I spent eight years as a photographer. For eight years I watched couples and families during their most joyous times of their lives. Weddings, anniversaries, births of their children, milestone moments like birthday parties, graduations, family photo sessions, gender reveals, and more. And while I loved so much of that work I remember thinking many times that life isn’t always happy. I don’t mean that in the glass half empty kind of mentality, I mean that life just plain stinks sometimes. While we should always look to find the best parts about our lives even in the darkest moments, the reality is that life isn’t always about the happy moments. Bad, painful, and difficult things happen. That is real life.
A few years into my photography I became a licensed photographer with the organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. The organization was designed for birth and remembrance photography. To put it simply, I help capture the beauty of life even in death. Hospitals or families call me when there is a stillborn baby or when they know that a baby will die shortly after he or she is born. I am with families during their darkest hours. Times that they may never want to remember, but at the same time they will never want to forget. This is the only time they will spend with their sweet baby, the only time they will get to hold, hug, kiss, and love on them, the only time they will get a family picture and the only time they will get to have the sweet embrace of the beautiful baby they longed for. The memories are precious to the families. These little people, tiny as some of them have been, deserve to be held, loved on, kissed and squeezed and to feel their mother’s and father’s heartbeats, to feel their tears and to give them all of those hugs and kisses. Those babies deserve to be remembered for years to come.
One of the tiniest babies I have ever photographed was just under a pound and was born still at just 19 weeks. She was the tiniest and yet most perfectly formed little person. She was absolutely perfect. Besides being small she simply looked as if she was asleep. Her mom and dad went in to find out if she was a boy or girl, and when the ultrasound tech couldn’t find a heartbeat the worst day of their lives began. They went from waking up and looking forward to finding out the gender of their baby to delivering a baby girl over 5 months early. On the other end of the spectrum I have been there when a baby was brought in for an emergency C-section and didn’t make it through delivery. Despite the doctors most valiant efforts she passed away at 40 weeks, just days before her mother’s induction date.
When my phone rings and I see it is my local hospital calling I know what those calls are for. My heart sinks every single time. I know what I’m being called for, and I know that I’m one of few that can do the type of work that I do. That is why, when I put down my camera full time a few years ago, I continued to do this work. It is a ministry, it isn’t a passion or a hobby anymore–it is simply finding the dignity of human life even in death. These babies, their parents, and their families deserve to have memories with their loved one. For the families and for myself, even though these memories are not happy or joyful, they are beautiful.