Archive: ‘Personal’

Very Special Babies – Why I Volunteer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

I can’t remember how I learned about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. A photography forum or an email, perhaps. I do remember it was 2010 and I was a year into my business and the youngest of my four children was about to turn one. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (I’ll refer to it as NILMDTS from here on out) is a non-profit organization with a network of volunteer photographers who provide free professional photographs for families facing an infant loss. In many cases, photographers are contacted last minute to photograph babies who passed away due to stillbirth. Sometimes a baby is on life support and is photographed with his parents gently cradling him, tubes and complicated medical machinery and all. In other instances, the babies are tragically born too soon to survive or have “incompatible with life” diagnoses and the photographers arrive either before or shortly after the babies pass away, surrounded by the love and comfort of their parents.

I immediately thought, “Wow, that is so hard.” I couldn’t imagine walking into a hospital room to be faced with so much sadness. Yet I kept returning to the NILMDTS website to read more about the organization. When I was in high school, I babysat for a family who’s fifth baby was stillborn. I remember how excited they were for that baby to be born, and then in the sad days after he arrived without a breath, I watched the older children as the parents had to attend to funeral arrangements for a baby they never were able to rock to sleep in their arms. Years later, as a new mother, I met a woman in a parenting forum who lost her first baby to stillbirth – a cord accident – at the very end of her pregnancy. I recalled how she wished she had better photos of her baby, yet how much she cherished the photos she DID have of her son because it was all she had to remember of the life he had in her womb and in her heart.

Slowly, “I don’t think I could do that,” turned into, “I think I could help these parents.” I felt more confident that I could serve the families in their time of need. Without knowing exactly what I was in for (how could I?) I submitted an application to be considered for NILMDTS and was accepted. This was in 2011.

My first call I cried all the way to the hospital. I didn’t know how I could possibly speak to the grief-stricken parents or photograph a baby who would never coo or smile or clutch his mother’s finger. I felt panicked and questioned my decision to volunteer. I had a small hope that the parents would turn me away when I arrived so I could go back home and pretend nothing had ever happened.

And then I arrived at the nurses’ station at the labor and delivery unit and they gently and calmly told me the parents’ names, the baby’s name, and explained a little bit about what had happened. I took cues from their strong but gentle demeanor and walked into the hospital room with one goal – I would photograph this baby and give the parents a memory of the baby they’d dreamed about for nearly 40 weeks as he grew in his mother’s belly. How I felt didn’t matter – only providing the family with these images mattered.

I left the hospital feeling so incredibly sad, but I felt more strongly than ever that this was an important task. I knew I was volunteering for NILMDTS because I could do this. I didn’t want to do it, and I wished so much that the organization didn’t have a need to exist, but I could do it.

Six months went by without me being able to take another call. The requests from the NILMDTS coordinators either came at times I wasn’t able to leave on short notice or were at hospitals too far away from me to get there before other volunteers could arrive.

Then on the morning of March 14, 2012, my brother called. I could tell immediately that something was wrong – I suspected one of my grandparents was ill or worse. Then my brother breathlessly told me that the baby he and his wife had been expecting for 35 weeks was gone. No heartbeat. They were on their way to the hospital to be induced. Without hesitation I said I would go to be with them and then I asked, through my tears, “Do you want me to take the baby’s photos?”

I had never understood why I felt so strongly that I should join NILMDTS, but that morning I knew. My brother’s baby, a girl they named Kaci Lee, came into the world completely still but completely perfect and beautiful. Her mom had complications from the delivery and had to be rushed to the OR right after Kaci arrived, so I photographed my precious niece so that she would know what her daughter looked like right after she was born. My hands shook and sometimes I had to wipe away tears before continuing. Kaci looked so peaceful, just like a sleeping newborn, we all kept saying we expected her to start stirring or to cry. It was one of the saddest days of my life. Losing a child is something no parent should ever have to experience and I was stunned it had happened to my family.

Here are some of the photos of precious Kaci. A tiny little peanut with lots of hair. She looked like her mom. We are doing a walk/5K in Kaci’s honor in September and my brother and his wife said I could share Kaci’s story. Because she is their baby, even if she’s not in their arms.


It’s hard to talk about NILMDTS to others. It’s a sad subject and it, understandably, makes people uncomfortable. Some find it unsettling that we take photos of babies who’ve passed away.  It makes sense to feel that way. I  know how much the parents cherish these memories of their babies gone too soon, though. I hope no one reading this ever has need for NILMDTS. I wish no one would ever have to experience this pain. But if you or someone you know ever has to face this unbearable loss, I hope someone from NILMDTS can be there to offer you a memento of the short time the baby had in this world.

I recently did maternity photos for a family who received devastating news that their baby boy, Rocco, had an “incompatible with life” condition. While they were in my studio they told me all about Rocco and all the people who were praying for him and rooting for him to be a miracle and defy the odds given to him. Rocco’s mom had her hands on her baby belly the whole time, sometimes talking to her son, sometimes looking down with love and amazement at him as he moved inside her. Rocco’s big sister was there, his daddy was there, and we smiled as we celebrated Rocco’s life. They told me about the Facebook page they’d created, now with over 800 people following Rocco’s journey.

With Rocco’s parents’ permission, I am sharing the link to their page and some photos from the maternity session. Rocco is scheduled to arrive tomorrow morning, and as his mom said to me, “We are very open about everything and created Rocco’s page for all the support, prayers, love & light he can get. It truly is amazing how many people are already rooting for him. Thank you so much for asking and sharing his story.” I hope he can get even more people sending prayers and thoughts in his direction.

This is what prompted me to write about NILMDTS today. Each of these babies I or one of my fellow volunteers photographs has a story their parents will want to remember forever. These babies bring joy to their parents and families and communities, they remind me that the world is not always fair but always loving. The babies live in their mothers for a short while and in the hearts of their parents always, no matter what.

Send your thoughts to Rocco and his parents this week. He is undoubtedly loved.


Northfield Flood – September 2010

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

If you’re in Minnesota, you’ve probably heard by now about the horrible flooding in some of the southern parts of the state. I was supposed to have a photo session tonight in downtown Northfield and in an outdoor area, so I drove around just before to check things out. Well, the entire parking lot near the wooded location was underwater, and I saw firsthand how high the river had gotten downtown. Some businesses have been affected by the flooding, but there were so many people filling sandbags, hopefully their efforts will help!

These are just snapshots, and given the number of people doing exactly the same thing I was (standing around, gawking in disbelief at the rapid flow of water over walls and up river banks, camera in hand), there are hundreds of images exactly like these populating Facebook and blogs today. More photographs (not taken by me) can be found at the Picasa album by Locally Grown Northfield’s Griff Wigley, the Northfield News, and some at WCCO showing other affected areas of Minnesota.

This first photograph is the football field at Carleton, completely underwater. That mound you see coming out of the water? That’s part of the track that surrounded the field, bubbling up after separating from the ground.

Looking north at the foot bridge that spans the river. That metal railing you see? It tops a stone wall that is tall enough my kids can’t see over it when we walk along the river walk. And the water is normally far below the level of the walk.

Looking across at Froggy Bottoms. Feeling glad we just had dinner there last week now that they may not be back open for a while. I suppose it’s naive to say I hope their damage isn’t too bad.

Emergency responders and bystanders.

There is usually a good-sized waterfall here. You can barely see where the water has come up onto the sidewalk on the left, across from the trees.

Standing in a crowd looking north at the water rushing by. The space to the right of the wood beam, up to the building, is a walkway that is now 3-4 feet underwater, at least.

A tiny bit of sunshine coming in through the sky. Such a small sliver you could see the rays coming straight down! Looking south, the waterfall is behind the railing.

I heard the river was supposed to crest sometime tonight, hopefully things don’t get any worse! Many thanks to those in the area who are helping with this emergency.

Photographers at Play – Downtown Northfield

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

At the end of August I met up with a group of professional and amateur photographers for a low-key get-together. Our dear models put on their best smiles in the heat and we took them around downtown Northfield, Minnesota for some images. If you are considering booking a fall mini portrait session and wondered what the images might look like – all of these images were taken in locations we’ll be able to use the day of your mini session!

Here are just a few of my favorites from the afternoon of shooting.

Golden Sun & Bright Lights at the Fair – St. Paul Photographer

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

If you read this post, you remember that I love the fair. Well, I made good on my plans and went to the Minnesota State Fair a total of three times. In a row! The first night I had a session with the lovely Anna, who was accompanied by her mom and her friend Mike (her mom Sue sent me the behind-the-scenes snapshot above!). I prepared Anna in advance for the attention she was going to get as I photographed her, especially in the images where we were using Mike as a human light stand to hold my flash and umbrella. (A note to photographers: the state fair media folks are super nice and accommodating, but they do ask that you receive prior approval to shoot on the midway, so make sure you do that if you’ll be using a model when you go next year, like we did!)

Attention she did get! Other fair-goers were taking pictures of her with their cells phones, people would come up behind me and whisper, “Who IS she?” and we were asked more than once what magazine we were shooting for.

Well, Anna’s a teenager who agreed to be photographed amid thousands of fair enthusiasts on a busy Friday night! We had so much fun, and it was great to experiment with lighting. We used natural light, natural light with reflectors and some off-camera flash.

Here are just some of my favorites! Thank you, Anna, Mike and Sue!

I Love the Minnesota State Fair

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

There, I said it. Though if you know me, it’s not exactly a secret.

I love the crowds, the colors, the animals, the rides, the lights at night, and yes, I love the food. One year I hunted all over for the new s’more on a stick. Yet another year we tried chocolate-covered bacon. You can’t make this stuff up.

The Minnesota State Fair starts in two days, and I have two, maybe three trips planned.

Oh yes, I will see it all.

Below are just a few photos I took at the fair in 2008, I won’t bombard you with too many. I was unable to go last year, but this year I am going to a concert and have a photo shoot planned one night, which I am super excited about. And I am hoping we’ll get to bring the kids one day, too. They’re looking forward to the butterfly house, the big slide and cotton candy.

I will definitely have some more portraits and photographs to share this time around. See you at the fair!

I love this one – just a crowd shot, but the guy walking down the way looks like he’s strutting for the cover of an album (er, iTunes picture?), the sun flare shining down and it almost looks like he’s on his own.

Can you guess what this is? A deep-fried candy bar (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, to be exact). Those have got to be good for you.

Two years ago I saw Brandi Carlile in concert at a free stage at the fair. At the time I sort of knew who she was, but after seeing her live I became a true fan. Great show. I’m no concert photographer, but it was a fun challenge to take photos in the constantly changing stage lights. Brandi has made the big time in Minnesota this year, and will be playing the Grandstand.

Stay tuned, I’ve got images from a senior portrait session and a toddler-and-mommy session coming up soon!

Also, I’ll be making an announcement soon about MINI SESSIONS. Get excited, they’re going to be awesome!


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