Christmas 2004 had just passed, a holiday I had always spent at home. Christmas with my large Italian- American family was always fun. My childhood home was filled with family and an overabundance of food and gifts. I was thirty-nine weeks pregnant with my second son.
Two days later, on December 27, I spent the day with my three- year- old son, my husband and two of my sisters as the rest of the family had already traveled back home. The pending arrival of our son was exciting, and Matteo was especially happy, and looked forward to having a baby brother. As I lay resting on my mother’s couch, I heard a pop. My water had broken, my pants wet with amniotic fluid. Rushing to the bathroom my sister noticed the unusual color of the water on the bathroom floor, but I wasn’t alarmed.
We arrived at the ER in Greenwich Hospital, and I was quickly wheeled to maternity, admitted, changed into a gown, and resting in bed. The nurses put a heart monitor around my belly to check the baby’s heartbeat. They moved to different parts of my belly with a Doppler device, and I suggested my left side because I had felt the baby there for the last few days. While I don’t recall the exact timing of the events of that day, I was aware of several doctors rushing into my room. Another fetal heart monitor with an electrode was inserted, looking for a heartbeat. Finally, my ob/gyn came to the side of my bed. “There is no heartbeat,” she said.
My husband John already understood that his son was gone, even before he heard the words I could not comprehend. He held my hand as I cried, “No, no, no,” both of us in shock from the reality of what had happened. I can’t remember many of the details after that because I was in shock. John made the necessary phone calls to family, all of whom were heartbroken and in disbelief, sadness and tears overwhelming them. This was not something anyone had imagined, especially me. Babies aren’t supposed to die.
Hours had passed, I was numb, in shock and crying as nurses tried to make me as comfortable as possible until my labor began to accelerate. I had not planned to have a C-section, but it was offered to me, and I refused, wanting to deliver my baby naturally, the way I had intended to. I labored a while longer until it was time to push. Only my doctor, a nurse and John were in the room as I pushed and pushed. At 11:53 pm my baby arrived, the silence of his stillborn body was something I would eventually process as an enormous gaping hole in the experience of giving birth. The nurse wiped him clean, wrapped him in a blue hospital blanket and put the baby in my arms. We named him Giacomo.
Had it not been for the incredible nurse who took pictures of Giacomo, of me holding him, my mouth, shaped by utter sadness and pain, I would not have anything to see in the years to come. She took pictures with her point and shoot camera of Giacomo in his bassinet
At one o’clock in the morning my mother and two of my sisters came into my room, my mother’s face heavy with grief at the image of her daughter holding her stillborn son in her arms. They each held him, kissed his still warm body and cried with me. By 3am I was too tired to keep my eyes open any longer. I fell asleep, John in a chair next to me, only to wake the next morning, craving my son, wanting to see him but knowing it wouldn’t be possible. I felt like I had woken from a nightmare. Did this really happen? This was the first time I truly felt his absence and the exquisite pain of my empty arms. It was the first of many moments that hurt me like a knife piercing my body, like a burning match to my skin. The hours passed, family came to see us, each with tears in their eyes for us and the pain they saw in our faces. A nurse had earlier given me Xerox copies of Giacomo, taken minutes after his birth. These four pieces of paper would be all that I had to remember exactly what he looked like. I shared them with anyone who came to see us, wanting them to see him, to know he was real and to tell the story of what happened less than twenty-four hours earlier.
The incredible head nurse who helped take care of me allowed me to stay four days in the hospital. She gifted me with a masseuse one day, and on the day I left, a beautiful gold chain necklace with a pendant inscribed with the word “Faith.” This is the same nurse who took pictures for me. She had no idea how her compassion and kindness would give me comfort for years to come.
Returning to my parents’ house was a comfort, but having to tell our three-year-old son that his baby brother had died was so painful. I cried for hours, days and months, scabs forming on the outsides of my eyes from wiping tears constantly. I held the Xerox paper that had Giacomo’s picture with me everywhere, I felt closer to him and I wanted to make sure everyone saw them as sad as the images were. As the days, months and years have passed I’ve experienced grief in its usual patterns, with the deepest sadness I have ever felt, to feeling some relief from its burden, and finally acceptance. That took me five years. My sadness and the events of that day were what made me feel close to him. Through grief therapy I learned invaluable advice from my therapist that there was another way to connect to Giacomo, that my sadness and pain were not the only way to feel close to him but to remember the joy of his expectation and the thirty-nine weeks I carried him.
Only a few days had passed after that horrible day when the nurse called my husband to say the computer had crashed and all the images were lost. Those four pieces of xerox paper would hold an even greater value, it’s all that I had.
As a professional photographer I have always loved the idea of freezing time, of being able to connect visually and emotionally to a time that has passed, moments that continue to make you smile or to feel an emotion that the images conjure. Photographer Aaron Siskind said of a photograph, “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving what you have caught on film and is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is an extraordinary organization, providing professional photographers to a grieving family with love and care. Those pictures, over the years will bring some comfort and an image of a family whole though with a missing piece. I’m grateful for the thoughtful nurse who knew the same seventeen years ago. One day I hope to provide lasting images for a family grieving the loss of their baby. I believe some babies are too perfect for this world and continue on. Photographs will remind all who see that this baby was real, has a name, a birthweight and a time of arrival. I hope to join the growing list of compassionate photographers of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep because I have something to give to a mother, a family whose heart will be broken forever.