The session I didn’t get to photograph

I had two glamour and one maternity photo sessions lined up today. Everything went as well as I had hoped for. Everyone had a good time, and I was happy with the results. But it was the one session I didn’t get to photograph that occupies my mind tonight.

Earlier this week, I received an email from a family who had newborn twins, but is expecting one of the twins to not live much longer. We made tentative plans for me to go photograph the baby at the NICU as a NILMDTS volunteer.

Late last night, a NICU nurse called me and said the family decided to take the baby off life support right then, a day before schedule. I said I was available and ready to go. The nurse put me on hold so she can get a final verbal consent from the family. She came back on the phone and said the family was so devastated that they turned down my offer to photograph the baby. The nurse thanked me and we hung up.

As a mother, I cannot begin to imagine the difficult decisions that this family has to make. I have been at the NICU a number of times, photographing babies who won’t be going home. Nothing can ever prepare someone for losing a baby, and there are no words of comfort profound enough to make the pain go away.

So tonight my thoughts are with this family who went through hell. I am so sorry for your loss.

Why I volunteer for NILMDTS

I got a call from the NICU at Women’s this week about photographing a baby with hydrops. The NICU nurse told me he is quite bruised from the condition. I had no idea what to expect. I have done a few sessions at the hospital now for babies with various conditions. More often than not, I have to look up what the medical terms actually mean.

I got to the hospital, parked my car, took a deep breath, and went in. When the nurse brought me into the dim procedure room at the NICU, I greeted mom and dad, and went over to take a look at baby. It’s true, he was bruised. But all I could tell was that he was a very good looking baby, and he was obviously loved by many.

At various times during the session, the mom or the dad would start crying, and that was probably the hardest part for me. Being a mom myself, I cannot imagine losing one of my babies. While I clicked away with the camera, I let tears just roll down my face. I was so heart broken.

That afternoon, I met with a friend for a walk. She asked me, “Why would you do something like this?” referring to the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS) photo sessions at the hospital.

She is not the first person to ask me that. I don’t really have a solid answer for it. Maybe a part of it is that I wanted to do something to “give back”. Maybe because I love babies. And maybe it’s because I truly value photographs. It’s probably a combination of the all the above.

The truth is, I’m still in the exploring stages of this volunteer work. I had discussed this with Cliff, and figured if I really couldn’t handle the sessions, I could pull out later. So far, yes, it has been very hard emotionally, but it has also been very rewarding knowing that the families will have photographs of their babies to treasure. Maybe photographs are the last thing on their minds when they are battling their own emotions, but at least the images are available when they’re ready to look at them later.

There is nothing anyone can do to take away the pain of losing a child. I guess I just hope that what I do contribute to a small part of their healing.

I held my kids tight tonight, so grateful that they were right here in my arms.

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

I have thousands of pictures of my kids.  I want to document every precious moment, and record every memory.  Some nights, I scroll through old photos, and lament how quickly they have grown.  But for me, tomorrow is another day.  We get to make new moments and memories, and I continue to fill up my hard drive with countless images of their childhood.

For a family suffering from early infant loss, there is no tomorrow.  There is no next week.  There is no first birthday.  If they don’t have images of their angel before leaving the hospital, they have no chance of making new images.  When I think about the finality of their short relationship with their baby, my heart breaks into pieces.

Back in January, I put a portfolio and application package together, and sent it off to Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS).  NILMDTS is a non-profit organization that provides free photography services to families that suffer early infant loss.  The organization is made up of volunteer photographers in the US and Canada.  Then in March, I was accepted by NILMDTS as a volunteer photographer, and I became listed on their website as a resource to call.

Today, I got the first call from the hospital.  A premie baby didn’t have much time left.  The nurse asked me if I could be there in an hour.  We live close enough to the hospital that I had time to pack up my gear and make it there with time to spare.  The baby was only about 2 lbs, and he relied on the ventilator to breathe. On the outside, I tried to be a professional photographer, getting all the shots I would want if it was my baby.  But inside, I am just another mommy who has all of her love and heart poured into her children.  All I really wanted to do was throw my arms around the tearful mom and cry with her, mourning the loss of her baby.

Tonight, as I watch my kids sleep soundly and their faces so peaceful and sweet, my heart is broken for this mom who went home without her baby.