Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is a network of volunteer photographers who take professional photos of babies who are stillborn or who die shortly after birth. The organization was started as a non-profit in 2005 by a bereaved mother and the compassionate photographer she called to take photos of her son who died 6 days after he was born. It's incredible to me that such an organization exists. I personally know a couple who were able to overcome their fear of holding their stillborn son thanks to the NILMDTS photographer who came to the hospital to take photos for them. The organization trains photographers on how to manage a photography session with a newly bereaved family. I am guessing that these photographers have much more experience and training in how to encourage parents to interact with their child who has died than do many in the medical community. I noticed that their website lists a training session entitled, "Taking care of yourself emotionally", among others. Did our nurses get this kind of support after witnessing and participating in the birth of our son? I hope so but I have no idea. I think about that often.
When Toren was born, the nurses tried to contact NILMDTS but unfortunately there were no photographers available. I can't help wondering, if one had been able to come to the hospital, would that person have seen the beauty in our child and been able to coax us into holding him, like what happened with the couple we know mentioned above. The story they tell of their session with a NILMDTS photographer is so beautiful and moving. We would most certainly have more than two photos. A few hours after Toren was born, a NILMDTS binder was left on the table by my bedside. At one point during that day, I picked it up and quickly realized it contained photos of dead babies, however beautifully presented. I dropped it like a hot potato. I was terrified. Now, many months later, I love seeing parents' photos of their children who have died. It's a precious gift to the parents, and to those with whom they choose to share the photos.
I think about the person I was in hospital that day, a mother out of her mind with grief and shock, and I wish so desperately that there had been a trained and experienced person available to recognize my extreme fear and guide me through the process. In essence, that would have been the process of ensuring that I understood, and felt, that I am Toren's mother and he is my child. Not a monster, not a medical problem to be solved, not a procedure to be endured. And not a scary experience to be avoided. A beautiful baby to be held, cuddled, cherished. It took many painful months and the support of other bereaved parents to set me on that path to motherhood. Everything is harder, and will always be harder, than it otherwise needs to be.
Today I spent time going through the NILMDTS website and found their list of suggested poses. When you are at the hospital, everything is a blur, emotions are in a whirl, and many decisions must be made. Things get missed. In the absence of a professional photographer, a list of poses ensures that regrets are minimized. We know of families where no one remembered to get a picture of baby with daddy, or a family portrait, or pictures of hands and feet. One of the suggested poses that has lodged in my heart is to take a picture with the parents' wedding rings in baby's hands, or with rings on baby's toes. It's a beautiful shot, which also helps show the size of the baby. Parents of living children forget how small their babies were when they were born. It's the same with parents of stillborn babies. There is not much time and there are no second chances once you have said a final goodbye to baby. I learned all of these things months after Toren was cremated.
This is the "three-point model" that NZ Sands teaches the healthcare community regarding stillbirth: 1. Slow down, 2. Encourage active parenting, 3. Create memories. It's not rocket science. It simply requires some training.
We brought clothes for him to the hospital. Several outfits because we didn't know how big he would be. We brought diapers and a little hat. Blankets. No one asked us for these things.
We are grateful for the photos we have. If our nurses hadn't taken the photos they did, we would have nothing, and I would not know what my son looked like. I wouldn't know that he looks like his big sister! That makes me happy. A bit of light in the darkness. I recognize that two photos is much more than many families get, families who don't even have hand and foot prints of their child. There will always be regrets but this is not an excuse to do nothing, it is a call to do more. As much as possible. We can do so much more. The parents we have joined forces with are working towards the goal of minimizing regrets for families facing the stillbirth of their child.
My regrets will be with me forever and I must learn to live with them. It's a definition of parenting that no one should be forced to endure.
To see photographic examples of the beautiful and important work done by NILMDTS, click here: Posing Guide for Hospitals. To read about how the organization was started, click here: Mission & History.