To All Professional Photographers {A Story, A Plea}

I sat in the hospital bed looking down at the lifeless body resting in the palm of my hand.  Seven inches long.  Not even a pound.  The events leading to this moment were swirling above my head like a giant tornado, but not able to penetrate.  I was strangely present and absent simultaneously.     “Isn’t it peculiar”, I remember thinking, “that humans are capable of feeling the most contradictory of emotions at the same time?”  My heart was filled with joy, anger, hate, and sorrow in amounts not before experienced.  Less than 24 hours before, an ultrasound had revealed that my baby’s heart had stopped beating.  “Are you sure?”  I pleaded with the doctor; certain she’d made a mistake.  Eight hours before, I had checked into Labor and Delivery to be induced, loaded a roll of black and white film into my camera and handed it to my brother in law.  “I don’t want to forget,” I told him. Thirty minutes before, I had been in the throes of transition labor delivering my fourth son.  “He’s so tiny,” The words of almost every new mom.  Stillborn.  What a stupid word, when what we really mean is dead.  My baby was dead.

My world stopped.  Stopped.  There is no other way to describe it.  I didn’t understand how the hands on the clock continued to move.  How my lungs expanded with air.  The nurses unhooked IV’s, checked monitors.   Amazed, I watched the sun rise.  I looked out the hospital window to see cars moving on the highway.  I noticed people scurrying on the sidewalks below, arriving to work.   “What are you doing?!!” I wanted to scream.  “Don’t you know what has happened?  MY BABY IS DEAD!  MY BABY WAS HERE, and now he’s gone!!!!  How can you move on?? Don’t you know?”  But, they didn’t know.  The sun didn’t care.  In the depths of my fog, I knew I had to find a way to move on, too, but I didn’t see how.

I knew there was no way to heal while there was a possibility I would forget my son.  The heartache and sorrow allowed me to remember his face, his feet, his presence.  I couldn’t let go.  I could not.  I didn’t see how my life could continue after Isaac.  I left the hospital, not carrying a car seat, but clutching a teddy bear, and I spent the dark days after creating a scrapbook.  I wrote the entire story over ten pages,  interspersed with the images my brother- in-law had captured:  photos of my sisters gathered around me, my parents huddled in a corner, my baby’s limp feet resting on the tip of my finger;  all in black and white, all full of emotion.  My family wrote poems and letters to Isaac and those were included as well.  I created a memory capsule in that black leather scrapbook.  When I had finished it, I knew I wouldn’t forget.  I could move on to the daily routines of life because I had bottled the overwhelming pain into a book, and with the pain, the memory.  I didn’t have to live in sorrow because my sorrow was waiting for me.  I did not have to be consumed with trying to remember what his tiny face, hands, feet, and ears had looked like – it was all there waiting for me.  I didn’t have to constantly relive the heartache, joy, and anger – some of the only emotions I would have with my fleeting baby – I had secured them all in that book.  Anytime I wanted to remember I could.

My Isaac was born on July 29, 2003.  In the ten years since that day, I have looked at the scrapbook three times.  It’s too much – overpowering, intense, heavy.  But it’s all still there for me.   The images remind me that he was here, that he was real.  He was mine.  I have been able to rebuild my life and continue on because of that book and those images.  It is one of my greatest treasures.

Two years after my Isaac, a mom in Colorado was losing her baby.  She called a local photographer and asked her to come to the hospital and photograph her baby boy – to capture the only professional portraits her baby would ever have made.  Both the photographer and the mom realized what I had realized – these images allow a path to healing not believed possible – and they founded the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep organization.  NILMDTS bands together professional photographers who volunteer their services to provide remembrance photography to families facing the loss of a baby.    Belonging to this organization has made me aware that, even though I felt so alone holding my stillborn baby, I am not.   Babies are born without heartbeats every day.   In Little Rock alone, sometimes there are over ten calls in a single week.  One week!  It is impossible for the small group of volunteers to cover them all, and sometimes, too frequently, no photographer is available.  Lizzy Yates and Jill Meyer cover most of the calls in Little Rock, volunteering hundreds of hours away from their businesses and families.  In 2012, Jill and Lizzy gave over fifty families a gift with infinite value.     The remaining six volunteer photographers in the Little Rock area, including me, covered less than a quarter the number of Jill and Lizzy.  Lizzy and Jill have growing businesses, growing kids, and busy families.  It is unrealistic to expect that they will be able to volunteer at the pace they have been, and as the two of them are unable to cover, more families will be told that there is not a photographer available.   More help is needed.  If you are a professional photographer, I implore you to consider volunteering for NILMDTS, wherever you live.  Yes, it’s difficult.  No, you don’t think you can do it.  But you will.  There is not a more selfless act than volunteering with NILMDTS.  There is no glory, no accolades, your work will not win awards or be published.  However, your work will provide an alcove in a mother’s heart.  In this alcove she will put her heartache, her joy, her anger, her loss.  Your work will keep her memories safe, and will provide a path to healing.  She may not look at the images often – or ever, and when she does, she will cry.  But, then, she’ll put them away and fix dinner for the older kids.  She’ll go to the grocery store.  She’ll enjoy a sunrise.  Because of your work, she will have the gift of life after loss.