One of my absolute favorite non-profit organizations is Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. When I was pregnant with Elizabeth 6 years ago, it was just in it's infancy. A person suggested that I look in to having photographs taken at the hospital after she was born by one of their volunteers. I will confess that the idea initially sounded uncomfortable and weird. I had many fears about how she would look, particularly if she was stillborn. At the time, the handful of webpages I could find of other babies with Potter's Syndrome, none had good photos and some of their babies had pretty pronounced physical quirks.
A few weeks down the road, as I started to realize that this was going to be our only opportunity to make memories with our baby, I finally went to the organization webpage and searched for photographers in my area. The search yielded exactly one person for the entire state of Utah. And she happens to live just a few blocks away from me. What are the chances?? I contacted her, and was immediately reassured by her kind and welcoming nature.
Things got a little mixed up once we went to the hospital. I made the mistake of not letting her know that I was headed in to Labor and Delivery. (As a photographer now, I sincerely appreciate as much lead time as possible so that I can make arrangements to leave my kids to go do a session.) I simply put on my birth plan to have the nurses contact her once I'd delivered. Well, they messed up. A couple hours in to Elizabeth's three hours with us, I asked about it, and the nurse got flustered and said she hadn't been able to reach Julie. We called her ourselves, but by that point, our doctor had taken several photos on our camera, and I told her to not worry about coming, that we had plenty. This is a mistake that I still regret to this day. If there's one thing I've learned, you can never have too many photos! It's your only chance to document a precious time. Julie felt so bad, and offered to photograph our keepsakes from the hospital, retouch the photos we had taken, and come to the funeral home.
|Elizabeth in the hands of her Grandparents|
What I didn't know at the time is that we were the very first family to contact Julie. She'd heard about NILMDTS and signed up a few months prior, but hadn't gotten any calls. Over time, the hospitals in our area have come to realize what a priceless and compassionate gift we are able to offer the families, and on average, our area coordinators field 300 or so calls per year. A year ago, I finally got brave enough (after much practice with photoshop and my camera + external flash) to start doing sessions myself.
Not only do our photographers go to the hospitals at any time of the night or day to do a private photosession, but they edit the images. This is a huge deal. Many of the babies need quite a bit of retouching in order to help the families remember them in the best possible way. A disc is provided to the family with images, and usually a slideshow as well, for no charge. For an average photosession that I do with a baby that doesn't have very problematic skin, it's an 8-10 hour investment of my time, including travel to and from the hospital, shooting time, and editing. For a difficult editing session, or a session with a large extended family and a higher number of images, that can easily double. Photographers are responsible for providing their own camera equipment, discs, labels, mailing costs, etc.
NILMDTS has grown from a small handful of photographers to literally thousands of volunteers all over the country. The organization runs primarily on donations, and has a small staff to manage the volunteer applications, session paperwork, training, etc. Julie is now serving as a volunteer board member and trainer. If you are interested in becoming an affiliated photographer, wander around their webpage, and then send me an email if you have further questions. I am happy to teach anyone what I know in order to facilitate them becoming an infant bereavement photographer.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss awareness month, and October 15th in particular is a day that we remember our angels. If you're looking for a wonderful place to donate money in honor of the angels in your life, please consider NILMDTS.