I don’t think that I’ve ever mentioned this, but I do some volunteer work that is close to my heart, especially today. For about a decade I have volunteered with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS). I am part of a group of photographers in the Boston area, on-call to take professional photographs for parents who have children who will not live long after their birth or are stillborn. It sounds a little gruesome to some people, an unimaginable emotionally-charged situation to others, but this is how I think about it: but imagine only having a few minutes, hours, or days with your baby, immediately postpartum (in your exhausted, hormonal fog). And then never seeing that face again. The anxiety of not remembering every detail of that sweet little person. It is too much to bear. No one should have to face that circumstance.
NILMDTS speaks to the reason that I actually take photos–because we need to remember one another, we need to see love, connection, resemblance, relationship reflected back at us in images. It isn’t a privilege, it’s something primal; it’s key to our collective public health. We all need to be seen. And so I want to stop on this day when we are celebrating moms and remember the scores of mothers I’ve worked with through NILMDTS who were denied a celebration with their child on this day. They are mothers in every sense of the word.
But I won’t leave you with just a tissue and some tears.
I want to tell you about one family I met via NILMDTS and how they will be celebrating today. Most NILMDTS families I never hear from again. And I’m 100% cool with that. It’s the worst day of your life, I can imagine never wanting to see me again. But this one dad wrote me about 1.5 years after I took photos of their daughter, a baby who lived only a handful of hours after she was born. It was one of the best emails I ever received:
Hi Lisa, My wife and I are interested in having you photograph our twins. A boy and a girl, C & M. They are currently 5 months old. I’m not sure if you remember but you also photographed our daughter “C” through Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep in July, 2009. I can’t tell you how much those pictures mean to us. By now I must have stared at every picture you took thousands of times – and continue to do so. There is one in particular that I still carry around with me in my pocket everyday. Now we would love for you to photograph our twins – and, believe it or not, are thrilled that we will be paying you for your services! I look forward to hearing from you. B
I literally cried tears of joy (I tear up writing this now, years later). And I went to that shoot with eager anticipation and a heart bursting with happiness. For real (you can see that shoot here).
When we were finished with the order, I got another email from Dad:
Hi Lisa, I know that I mentioned this in the last email but I wanted to reiterate how much L and I appreciate everything you did for us. C passed away on a Friday over two years ago and, since then, I make time on every Friday to spend some time celebrating her life – with the twins it’s been getting later and later (hence this late email). Anyway, I was just looking over all of your photos and they are all beautiful. They make me cry and they make me smile. Thank you for everything. I hope that you stay with NILMDTS. B
p.s. Full disclosure, at the time I was completely against contacting you to take pictures of C. My wife and the (wonderful) nurses talked me into it. I just wanted to protect C and felt like having a photographer take her picture would be putting her “on a stage.” I’ve never been more wrong. I can’t imagine not having your pictures. They mean a tremendous amount. You’re much, much more than a photographer – you’ve helped us memorialize the beauty of our daughter. I just thought, on this Friday, it would be nice to remind you of that. Thank you.
BUT this post is not about me–but how important photos are… I honestly think of this family all the time. Sometimes when the NILMDTS calls come in fast and furious, when I am in the deep end with editing, or shoots are needed at times that are just terrible for me, I have been inspired to just go by the thoughts of these guys and the knowledge of what the pictures had meant to their family. And, in keeping with the lovely people that they are, they gave a donation to the organization in my honor this winter. I emailed to thank them. I asked for a photo of the now 3+ year old twins and inquired how things were going. Well imagine my surprise when I got this response:
Great to hear from you. L and I are doing well. The twins are a little over three years old. They will be three and a half this summer. And we have more on the way. Believe it or not, we are expecting triplets in March. A set of identical twins and a third. Quite a surprise to us as you can expect. Once we get settled we will certainly call on your services to help preserve more memories of our family.
Also, it is Friday afternoon and every Friday afternoon I make time to look at all the pictures you took of C. They continue to be as beautiful and moving as the time we first saw them. We can never thank you enough and a donation to NILMDTS is the very least we can do.
Thank you once again and continue to do the great work that you do.
OMG!! Three more little ones. From a first birth ending in devastation, these guys still welcomed the large family they always dreamed about (maybe even a little larger than they dreamed!). I am in awe of the courage they have shown in moving forward through the next pregnancies and births after that first agony. And to have the joy of a family of 7! I immediately asked to take photos. Dad let me know the day that the three GIRLS arrived and I waited until they were all released before racing over to see what life is like with toddler twins and three infants. It’s chaotic and awesome. And they handle it with grace and gratitude and a lot of helping hands. We joked about how they are not leaving the house as a family for 5 years and about how amazing it was telling people that there were triplets on the way. And we gazed at those baby parts and marveled about how recently those six hands and feet–all those knees and elbows–had been inside their mama.
And I asked if I could share their story with all of you and they quickly agreed. If their journey could help one person they wanted it out there for everyone. It’s my honor to introduce you to the triplets and their big brother and sister. We’ll be seeing more of them as they grow this year. I can hardly wait. This is why I take photos. This is why you need photos. These pictures are for these five babies, so that the triplets can see how the twins smiled at them, could not keep their hands off them. So Mom can remember anything about their infancy in her haze of keeping it all running smoothly. So that there is a record.