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.