From Humble Beginnings to a Worldwide Impact: Interview with NILMDTS Co-Founder, Cheryl Haggard
Cheryl Haggard never imagined she would start a nonprofit organization in honor of her son, Maddux. After all, the nursery was finished and she was ready to welcome the couple’s fourth child into the world.
On February 4, 2005, Cheryl and her husband Mike arrived at the hospital for a planned c-section. It wasn’t until they went into the operating room that the couple found out something was wrong with Maddux.
“The moment it really hit that something was wrong – instead of seeing the NICU doctor, I’ve got the chaplain in my room,” recalled Haggard.
Cheryl was in denial. Although, she always sensed that something was wrong with this baby throughout her pregnancy.
“I remember having a dream once where I have this rocking chair that I have nursed and rocked all my babies in and I remember I’m trying to nurse Maddux. For several minutes, I’m trying to get him to latch on without looking in the dark and I finally look down and my arms were empty,” said Haggard.
She had another vision after putting the crib together.
“I remember stepping back and looking at the crib. I had this thought that he would never sleep in that crib,” recalled Haggard, “I’ve talked to several moms about intuition. It’s a powerful thing.”
Cheryl thought about this intuition in the days and weeks after Maddux’s death. But it wasn’t something she thought about during those difficult six days that Maddux was in the NICU fighting for his life.
“In the NICU they had photographs of healthy babies. Mike and I both looked at each other and said we want photographs. It was never a question of money, this is what we wanted,” said Haggard.
The photographs were the work of Littleton photographer Sandy Puc’. The Haggard’s contacted her. Sandy rearranged her schedule and agreed to go to the hospital to take pictures of Maddux.
“The one photo I saw at the hospital when she turned her screen to look at photos was the one of me and Maddux. I’ll always remember that,” cried Haggard.
That image has become the marquee image of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
“I wanted him skin to skin. I took my shirt off. I undressed him. I laid his belly on my chest and just held him,” Haggard said.
Sandy captured images of Maddux while he was on life support because this is how the Haggards knew Maddux for those six days. But Cheryl wanted something more. She asked Sandy if she would wait until after Maddux died and then come back into the room to take more intimate portraits of Cheryl cradling her son skin-to-skin.
Cheryl remembers Sandy and her business partner at the time, Dave Junion, had a quick turnaround time. Mike and Cheryl were invited to Sandy’s studio towards the end of February to see the images for the first time. When they walked into the private room, Maddux’s picture was on the big screen. They played the video montage over and over and over again.
“I remember giving her (Sandy) a hug, and saying do you know what you’ve given me,” Haggard said.
Cheryl had taken her own pictures of Maddux, but they weren’t of the quality she was looking for. The professional images meant so much more to her than the ones she took.
“The images I took are my reality. Every time I look at those images, I am reminded of the sadness, pain and heartache,” said Haggard, “The photographs we have through Sandy, I’ve always said they’re more of a dream like state. They’re more calming and tranquil to me.”
The professional portraits are more calming because they’re black and white images. The color ones are difficult for Cheryl to look at because they bring back all of the raw emotions.
“It was important to have photographs I could share and display in my home without those emotions of sadness,” said Haggard.
It took several months to receive the images Cheryl ordered. During that time, Sandy and Cheryl kept in touch. Ironically, Sandy took another photo session for a client who had also experienced infant loss.
“Sandy asked if she could share my number with Charlene. We had both lost babies. Maybe I could help her,” Haggard recalled.
Cheryl and Charlene met for lunch one day in March. They shared pictures of their angel babies – Maddux and Daniel.
“It was right there, the idea of what if. What if I could share my story and talk about how you can have those intimate portraits and it’s okay to have a photograph after your baby has died? What if Sandy could be on the photographer side of things? That’s kind of where it got started.”
Within that week, Cheryl and Sandy brought their concept to reality, filing paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service to form Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep as a nonprofit organization.
The IRS quickly approved the application. Working from Maddux’s nursery, Cheryl began coordinating logistics and developing a website. Her friend Peter Osberg donated his time to the project while his wife Kara was traveling to Mexico for a mission trip to an orphanage.
Cheryl thought it was a perfect opportunity to donate all of Maddux’s stuff. She cleaned out his room, and gave her friend diapers, clothes and formula to take to the orphanage.
She took the nursery furniture back to the consignment store where she had bought it, and used the money to pay for initial expenses for the nonprofit organization she had started honoring Maddux’s legacy.
“I wish something like this wasn’t needed, but after I lost Maddux in my small community of Evergreen, I had women coming out of the woodwork telling me ‘I had a loss.’ It’s not talked about,” said Haggard.
“To have that kind of quality images that parents can remember their baby by, I think that’s what really motivated me knowing I could help others.”
NILMDTS took photos of my baby and family… It is so sweet to have the pictures of my little girl and boy holding their baby brother. It was the only chance we got to hold him and we have a picture to remember. So, special!
NILMDTS gave us so much more than the beautiful images of our son, Ethan. Our photographer, Marv, gave us grace, and comfort, and compassion, and his art has provided us with a peace that is irreplaceable. I miss and ache for my son constantly. Being able to look at his photos every day allows me to remember with greater detail his most lovely features that I only got to see for such a short time. It still hurts, all the time, to miss Ethan, but the photos allow me to smile as well. I’m so terribly grateful to have such an precious gift given to me in the darkest time of my life. They are truly cherished. .
NILMDTS gave my husband and I the greatest gift. It had given me the the ability to say ” this is my son David” when people ask how were doing. A way for others to see his face, fingers, and toes. A way to proudly say this is our son. Though in my culture, this still is difficult to understand. People just pretend to act that this never happened or if we dont speak of it then we don’t recall the pain. You have given me a voice and David as well. Yes my son did not live a full life like it is to be expected, but with his photos, I and others can see that he lived. Thank you so much
Thank you for these details. We give small versions of Cheryl & Mike’s story about their brief life with Maddox, to each of our grieving families, to encourage them to access the NILMDTS website / parent forum.