This week’s post is brought to us by Sandy Tyson of Heavenly Eye Photography in Jacksonville, North Carolina. She gives freely of her time to families in need of bereavement portrait services through the charity Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
“When moms have babies, they study every detail of that baby, day after day. When a baby is taken too soon, mom has one day or mere hours to learn every detail of the precious child. Having photos of our daughter is the greatest gift to remember her sweet little face. We cherish them.” Written by Maggie’s Mommy.
Maggie was born and passed away on May 3, 2012, and Sandy was there to give the grieving family a printed memory of their baby. Sandy also had the honor of photographing Maggie’s Mommy today; she is in her third trimester with Maggie’s little sister.
What is NILMDTS and how did it get started?
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is a non-profit organization that provides infant remembrance photography through a network of professional photographer volunteers. It came about when Sandy Puc’ and Cheryl Haggard realized portraits were an integral part of healing for Cheryl. Cheryl’s son, Maddux Achilles Haggard was born on Feb 4, 2005. They were told that he would not make it, so on his sixth day of life Cheryl and her husband had chosen to have Sandy Puc’ come in to document his short life. They wanted black and white portraits to remember him by. Those portraits were the start of joining together to help other families in the same situation. The organization was founded in April 2005. They named it Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep after the children’s bedtime prayer. In the eight years since it was founded, there have been over 11,000 volunteers that have participated. NILMDTS is in every state and has reached 40 countries across the world.
Why did you choose this organization as your charity?
NILMDTS is so important to families who have lost an infant or child. It is such a blessing to be able to deliver images of their child for them to keep forever and have something tangible to keep their memory alive. It is very difficult at the time of the session and when I edit, but I know that these will bring healing for the family involved. I have been a volunteer for just over a year now.
How do families know who to contact in their time of need?
Usually the families are asked by the hospital staff if they would like to have a photographer come in to photograph their child and family. The hospital then contacts the area coordinator who in turn contacts the on-call photographer. Right now there are only three active volunteers serving two hospitals in Jacksonville, NC.
What do families receive and do they need to pay anything?
The families receive the session and a disk of all of the edited images at no cost to them. The photographers volunteer their time and any resources needed.
What is the process like from your perspective?
There are no typical sessions, every single one is different. They start the same though. When the doctor knows that the baby will not make it, or has already perished, the parents are asked if they would like to have a volunteer photographer come in. If they do, the nurse or Chaplain will make the call to the area coordinator. Moms may still be in the process of labor when the coordinator calls me. That information is passed to me to help set the timetable. I try to get there as soon after birth as possible. I do a lot of praying and prepping myself in the car on the way. It is always a different scenario, so I usually walk in with only the basic information. I go straight to the nurses’ station to talk with the nurses and the chaplain. After making sure the paperwork is filled out, I ask the nurses if there are any empty rooms to leave my gear in and then take only the bare essentials into the parents room. I talk with the family to express my condolences and ask them about who they want in the images. Some parents do not want to be in the portraits, most do. When I have a plan, I start setting up and photographing. I start with room shots, the contraction monitor and then start with my list of poses for the family and the infant. There are no set poses per se, but a list of breakdowns. Example: baby alone, mom and baby, dad and baby, both parents and baby, etc. I know that seems basic, but the emotions in the room are usually so palpable that I will lose my direction if I don’t have a set plan. After photographing, I tell the parents about the rest of the process. I will then leave and go back to the room with my gear and cry. My heart breaks for each and every family. It is an effort to keep it together in the room with the parents, but these families do not need a photographer breaking down in front of them. It is their loss, I’m only there to photograph it. After I compose myself again I ask the nurses to make sure the parents have my contact information and the NILMDTS information. Then I go back to the studio and make a back up of the images. I usually wait a few days to edit the images, allowing time to process and then I’m able to go back and give the images the attention they deserve. It is always hard, but it is something that gives me hope for these families.
How do you, personally, deal with the emotional stress of this job?
It’s a very real stress of the job. A lot of photographers find that they cannot handle it after a few sessions. It has been very challenging for me, but I try to put myself into the parents’ shoes. It brings perspective back to the reason I wanted to do this, which is to help these families. I only have one image of one of the two babies I lost from miscarriage. It’s an ultrasound image and it proves to me that my child was real and was mine. So while I do not have the full experience that they are going through, I do understand that those images will comfort parents who are aching with empty arms.
What sort of training is required of photographers?
NILMDTS is very particular in their selection process. Here is an excerpt from their website. “Thank you for your interest in becoming an affiliated photographer for NILMDTS. Due to the nature, sensitivity, and complexity of this work, many factors exist in which most photographers wouldn’t consider necessary to fill this role. Our work seeks to help families soften their pain, and help create photographic memories of their baby that they can be proud to share with other family members and future generations. Please view this application in the same manner you would for a professional photographer position. Submit your best portrait work showing your ability to use auxiliary lighting and natural lighting. If you were applying at a magazine for a photographer position you would submit the appropriate professionally crafted photos, your best photos in hopes of obtaining that position. In this case, we need to see abilities in portrait work. “
How can other photographers apply to become a participating member?
Here is the volunteer application page https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/volunteer/photographer-application/
Anything else you care to share?
I know it sounds cliche’, but this is the hardest job you will ever love. It is one of the most difficult situations to be a part of. But it isn’t about me, of course. I’m just along for the moment and to be a blessing in a small way. I feel just a tiny piece of what these parents are going thru and know that I need to do something to help ease their pain, even something small. Thank you for allowing me to share. Please visit NILMDTS and consider volunteering, there are so many hospitals that still need photographers.
For more information about this charitable organization, please visit the website at https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org or the Facebook fan page at https://www.facebook.com/nilmdts.
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