April 7, 2014

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

I've mentioned before that one of my biggest regrets when we lost Cale was that I said I didn't want to take any pictures. I had my camera with me. It was tucked away in my carefully packed hospital bag that also contained a newborn outfit and cord blood banking kit and various other things that we never got to use.

I was asked if I wanted to take pictures, but I said no. It didn't seem right. You don't take pictures of a dead baby. We weren't happy. We were devastated and heartbroken and why would I want to capture that?

I didn't know that it wasn't (just) heartbreak and devastation we would be capturing, but love and beauty as well. I couldn't see past Cale's death to capture his brief life. And so I didn't.

Thank God one of my nurses took two pictures anyway. But I wish that they didn't take "no" for an answer and gently held my hand and said, "I know it doesn't feel right, but you're going to want these pictures and here's why..."

Fortunately for many of my other loss friends, they did capture images of their babies. A lot of them used the services provided Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep - a nonprofit organization that sends professional photographers to the hospital to capture remembrance images free of charge. It's an incredible organization and I'm so grateful that over the years, family and friends have made donations to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep in honor of Cale.

Last week a friend of mine contacted me to let me know that she was applying to become a NILMDTS photographer. She's never lost a child, but has been immeasurably kind and sympathetic since we lost Cale. She's also started her own photography business in Hawaii and is quite talented. I'm far from being a professional photographer myself, but the truth is being a volunteer for this organization is something I would love to do as well. But I need to get better at my own camera skills, and practice more with auxiliary lighting before signing up for something like this as it's so important that the families in need of these services are provided with the very best pictures. When we move, I'd like to look into being an assistant to the photographer or community volunteer.

But when my friend Jessica contacted me and shared with me her reasoning, I couldn't help but cry. I'm so touched that she is willing to help others who will be faced with the unimaginable task of saying goodbye to a much wanted and loved child:

Why do you want to be a photographer for NILMDTS?
Losing a child during pregnancy, naively, never occurred to me.  Ignorantly, I assumed once you make it past the 20 week mark you're pretty much in the clear.  This completely changed for me when a friend from college lost her child at 39 weeks- to an umbilical cord entanglement accident.  My heart completely shattered for her.  I was pregnant at the time and it really stopped me in my tracks and made me rethink EVERYTHING about pregnancy and carrying a child.  How does that happen?  Losing a child at 39 weeks?  Why does that happen? I remember when she was expecting her second child she sent out a note telling everyone in lieu of gifts to send a donation to NILMDTS if you wanted to send something for her and the baby.  I didn't know what the organization was- so I did look in to it and made a donation in Cale's name.  Volunteering for this organization has always been in the back of my mind since then but I never thought I was quite 'good enough' or mostly, selfishly, wasn't sure I could handle such an emotional and sad situation.  I've probably opened the photographer application 100 times in just the last few months, and decided yesterday that I do really want to do this.  And that my own sadness isn't anything compared to what the family is going through and will live with forever- and that if I can gift them some photos for them to cherish forever then I would love to do that regardless of if it makes "sad."  So here I am submitting my application today for Cale & Caroline and hopefully to help other families in this  unfathomably difficult situation.

Amazing isn't it? It warms my heart to think of how Cale prompted this amazing and selfless act. I told Jess that I would be happy to share with her some insight into what images I wish we had captured. I wish that I had pictures of Cale that I was comfortable displaying in our home - not tucked away in a special box as his two images are. We have our sketch and I love it, but I wish I had a picture of his little feet, or a close up of our hands and his. Simple, yet powerful images that say "yes, Cale was here! He existed and was perfect." I wish we had a family picture of us holding our first born or a picture of me kissing his forehead and telling him I loved him.

I'd like to solicit feedback from anyone who used NILMDTS or had pictures taken - what images are you grateful you have? What do you wish your photographer did differently? What are the things you know now, but in your shock and heartbreak you didn't know you needed or wanted?

If you'd like more information on becoming a photographer or volunteer for NILMDTS, please visit their site here.


  1. I did not have professional photos taken either. They asked me, multiple times and I said no, no, no. I was in the ICU. I was on my deathbed. Photographs? No. I was saved by my Dad who had taken photos of her and he assured me he took them. Knowing that my Dad was the family photographer I rested in his wisdom and experience and the photos turned out well. If it weren't for Dad I would have done the exact same thing as you.

    I understand your regret, I shared your reasoning...why take photos. Because one day you will need to know.


  2. We had a nurse with a daughter who was a photographer. She wasn't with NILMDTS, but it was the same concept. I said I didn't want pictures, but she told me that I would want them one day, and that her daughter was already on the way to make them for us.

    She came in and introduced herself, said she was so very sorry, and explained that she was just goling to take some pictures. She just faded into the background at that point, and caught images of our sadness, our anticipation, and our joy. She was great. I'm so thankful for her and the pictures she made for us.

  3. I wish I has all the images you described above. My nurses tried to take pictures of Alexander's hands and feet...but they were terribly out of focus. I remember when they told the the next morning that they had got a few of his hands and feet..and I felt so relieved. I hadn't seen him yet, and I found great comfort in knowing I could look at a piece of him in my home over and over agin without shocking images of a dead baby on display.

    Well, the pictures were blurry and taken from a really unflattering angle. Hands and feet. That's all I wanted. Well, my baby Alive of course would be the top choice.

    I think it is amazing what your friend is doing. We don't have nilmdts here in Canada. I wish we had, and I wish I got the whole package deal from them. I too want a real (aside from the sketch) photo of Alexander to have in my home.

  4. Oh, I have the same regrets, too. Didn't think I wanted to take pictures at the time, desperately regret it now, two terribly unsatisfying photos from the nurse. Your friend's email is beautiful. It made me cry, too; especially after dealing with friend trouble lately, it is so wonderful to read about someone who really wants to support and help you, who has felt genuinely impacted by your baby, by Cale's short life and tragic death.

  5. That's quite possibly one of the most wonderful tributes I've ever read.

    To go into a hospital at any hour of the day you're needed to come face-to-face with a family that is so broken and to photograph a baby that is dead and most of society prefers to remain unseen? I'm going to say she's a saint.

    You know I'm indebted to my NILMDTS photographer. And to the nurses who highly encouraged and did just what you hoped they'd do for you... got someone in there anyway.

    - a "family" picture-- even sad, it's necessary for you to remember and see that the baby was loved & held. Our photog put a cloth over us to cover my hospital gown... not sure that is necessary? I don't know.
    - Pictures of hands and feet. I'm so thankful I had both.
    - If possible, a straight shot of the face.
    - some "newborn" shots. Just like they take of newborn babies who lived. Ours used a soft and sweet blanket that I loved.
    - shots with and without hats. Babies are cute in hats.

  6. I will forever regret not getting at least A picture of Jake. We have nothing. We were in such shock. I even have a picture of James while we were in the hospital with our 1.2 mp digital camera (oh the joys of 2003 technology ;) ), but nothing of Jake. I even refused when the nurses offered to take a polaroid. All we have is a description that we wrote down after they took him away.

    That's wonderful of your friend! Also great that you're looking into volunteering. I hope to become a NILMDTS photog at Irwin once we get settled. I looked up that location and they have no one. So sad.

  7. That is amazing of Jess. Amazing. I hope it is an incredibly rewarding experience for her and a blessing for the families she may have to meet in such an unfortunate way.

    I confess that just a few weeks ago when I was on the website finding out what could be done for my friend I also opened the application but then closed it. Especially since it's just a hobby for me and I'm not a professional...I felt like I could never do someone's precious child justice and take on the responsibility of capturing the only physical memories they will every have. But from reading the other comments it sounds like the far more important thing is to have something instead of nothing. If you ever volunteer it would be incredible to hear about your experiences.

    And I also am gathering over and over from your blog and other friends who have lost a child that there's a huge need for *some* sort of organization that can act as a liason between the family and hospital. Right now it sounds like it's completely dependent upon kind nurses and staff who have had some past experience, but how much better would it be if there were a professional organization that the hosptial uses whenever a loss happens who can provide resources on grief and support groups and give information on the practical things like lactation suppression and physical healing...and immediately contact a NILMDTS photographer even if the family doesn't request it, and photos could be available if they decide later that they want them...there should just be some way to make sure every family gets the support they deserve without question.

  8. Isn't it amazing how our little angels can have such an impact on the world even though they were here for such a short time? <3 Cale <3

  9. *sigh* This is one of those things that I hate I can positively contribute to, you know?
    Asking for NILMDTS was actually the first - and pretty much only - thing out of my mouth in the hour after we gave permission to stop working on our daughter. Just a few weeks earlier a coworker had lost a child from a heart defect at 29 weeks and her NILMDTS pictures had me sobbing. So I knew of them. Knew that these would be the only things I'd get to take with me after the night was over…after she was over.
    Technically NILMDTS has "hours", something like 7AM-10PM. But our photographer, Wendy, came at close to 1:00AM, gutted over the phone by the crying nurse pleading with her to come. I met with Wendy a few weeks later, and she has since become a vital, wonderful, soul-giving part of my life who I know will remember Anna always.
    I wish though, for the last two things that Brandy said. Newborn shots, hat on, any clothes on that we had chosen. All our pics are her with my parents crying, in my husbands arms for her first and only bath, and on my chest - where she remained for the next 14 hours. The photographer repeatedly asked if she could take Anna and do some of just her and both Brad and I said 'no' - because we'd just gotten her! And we knew our minutes with her were limited! Why would we need any with her without us? But I wish now we had.
    NILMDTS photographers endure a lot. They see a LOT. Some of the stories Wendy shared with me (reluctantly) were truly horrific. I know - losing a child is always horrific, but I'm talking beyond the conceivable horrific. They walk through a mine field every time they're called. Sometimes they get yelled at by the very families who will thank god for them a few weeks later. And then they take time from their families and jobs to edit and photoshop the pictures they take to make our babies look as beautiful as they possibly can. For free. They are i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e people with thick skin and huge, huge hearts.
    I'm forever grateful.