A Very Special and Difficult Photo Session

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Many of you know that I'm a volunteer photographer for a great organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS).  As a professional photographer, this is part of the way that I give back to the community. Infant bereavement photography is a very challenging experience. I've done nineteen sessions, and last night's session was one of the most touching and difficult. 

Above is a  very special Lilly

Above is a  very special Lilly


As a NILMDTS photographer, we are called to in hospitals to photograph those infants that are critically ill and will pass at any time, or have already passed away. The purpose is to provide professional portraiture so that those families will have a remembrance of their child that they only held for a very brief time.  You will not see any of those photos on my web site. By agreement, these are very private photos that help the families grieving process. The photo above was from a family portrait shoot for one of my NILMDTS families, some 6 months after their NILMDTS session immediately  after Lilly was born (as this was a professional shoot and not a NILMDTS shoot I'm allowed to share it with you). 

At this particular session, Lilly, who I got to know very well in her 17 months of life was particularly fussy. She was used to seeing me and my camera, but just didn't want to cooperate until we were all done and I was just packing up and her mom Lisa (an amazing woman) picked her up. Luckily I was able to catch this image quickly. You can learn more more about Lilly, Trisomy 13,  and her amazing family at Lisa's blog Pray4Lilly

Last Night's Challenge 

Last night I received a phone call from Wake Medical center. A very sweet mom and dad had a very sad situation, what is called a fetal demise. This baby would be born without taking a breath, and unfortunately was a little more less than  3 months early. The reason this happened is both not important and in fact unknown to me. What was important was the family really wanted to have photos with their tiny daughter.

This is a common call. What made this night so very special was that the mom was a Neo Natal Intensive Care Nursery nurse in one of the NICU units that I work with in the Raleigh / Durham /Chapel Hill area. In fact, I do more NILMDTS photography at her unit than anywhere else, so she was very familiar with our service and desperately wanted a session. Luckily I was available so I took the session (we have an entire team of about 12 volunteers in the area that all share this cause).

For those of you that don't know me personally, some 25 years ago I was on the other side of the camera, living in a NICU as I am the father of a 25 week premie, a surviving twin weighing 1.5 pounds at birth. He's now 25 years old  (and in fact is sitting across from me as I write this blog).  Because of my background, I usually have a pretty thick skin when doing sessions such as last night. 

It's been my experience that when photographing what I call "Angel Babies", that usually the parents only want to be in one or two images quickly (understandably, it can be a very emotional and painful experience). However, on this evening, the mom and dad wanted to be with that baby, always holding it, and knew that these photos would later help them through their grieving process. 

I think what touched me and truly affected me though out the evening when I got home was that here was this mother, herself a NICU nurse who has probably helped hundreds of families in similar circumstances, is now the person that needs help. I guess my emotions caught up with me later as I realized that at one time I was the person that had many NICU nurses helping me trough the loss of one son, and the terrifying medical journey we were taking with our surviving  son, and now I'm helping one of their own in a similar way.

One Last Thought

I'm sure that many people reading this post wonder why someone would want images of a very small baby that has passed away. For the uninformed this may seem a bit odd. A couple of thoughts to help educate and inform. First, we only provide images in black and white and very carefully and tastefully done. This helps ease some of the obvious impact of these images.  I do a tremendous amount of post processing to help soften the impact, and if there's a situation that is beyond my capabilitiy,  through NILMDTS,  I have access to a world wide team of very talented photo touch up artists at my disposal.

These photos are not meant to be looked at over and over as years go by (though depending on the situation like Lilly, they can be used that way). Most are used to help the grieving process. On occasion I receive a thank you note from the family telling me how the images have touched them and helped them though a horrible and challenging time in their life.  We all do this as volunteers because we care about the cause. Those notes are worth more than any payment could ever be and keeps me energized to continue to the next challenging session. 

If you so desire and want to give to a fantastic cause, please consider a donation to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.