October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance month. Have you heard of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS)? This organization is very close to my heart.
When I first began working in the hospital photographing the first 24-48 hours of brand new life, I quickly came to realize that not all were tears of joy and happiness.
I'll never forget the first time I was asked to photograph an early fetal demise of 18 weeks. Tears immediately filled my eyes. I had to step into the office to compose myself as the nurse explained the details. I had never done this before. How would I proceed if I said yes? After a few minutes of many thoughts rushing through my mind, I agreed. The only way I knew how to do this was to ask myself - if this were my baby how would I want to remember him or her? I proceeded down the hall to explain to this young Mom what I was about to do. She was in complete and utter shock with the unexpected passing of her daughter. Her family was much more aware of what was happening. The nurse opened the door and brought her baby in gently placing her in her mother's arms. I photographed and tried my best to lock in these very short moments with her baby as the tears streamed down my face behind my lens...
From that first experience plus many more, I decided to become a volunteer photographer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Their mission is to introduce remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby with a free gift of professional portraiture. "NILMDTS trains, educates, and mobilizes professional photographers to provide beautiful heirloom portraits to families facing the untimely death of an infant. We believe these images serve as an important step in the family's healing process by honoring the child's legacy."
(Permission was given by this family to share their sensitive story and images from my small perspective as their photographer.)
In early December 2014, I was contacted by this family's close friend explaining their unique situation and asked to photograph Katy & Benjamin Dyall's second son at St. Mary's Medical Center when he arrived. Baby Eli was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. HLHS is a rare congenital defect in which the left heart is severely underdeveloped. Eli was underweight and also had a hypo-plastic right lung, as well as other internal anatomic abnormalities. His combination of syndromes was literally less than one-in-a-million, with only 11 other babies diagnosed with his conditions ever. Unfortunately, their doctors told them that this combination of syndromes made Eli a nearly impossible candidate for life-saving surgical interventions following his delivery.
I received a call early on December 29, 2014 stating Eli Dominic was born at 7:46 am - delivered via caesarean section and kindly asked to meet them at the NICU. I met and spoke to their point person, Daphne, who I was communicating with via phone/text and then sat in the labor/delivery waiting area that was full of visitors - there was one seat left on the opposite side where their extended family gathered. It was a couple of hours before I was able to get back into the NICU and meet this special family and their second baby. In that time, I couldn't help but listen to the various conversations going on around me - visitors getting texts that baby was born, who baby looked like, when they could go see baby - generally very pleasant conversations.
And in the same room, I watched this family with pure heart ache in their eyes, in their soul. No words. Simply could not imagine how they were feeling.
Around noon, Dad came out to introduce himself and bring me back to meet Mom and baby. Mom's bed was wheeled over close to her baby and we watched the nurses work on him in his isolette. She patiently awaited this moment to hold her baby for the very first time...
Family came in one at a time to meet, kiss, share their emotions and tell him how much he was loved. The parents and medical staff discussed the possibility to take him home - away from the hospital atmosphere and transition him to the Little Treasures Palliative Pediatric Care Program. I was not aware that palliative/hospice care was available to newborns/babies. I would stay in contact with Dad if the transition was successful.
I do my best to hold my composure through each of these sensitive sessions - always saying a prayer asking God to help me do the best job I can under the circumstances. It's always once I get into the car, when I break down and have myself a full on cry the entire drive home.
Two days later, I received a phone call from Dad that Eli was successfully transitioned home with 24 hour medical care. On January 2, 2015, I had the honor to photograph the Dyall family in the comfort of their warm and loving home. I stepped in and was welcomed by big brother, Caleb, and surrounded by their medical team & family. The atmosphere and emotions were a mix - the typical new Mom with 2 children, the full on love and gratefulness that Baby Eli was able to experience life in his home, yet also reminded of his fragile state when his Little Treasures nurse, Michael, periodically would come in to check his vitals as we were photographing. I had the beautiful privilege to watch Eli bond and nurse with his Mommy, hear his soft cries, watch his big newborn yawns, hold tightly with his tiny fingers to the adult hands that cared for him, watch his big brother play, kiss, cuddle and jump on the bed as big brothers do, sing their favorite lullaby to him "I See the Moon", observe his Daddy carefully hold his newborn son, smile and speak gentle, soft words of love.
On January 4, 2015, 7 days after birth, I received the news that Baby Eli's time on earth had ended and he had become a sweet angel in heaven...
These are some of their beautiful moments together at home-as a family of 4...
In October 1988, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. "When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses his or her partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn't a word to describe them." This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS and other causes.
"I could only be grateful when I realized that I would rather have known you for a moment than never at all. I would rather endure this inexplicable pain of outliving you than to never have seen your face, spoken your name. I would rather be yours, and you be mine, regardless. Regardless of the sorrow, the sleepless nights and the years I will walk this earth, carrying you in my heart." - Scribbles & Crumbles