I started nursing school in the Netherlands when I was 18. I’ve been taking photos since I was 8. My dad had a passion for photography and I got an old camera for my birthday. That is how I started. Working as a nurse made me connect to all kinds of people. I love to connect with people. In March 2014, my husband got transferred to the US (Philadelphia area) for his job, and our 2 daughters and I followed him along.
Leaving my job in the hospital was hard, but my husband suggested that I could do something with my photography. I had training at the Dutch Professional Photography school, but never had the time to work as a photographer next to my family and job. Since I could not work as an RN, due to not having the US licensing, I was very frustrated and homesick. Finally, I started working as a volunteer photographer for several organizations that were connected to healthcare. And I became a PPA member.
In January 2016, I went to Imaging USA. While walking at the expo, I saw the NILMDTS stand. I got drawn there, THAT is what I wanted to do with my photography. I was invited to come to the class the next day to listen to Gina Harris, NILMDTS CEO, and the other volunteers and so I did.
I was very nervous; you had to tell (in English of course haha) why you wanted to volunteer. I was not even sure if I was good enough to be a NILMDTS photographer. But I really wanted to hear their stories.
So I heard Gina talking about her sons and my tears were just running down my cheeks. My best friend in the Netherlands lost her daughter Tess when she was 18 weeks old. I was, next to her mom, the only one who saw Tess, she was so, so tiny and they could not even dress her, my friend could not hold her, only in a small bowl, with a towel in there. She celebrates the day she was born every year and tells me all the time, that no one understands that, because they have never seen her, so they don’t understand she was “a real baby”, her daughter. I did not have the nerve to ask if she wanted to have a photo with her and the nurses never offered to take pictures, so she has no memories of her Tess.
Then I heard Tim, Cliff, Russ, and other volunteers talk about their sessions, what was hard, their special moments, and how they handle certain problems with light and posing. I knew I was not as experienced as them, and the application process scared me a little too. When I wanted to leave Russ came up to me and asked me some questions why I wanted to sign up. I think I told him my doubts and he said: You can do it, just send in your images, if you want, I will look at them first to tell you if they are good or if you need to improve some things, but you can do this. He gave me his card and I left.
On my way back home I thought about that a lot. I talked to my husband and he was very supportive and helped me to pick the best images I had. And then I just signed up, I think it is like Mel Robbins’ 5-second rule, I did not think too much, I just hit the send button. Add then thought…..What did I do….They are probably going to tell me I’m not good enough…..But after a few days, driving home in the snow, I received a phone call from NILMDTS Headquarters to tell me I got accepted. I was surprised, flabbergasted but so happy!
I got the opportunity to do 5 sessions this last year. The Area Coordinator from the Philadelphia/South Jersey chapter, Kristen Samulelson took me under her wing and together with the very experienced volunteer Desiree Miller they helped me with sessions and retouching if I needed help. It was the most beautiful thing I could ever do. And it combines the skills that I learned as a nurse with my photography.
This year, Imaging San Antonio, my mission was to see if the volunteers from Atlanta were there. I walked into the expo, straight to their booth and there was Russ…I got a chance to thank him and told him I became a NILMDTS photographer for those 5 families.
I did not expect him to be as touched as he was and I felt there was a very special connection!
At the NILMDTS dinner, I met more volunteers and it really felt like my family. They see the same things during these sessions; they dedicate their time and photography to grieving families and know how special that is. I remember talking to Tim about his experiences and listening to him talk to other volunteers who wanted to sign up. And I knew they would think the same thing as I did when I listened to him a year ago…..That is what I want to do.
A huge thank you to everyone at the NILMDTS family for welcoming me, the Dutch photographer with the funny accent, into their organization.
~ Sandrien, NILMDTS Volunteer Photographer
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