I feel like I’m supposed to say that I started doing photography because of these munchkins… because I wanted more time with them and away from the corporate world. But the truth is, they weren’t even on my radar 7 years ago when I bought my first DSLR.
My niece, Kyah, has passed away the year before and all we had were two pixelated cell phone photos of her. It crushed me to think of the pain my brother was going through, and how all he had to look back on were those two photos. Later, I learned about Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, an organization of volunteer photographers who take photos for families in that situation. I remember feeling so helpless in the hospital after Kyah passed, and not knowing what to do. I started doing photography because I wanted so bad to be able to DO something in those situations. To give the family a free gift that was absolutely irreplaceable.
But in order to volunteer, I had to be a legit photographer… I had to learn lighting and have a business name and website. I had to prove that I knew what I was doing.
Except I didn’t know what I was doing.
So I googled it, found The Pioneer Woman’s blog posts titled “What the Heck is Aperture” and printed them out like they were a textbook. I took notes, practiced until I had a headache, and over time, I started to get the hang of it.
It sounds crazy, but my passion was never photography… my passion was to not remain helpless. I couldn’t just sit still. I wanted to be able to help someone.
If this struck a chord, then maybe it’s time for you to volunteer, too. Rest assured, every area needs more photographers to volunteer! How does it work? Once you’re an official volunteer, you’ll get notified when there’s a need. In our area, our coordinator lets us know through our Facebook group or a text. She lets us know the age of the infant, the location, and a few other details. Whoever is available first goes. If you aren’t available that day, no stress. Sometimes the hospital calls photographers directly, and sometimes the parents themselves reach out. Don’t worry, NILMDTS trains you on how to handle these calls and what information to ask.
If you’re at all interested, please check out the website and click on the area that interests you. You don’t even have to be a photographer! There are several other positions like coordinator, digital retouch artist (photo editor), community volunteer, etc. You won’t regret it.
One more thing. The reaction I get a lot is that it’s so sad and heartbreaking. It is. It’s devastating for these families. But what if you could give them something that will actually help them? Three months from now, these pictures are a visual gift that they can cling to. Three years from now… and forever in the future their baby lives on. It is an absolutely priceless gift. And it’s not always sad.
These pictures are used with permission. It wasn’t a NILMDTS session, but very similar. This family contacted me months in advance, knowing that if their son made it to birth, he wouldn’t make it much past that. I was there, and even allowed in the OR for pictures (which was a huge honor and not typical at all).
On the day of the c-section I was there bright and early with the family. There was a heart monitor hooked up and we could hear their baby’s heartbeat. Can I be honest? It was terrifying. We were racing an invisible clock– not knowing if each heartbeat would be the last. Their surgery got bumped twice because the OR was needed for urgent c-sections. I can’t tell you how many times I prayed that the heartbeat would keep going.
It did! And after birth, he was fighting so hard for his life, that they decided to take him on to the NICU instead of letting him live his last few moments in his parents arms. And he lived! He lived on and on, and now he’s 18 months old.
It was a roller coaster of emotions, and I’m so thankful I was able to be there for this sweet family during one of the scariest times in their lives.
It’s a neat thing, to be able to volunteer. Please consider if you are willing to do this. It’s absolutely the most incredible gift for these families.