to pull the tampon and shove it up your sleeve.  Raise your hand with a smile.  When you return, Paul keeps his mouth shut and you Shame high-five the Shame of having to sneak tampons to deal with your period.
  • Your friend shares “studies” and/or the horrible experiences of a Friend of a Friend who didn’t breastfeed/co-slept/circumcised/etc after you have a conversation about YOUR choice.
  • Why didn’t I tell him to Fuck Off?  Why did I laugh at that comment?

Every day girls and women are presented with a tray of broken mirrors: you don’t look the right way, you don’t use the right words, you don’t use the right tone, you did’t do the right thing.  Go on Ladies! Pick up your shards of Shame mirrors and try not to get cut.

But we don’t have to accept that mirror.  We don’t.  Some learn this lesson very early and some are still learning.  Talking about our commonalities can help lessen the shame.

Lately, I’m lost on my blog.  Older boys mean less family posts.  A lack of birth means no labor and delivery shots.  Rallies?  I’ve taken some time off from visiting those.  I guess you’ve got nothing to say, Erika.

Bullshit, Inner Erika voice!

Mommy-hood didn’t define me.  Births and rallies were icing on a cake.  The lack of those don’t define my voice.  So let’s talk about something I encounter with so many women my age. I had no clue about my grown-up period until other women my age said, “OH MY GOD!  Mine too!!  My OB said that same thing.  It’s shitty.”  Why didn’t I know this?  We don’t talk about something that happens EVERY SINGLE MONTH.

Listen, I’m not going to run a marathon without a tampon to bring awareness to accept periods.  Nope.  I’m awful at getting stains out so that’s a good waste of shorts and socks. Plus I hate to run.  But why not talk about it?  The majority of women on earth have a period 3-7 days every month for decades.  But try mentioning that when a man is in earshot…

Let’s talk about periods!  With no shame.

Instead of jumping ahead to my late thirties, I’ll start at the beginning.

Tomorrow tune in for my story.  I’ll make it entertaining.  Because honestly… It was.  After all the cramps, mood changes, prayers for the period to start, stained underwear, tears when the period did start, ruined pants, thousands spend on tampons, pad, cups, and for all the middle school Paul moments…  It’s our period.  It’s natural.  It’s educational.  It’s a good chunk of our life.  Let’s have a conversation.

And please.  Please feel free to share your own stories.  It’s no big deal.  You’ve got one.  Had one.  Will get one.  Me too, Ladies.  Me bloody too…*


(Just a nice warm cup of tea for your cramps…  Mix in some bourbon and banish those assholes away.)

*if I was English

  • Tracy - I was intrigued to come and read this particularly because I’m just starting to get into preparing my daughter for the eventuality. Looking forward to your next post. Love your words about shame.October 19, 2017 – 12:56 pmReplyCancel

  • Anonymous - Keep writing what your mind revels! I love your voiceOctober 20, 2017 – 10:32 amReplyCancel

Last weekend I participated in a three day yoga workshop.  During the final day, the teacher explained how she had asked other students to keep a journal.  Write down their every thought.  Or everything they watched on tv.  Or all of their cleaning products for a year.  It was explained that during the year, you’d start to recognize patterns of thought.  Realize emotions are fleeting.  And at the end a gratitude for the practice.  For a year, pick a topic and write it down.  Every day.  For a year.


A year?!  “Umm…  How big are these journals?” I asked.  Multi volumes of journals.  


I sat there exhausted by the idea.  A whole year of my thoughts?!  Holy hell.  Who does that?  And for what good reason?!  Blah blah blah gratitude for cleaning… Why the fuck would I care to write tiny details for 365 days?



Oh…  Wait.  

Just wait, Erika…

Oh.  You do that.  You understand the Why and the How.

And just like that I had a moment.


The reason I couldn’t see it while staring at this smart woman was because I wasn’t doing the work on my 365.  I was clicking, but NOT doing the work.  My camera had almost a month’s worth of images.  I’ve never gone that long between dumps and edits.  This time I had.  Most of the days, I took one photo.  Not giving a shit about composition or subject.  A few days, I took 5 only because I’m pretty sure I missed the focus on ALL of them.  Lots of boring food shots and blurry cat photos.  So I clicked everyday and felt smug about that fact.  But I didn’t care for the photos, so I didn’t do the work.  I couldn’t see the practice.


Without editing the photos or even culling them I missed my moments.  It was just a string of days stacking up on my camera.  Not seeing them made me ignore the point of a 365.  The point is to find gratitude and acceptance with your life. To notice your misses, not dwell on it and to move on.  It’s not to create 365 amazing images.  Not to create a portfolio of work.  That kind of pressure kills every 365 on Day 52 or 211.  You pick.

Sure some shots are beautiful because that’s the deal with life.  You get some beautiful moments strung in between the crap inducing moments.  In between the One Click days, were reminders of my life.  How my youngest continues to cross his feet when he builds lego.  Or how my oldest fights the camera and then still mugs the camera.  A cute moment when my youngest greeted the cat before hugging me.  A self portrait after completing said yoga workshop.  Remember that night I said, “Fuck it” and ate pizza with cheese?  I do.  It was Day 83 and it was no big deal.  A brother hug that was a gateway for wrestling and an annual tradition nearing a 20 year mark.  Those moments happened between the misses.  Some were perceived as misses only to see their glory beyond my initial emotion and the tiny LCD.  Those were my moments.  And I created them for a reason.  

Those moments of frustration are bookended by beautiful moments.   Frozen just waiting for me to notice.  But I couldn’t notice until I forced myself to sit with them.  Worrying about focus, shitty light, bad composition, icky scenes were keeping me from seeing the truth.  Perfection does not birth a full heart.

You have to do the work.

Make mistakes.  Learn and let it go.

Find some gratitude.

See your own truth and sit with it.

Accept it.
And give birth to your very own full heart.


That’s what a 365 always teaches me when I’m willing to listen.  

It was time to listen again.




I guess if I’m being honest and you’re still around…

I could take away the photography angle and apply it to real life.
Notice it.  Sit with it.

And do the damn work.


At my births no one said, “Hey, Sweetie wanna see your placenta?”  I would have gasped in horror and politely said, “No thank you. Remember I wanted him spotless before you gave him to me?  And you still gave him to me all gooey…  You’re lucky I didn’t let him slide right off me!”

So photographing my first birth was the first time, I had actually seen a placenta.  And it was memorizing…  Even for a someone who got warned all the time, “YOU don’t do well around blood!”  But I was captivated by the placenta. I kept thinking, “What is the midwife doing?  What’s she actually looking for?  How can she see anything?  Oh.  My.  God.  She’s lifting it off the floor?!  It’s gonna rip.  It’s gonna rip!  Blood is gonna go everywhere!  Woah…  Look how strong it is!!”

Examining the placenta is still one of my favorites parts of a birth shoot.  And it doesn’t get much love from birth photographers.  I get it.  There’s more tender, real, and emotional parts to share.

But the placenta…  People, the placenta is life!

This life sustaining organ is also a pretty decent metaphor for life.

It’s messy.  Confusing.  Dark.  Fragile looking.

But look closer…  Please.  Look closer.

It’s also beautiful.  Mysterious.  Powerful.  And gives you exactly what you need.

How can one not be in awe of the placenta?!

Look past the blood and notice its beauty and strength.

After all it gave you your beauty and strength.  Honor it.




  • Jill - Love your work! I’ve been flowing yo since I took your breakout on CM. I also love your unapologetic t-shirt. Where did you buy it from?August 10, 2017 – 10:45 amReplyCancel

  • Anonymous - LOVE this ❤August 10, 2017 – 6:13 pmReplyCancel

  • Anonymous - It’s gross but so incredibly awesome. Like the real definition of awesome. To stand in total awe of. Man.August 11, 2017 – 12:22 amReplyCancel

Birth is completely unpredictable.  You can guess.  But in the end, it’s that.  A big ole Guess.

When will labor start?  First labor 27 hours and the second only 2 hours? Contractions are really close and steady, but I’m only 3 cm?!  Contractions JUST started and I’m pushing?!  So-and-So’s started like this so mine will too?  Nope.

Ladies, it’s a solid guess.  And you just have to roll with it.  Understand “rolling with it” and your labor and delivery will be easier.  Not pain-free, but easier.

I got the Labor Started text, but something told me to go.  I hit the road and I got the next text “She’s complete.  Get here now.”  Not the text you want during a rainy rush hour.  But you drive and roll with it.

So did Melanie and Michael.  He rushed home.  She didn’t worry about setting up the birth pool.  Found an old tablecloth from a previous birthday party and laid it on the bed.  No use ruining good sheets and a mattress.  I showed up and she was calm but in full labor.  There was no smile to greet me.  She was ready to meet her third baby.  She was in her strength.  She was already accessing her power.  Silent.  Strong breaths.  Demanded silence and asked for comfort.  She was in the birth zone.  For a split second she questioned her ability (every woman does).  Amy and Michael supported and reminded her, “YOU CAN DO THIS.  Meet your baby after this next push.”

And then I saw it come over her body.  She knew it was time.

Minutes later she held her baby and introduced her two girls to their new sibling.

I photographed her second birth and she let Daughter 1 announce the Baby 2’s gender.  I loved that scene and was even cuter because she announced the wrong gender.  Easily done, Folks.  But everyone laughed.  Baby 3’s gender would be revealed by Daughter 2.  “It’s a boy.”  Everyone reacts.  Two girls and a boy!  A couple minutes later, the midwife whispers to Michael, “You might want to check again…”  History repeated itself and the room erupts with laughter.  They rolled with it.

Look at those smiles?  Look at the love?

This family rolls with life because they have each other.

And because they have faith.

It was an honor and joyous to watch the first time.

It’s inspiring to watch a second time.

Thanks for letting me roll with you


Special thanks to Well Rounded Midwifery.  Having a baby soon?  Call her first.  And then call me.  You won’t regret either call.  Just saying…

*Hang with me until the end even if you aren’t a photographer.  I think it could apply to all of us…  Just read something today that’s not an email or the info on your tv’s guide.


“Signs” are an asshole.  Mostly because I think people ignore them until they’re in crisis.  For example…  A couple months ago, that big beautiful rainbow stretching in front of the car is simply the product of rain and sun.  But when you’re ready for a sign, that same big beautiful rainbow is a message from you dearly-departed Nana telling you to take the damn leap.

It’s all about acting when ready because that’s exactly when you’ll experience the most from your life.

Photography always comes into my life when it’s most useful and necessary.  When my boys were younger, it was my way to reconcile the endless boring/frustrating/messy bits of life with two small children, a full time job, a side gig, and relationships.  It’s hard to manage those areas, but you’re expected to skillfully juggle everything.  Photography made me see my life.  To accept it.  To appreciate it.  To make it into art.  Sure, I’d hit ruts.  But it was easy to climb out.  Experiencing my children’s newness towards life.  Navigate Firsts and document the journey with my camera.

And then they grew up…  It’s hard, Folks.  Not because they’re getting older (teenage years are gnashing their teeth as I type), but it’s personally harder when you’ve created a hobby of documenting your early days.

Oh I see a hand up from a young mother teetering a baby on her hip and wrangling a toddler…  Yes?

“But you love photography.  They’re still cute.  I plan on photographing mine forever.  It’s my passion.”

Imagine that I’ve morphed into the old woman sitting at the end of the bar at 11:30 a.m., sipping a warm White Zin while taking a long slow drag off my Pall Mall.  “Oh sweetie. Aren’t you precious?  How about this…?  I’ll keep this ratty seat warm and we’ll talk in ten years.  And please for the love of the lens do not suggest I become a family photographer.  It’s different and you know it.  Another round, Stan.  She’s buying.  ”

It’s hard.  I’ve been photographing and using social media long before FB (shit there was no iPhone when I started. Instagram?  Not even on the radar) exploded with images.  I’ve used it and been rewarded.  I’ve been silent and perfectly content.  I’ve felt hurt by a newly created title by pro-photographer: “Momtog”.  I’ve been using tags before they were Hashtags.  I’ve seen millions of tricycles shot from behind with precious pigtails flapping in the dust.  I’ve seen hundred of dozens (is that even a thing?) of messy floured faces eating cookie dough.  Pouty but adorable time out scenes?  Millionth Check!  I’m seasoned in this arena only because my kids grew up on screens and my camera’s LCD.  I grew up with dozens of other photographers’ kids too.

But how about scenes from middle schoolers doing homework?  A few and they aren’t super cute because it’s NOT (no disrespect to the photographer just not a cute scene).  How about them naturally laughing with their friends?  Occasionally.  A couple times a year, I’ll wonder where a photographer went.  I’ll text a friend and ask “What happen to So-and-So?”  And then I’ll see a random post of a kid’s face and I realize it’s lost all the baby fat.  Oh yeah…  Everyone’s gotten older and it’s gotten harder to maintain the old hobby.  It has to evolve just like your children.  Just like you.  It’s unfair for me to expect anything else.  Before it was easy.  Now it’s changed and more difficult.  But we evolve.  If not, we wither despite our rants and desire.

I swear this isn’t me being bitchy/jealous/defeatist.  It just is.  I knew years ago, photographing my children was going to change.  Out of respect for them, it has to change.  And the scenes are drastically different.  Heads are more in screens and less wrapped around my legs.  Is that a plus or is it a con?  Depends on if you ask the Mom in me or the Photographer in me.  But ask any photographer who has relentlessly documented her children through the years.  Find one if they’re still active on FB.  I’d be shocked if she disagrees.  So trust me and all the other’s who’ve stopped blogging, it’s hard.

But then I got some signs because I was ready:

  • Light was crisp and dewy again.  “Where the fuck is my camera?” started popping back into my head.
  • Even though I knew I wouldn’t use it, I still brought my camera on vacation.
  • A birth client shared a line from a book she was reading.  It was about accepting the one life you’ve got. Oh…  Oh.. Yeah, that’s the key.
  • A friend said, “This is when you should be photographing things.  How come you aren’t?  You’re good at this.”  Paraphrased but you get the point.  The missing camera was recognized by more than one person.
  • And then a damn bird kept showing up at my window.  For a week, the boys mentioned it.  I’d think “Stupid bird.  Just don’t die flying into the window…”  One day I was sitting on my couch, I heard this tapping.  I swore a neighbor was in our backyard trying to get my attention.  But when I looked up, there was a bight lime green bird hovering like a Hummingbird. But it was so much larger.  After I stopped almost shitting my pants, it flew away.  I went closer and it came back.  Tapped and hovered for a minute.  It happened again and that’s when I realized I should probably start paying attention again.

I know one way to shoot.  It’s to force myself, but only when I’m ready.  I’m ready.  So it’s 365 time again.  I wasn’t going to make this one public.  “This one will be for me.”  But every single one has been for me.  This one is no different.  My rules are simple…  Photograph something once a day.  Don’t aim for perfection, aim for life.  Accept there are going to be dull days/weeks.  No black & whites.  My life is in color.  Miss a day?  So I missed a day?  Is it going to be harder with older children?  Duh.  Might be lots of cat/food pictures.  Don’t finish?  Don’t care.

But this is it: this is my life right now.  I can wrap myself in excuses or I can get to work.  You want to deal with anything?  You accept it.  And then you work with it.  Not against.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy.  It means you care enough even when it’s hard.  You settle into the discomfort to experience growth and change.  You get ready and then you fucking work it.

Enough with the signs.

Keep your deranged birds.  It get it.

It’s time to get back to work.

Follow along here or on FB


  • Xanthe - High fives from me!! I love your 365s and your view of the world and your world. Hurray for continuing to photograph teenage boys… it’s real life, it’s my life.
    “To accept it. To appreciate it. To make it into art.”

    x.July 18, 2017 – 9:45 amReplyCancel

    • Erika - I wish I could make more movies too! I loved doing that. Maybe I’ll get solid footing in the 365 and make a movie once a month. I’m a baby-steps kind of gal. And oh sweet sweet teenage boys… We’re at the very beginning of the stage. I swear a cranky newborn was easier! :)July 18, 2017 – 10:24 amReplyCancel

  • Karyn Hlad - Yep yep yep. My oldest is now just one year younger than I was when I bought myself my first camera. Ruts and change and the evolution of it all, but still… still picking up my camera. Thanks for this.July 18, 2017 – 10:57 amReplyCancel

  • Kelly - Love this so much. My youngest started high school about the time I decided to ditch my career. I didn’t have more than a crappy point and shoot, but I used it and yes, it was what got me to blog. That was ten years ago. I’m so glad I was able to document my son’s high school years in all their far from perfect splendor. Paying attention indeed. Good luck with your 365–I’ve done it once and not very well. But I still treasure those photos.July 18, 2017 – 11:32 amReplyCancel

    • Erika - Even when I thought my 365 photos were blah and I hated it, I looked back with fresh eyes and I’m grateful. It’s always one of the motivating factors. <3July 18, 2017 – 2:12 pmReplyCancel

  • Linsey - You just became my best friend and you don’t even know it!!!!! Most of my kids are older now (thank God for that 5 yr old) and I can’t dress them in the cute little clothes because they would flip out! Those cute little faces have some acne now.
    But I desperately want to capture these days before my oldest is on his own (he’s almost 15 but in mom years …..he’s almost gone!)
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this!July 18, 2017 – 5:30 pmReplyCancel

    • Erika - It’s been my crutch. “The boys are too old”

      While it’s true that it makes photography harder, but also it makes it different. So I’m going to roll with that Different. It’s the only way to go. Plus I’ll be pissed at myself in the future. I hate when I’m pissed at myself… <3July 18, 2017 – 9:20 pmReplyCancel

  • Jonica - This is so so true!! I have teenage boys and it is a struggle to motivate myself to pick the camera up sometimes. Everything is so much busier than the younger years – I never would have thought that a few years ago :) I don’t know if you’re familiar with Beyond Boyhood over on Instagram, but a few of us started that hub for this very reason – to motivate and inspire ourselves and others to keep picking up the camera as our boys grow older. We would love to have you share with us over there!! Thanks so much for sharing such a real perspective on photographing our older kids :)July 18, 2017 – 9:21 pmReplyCancel

    • Erika - It’s funny and not necessarily photography related, but I can make all link up 😘… I’ve been telling people, “I’ll take a newborn or cranky toddler any day!” In some ways, easier and other ways so much harder. At least with younger kids it feels like there’s a plethora of support (blogs, play dates, articles on how to “survive”). I will absolutely check out the IG feed!July 19, 2017 – 7:04 amReplyCancel

  • Bonnie - You completely nailed it. I’ve been feeling these exact sentiments for the last few months. It is harder as they get older. Thank you for this.July 19, 2017 – 9:33 amReplyCancel

    • Erika - Anything I can do to help. Just using the internet like a giant support group!!

      <3July 19, 2017 – 10:10 amReplyCancel