I asked my friend Briana to write this post for me on her work with "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep" , a non-profit organisation providing remembrance photography services to families with terminally ill or stillborn babies. I wanted to help spread the word about the important work these photographers do, and perhaps even encourage some of you to consider using your photography skills to help families in this way if you felt you could. Thanks to Briana for taking the time to write this. Audrey x
**Maddux Achilles Haggard was born on Feb. 4, 2005, with a condition called myotubular myopathy. It prevented him from breathing, swallowing or moving on his own. On the sixth day of his young life, his parents, Mike and Cheryl Haggard had to make the excruciating decision to take him off life support. Before they did, they called photographer Sandy Puc’ to take black and white portraits of them cradling their son. Puc’ photographed the couple with Maddux at the hospital before he was removed from life support and after — when he was free from the tubes and the wires that had sustained him.
Those tender photographs documenting Maddux’s eternal connection with his parents inspired Cheryl Haggard and Sandy Puc’ to begin a nonprofit organization that has provided thousands of families of babies who are stillborn or are at risk of dying as newborns with free professional portraits with their baby. Sandy and Cheryl founded the organization in April 2005 and called it Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS) after the children’s bedtime prayer. NILMDTS has over 1,600 active photographers around the world. NILMDTS reaches every state in the United States and has been or is present in 40 countries worldwide.**
Five years ago I gave up my pediatric nursing career to stay home and raise my children. I thought it would be many years before I set foot back in a medical establishment. However, I now find myself on the path to a different career that puts me right back where I started.
It was a fun afternoon out with one of my girlfriends that got it all started. A NICU nurse herself, she asked if I had heard of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS) and if I would be interested in joining due to my dual nursing and photography background. I said I had heard of it and it was something I considered doing “someday”. She then explained that despite living in a larger city, and our hospital having the only Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for well over 100 miles, they only had ONE photographer at their disposal for remembrance photography when a family lost a baby. I was shocked! I had though there were surely at least a few photographers providing this service in our area. But only one?
I asked what would happen when he wasn’t available. She responded, “The families go without. We nurses do our best to take photos, but it’s not really the same.”
That same evening I pulled up the application for NILMDTS and figured out what I would need to do to join. I didn’t want any family to suffer such a loss and in turn not be able to have quality photos of their sweet baby to remember them by. It took a month to put together my portfolio. I had my photography group pick apart my photos, telling me any areas that needed improvement. I’m not going to sugar coat it; the photo application for NILMDTS is comprehensive. But it makes sense when you remember there’s only one chance to capture these images. You will be taking photos for a family who are saying hello and goodbye all at once. You’re capturing what should have been a lifetime of photos in one single session.
I want to encourage any of you out there to apply if you feel in your heart that this is a service you could provide. I’m simply a nurse-turned-mom who bought a DSLR 2 years ago and taught herself to use it. Believe me, I didn’t think there was any way I would be accepted, yet here I am.
I think it’s important to make clear that there is no cost to the family for these portraits, which I love. We photographers donate our time and provide this service to them completely free of charge.
Follow this link to find out more about becoming an affiliate photographer and what is needed for your portfolio with Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep in both the United States and The UK (or any of the other 40 countries they have a presence in):
I would also encourage you to read about the NILMDTS photographer I work alongside in my area, and the story of his first session. Grab a box of Kleenex first!
Again, I hope some of you out there who feel you could help these grieving families will consider becoming an affiliate with NILMDTS. Many of these families say the photos are a huge part of their healing process! And it’s also a wonderful way to “give back” through your love of photography.
~Briana (NILMDTS Affiliate Photographer in Michigan)