“I have no idea what I’m doing.” Those were the words running through my head as I walked into the hospital, camera bag over my shoulder. When I bought my Nikon several years ago, I envisioned myself keeping it in auto mode, snapping a few pictures of my three kids as they competed in sports or did cute little things around the house. Never could I have envisioned myself preparing to photograph a mother and father who wouldn’t get the privilege of hearing those little feet running across the floor, or seeing gangly arms and legs flail around doing cartwheels or kicking a ball. My heart was heavy and I could feel my tears threaten to spill from my eyes and give my nervousness away.
With a deep breath, I pushed open the door to find my friend, who is a NICU nurse at the hospital where I work, her husband, and the most perfect baby girl, swaddled in a blanket and tucked safely into her mama’s arms.
At first, it seemed like any other delivery room. But this time, the tears weren’t tears of joy, but of sorrow. The quiet hush in the room wasn’t because of a sleeping baby, but a baby who was born sleeping.
I greeted my friend and squeezed her hand, and began to take a few pictures of this precious family. A head resting on mom’s chest, tiny feet resting perfectly together, delicate fingers and hands placed under baby’s chin. I tried to capture moments that would forever reflect the love that these parents felt from the minute they began to expect their baby girl. She would never know anything but love and security. For the rest of the day, family members gathered to snuggle her, kiss her face, and tell her how much they loved her. Even the original “baby” of the family, a golden retriever named Piper, came to say hello. One of my favorite moments was when Grandpa wrapped his finger inside of baby girl’s hand, and she seemed to be saying, “It’s okay, family…I’m here.”
Even though I was there to take pictures as a gift to this family, I was the one who received the blessing that day. It was hard not to be overcome with the sacredness of each moment, and the honor of witnessing my friend say hello and goodbye to her daughter. The edited photos were a balm to my soul, and to the family’s journey of healing as well. As a music therapist, I try to find ways to bring comfort to my patients and their families, although this seems like an impossible task for families walking through the loss of a child.
Photography doesn’t need words – it doesn’t need platitudes or awkward attempts at making parents feel better. It just takes a willing heart and showing up.
The medical affiliate program has been such an incredible opportunity for us to honor the sacred dignity of each person (however tiny) our hospital serves, and gives families a lasting legacy with which to honor their child.