This information that I am going to share with you today deals with a very tough topic: infant loss. Please be prepared that some of the images shared here are of babies that have passed away. They are tasteful, beautiful portraits that these families cherish. I do not share this to break your heart or ruin your day, but to make sure that you are aware of this wonderful program that exists right here in the Burlington area.
In February of 2005, a baby boy was born. His name was Maddux Achilles Haggard and he was born with a rare genetic condition known as myotubular myopathy. This condition prevented him from breathing, moving or swallowing on his own. He lived for 6 days before his parents had to make the difficult decision to remove him from life support. It was at this time that they contacted a professional photographer to come to the hospital and take professional portraits of their sweet baby boy. The photographer they contacted was Sandy Puc and she created beautiful black-and-white portraits of Maddux with his parents before and after he was removed from life support.
After Maddux passed away, his mother, Cheryl, and photographer Sandy Puc stayed in touch and together formed the non-profit organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. What started out as 5 members in 2005 has grown to over 7000 volunteer photographers and digital retouchers that are located around the world. Each photographer and retoucher provides their services free of charge to families that are experiencing an infant loss.
As the area coordinator and a volunteer photographer for the Northern Vermont area, I strongly feel that the images we make and give to a family are crucial in the healing process. In years past when parents were told that their baby might die, doctors discouraged them from bonding with the baby. It was purely medical. Looking back now, when parents were not allowed to recognize their children, they had a harder time grieving them. These portraits allow people to say, “I had a baby. THIS is my baby, and they are beautiful.” Despite how good our memories are, over time memories can blur and fade. These pictures are proof that these babies were here. Every single life, no matter how short, is important and worthy of documenting.
Families generally learn about NILMDTS through their medical provider. We have relationships with area hospitals and work with staff to make certain they are educated in what we offer and how we conduct a session. Nearly every session is attended by a nurse who helps with moving and posing the baby and we are so thankful to them for that help! It allows us, the photographers, to gently work with the parents to make the experience as easy as possible for them during a time that is anything but easy.
Sometimes families have known for a while that their baby will not live long after birth and they arrange to have a session done shortly after birth when the baby is still living. Other times they know when a baby will be coming off of life support and we come in then. And then there are other times when a baby’s death is so sudden and unexpected that we are called in after they have passed. Our basic guideline for coming in to photograph a baby is that they are 25 weeks gestation, although many volunteers have photographed newborns that are younger. We rely on the medical staff to know when it is appropriate to offer a family a session if the baby is younger than 25 weeks.
Post-Mortem photography is not a new concept. It started gaining popularity in 1839 when the daguerreotype was invented. Pictures were primarily done as keepsakes of loved ones that had left this world all too soon.
Unlike the early Victorian era, we can offer families so much more now. Each family receives a keepsake DVD of their retouched images as well as a DVD slideshow set to music that features their images and beautiful quotes that NILMDTS provides their volunteers. In addition to the items they receive in the mail, we post their images with permission in a password protected online gallery so that they may view and order professional prints in the comfort of their own home. NILMDTS also provides a parent forum where families can go to receive support and talk to other NILMDT families that have suffered the loss of an infant.
Why do I do something that is absolutely heartbreaking? It’s simple…I hope that with the images I create, I can ease someone else’s pain. And I am not alone in my endeavor. I am the Area Coordinator for Northern Vermont and work with 4 other wonderful volunteers that freely give of their time, talents, and hearts: Amanda Herzberger, Wayne Tarr, Mark Sweeney, and Randy Morris. Everyone in our group is giving and willing to be there when we are needed most.
It truly is a heartbreaking subject to photograph, but also a worthy one. My older sister, Christine, was killed in-utero when my mum was in a car crash at 28 weeks and the only picture she has is a grainy Polaroid. The images that we provide these families now are true professional portraits that will hopefully help them remember the beautiful life they created and not the sad circumstances under which it ended. You can learn more about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep by visiting their website. Be well, Kathleen