I’ve been recently thinking to myself that I might stop donating my time to an organization called NILMDTS (Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep). An organization that provides the gift of remembrance photography for parents suffering the loss of a baby. This decision is not because I do not believe in the mission of their work nor because I don’t want to give myself to this organization. That couldn’t be furthest from the truth. There are multiple photographers in the area giving to this organization and I rarely receive a phone call to serve this mission. So why is it that as I am having these thoughts I receive two calls within a two-week period to serve for NILMDTS? The first request I was unable to help due to timing. I had the time, but not in the specific minute it was needed. The second request came when I received the call for a newborn, five days old who was on life support. The parents had decided it was time to take baby off the ventilator. The doctors and nurses could not tell you if the baby would survive seconds, minutes or hours after released from the ventilator. On top of it, mom and dad had never held their newborn baby.
What was going on in my personal life at the time? I had recently missed a few days of work to travel to northern Michigan to make sure I had the chance to say the goodbyes I needed to say to my dying grandmother. It was Friday at 3:30 when I received the call. Not only did I have plenty of work to do for an event coming up this weekend and another in month but I also committed to my mother that I would travel back to Michigan to take care of her garden and cats while she attends to my grandmother. I was supposed to leave as soon as I got home from work and packed.
Why didn’t I say no and leave as planned? The answer……A mother and father had never held their newborn child nor did they know if he would survive. These are the only memories they may have of their child.
I arrived to the hospital and introduced myself to mom and dad. I pulled out all the appropriate paperwork for the parents to complete. As they completed the form, I started getting my camera together and tested the lighting. Mom started to have doubts about having photos of such a personal and precious time. I gave the family some time alone to discuss and decide what was best for them. They came back to the same conclusion of having the photos done. I took some photos of mom holding baby Judah and then dad holding baby Judah for the first time (still on the ventilator). Then the doctor and nurses took Judah off his ventilator and put him on oxygen. I was able to take some additional photos of Judah released from some of the wires, as his vitals stayed consistent. Doctors had recommended that he not be held for a couple of hours following the removal of the ventilator. I left the family to have some time alone and met Aaron for dinner. The girls were at their grandparents for the weekend and Aaron and I had not had an opportunity to sit down and just talk for days. We had great dinner conversation as I waited for the time to return to the hospital.
When I returned to the hospital I was able to take some photos of Judah with his grandmothers. During this time I learned that Judah went through something similar as our first-born but ours not near as catastrophic. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck tightly and during birth caused him to lose oxygen. The doctors confirmed that Judah does not have any brain activity from the birth trauma.
This session was completely different from any other. Not only did I feel a connection for going through something similar with my own birth (but with more fortunate circumstances) but also because I am currently going through the loss of a loved one.
This family has a very strong religious presence in their life. One that I strongly believe will guide them through this difficult time. A very heartbreaking time for a family who is able to celebrate Judah’s life (no matter how short-lived it was). No life goes with out purpose . . . no footprint is too small to make an impact.
Judah passed away four days later.