Monday, February 11, 2008

A Decision

There's something I've been thinking about doing for quite some time now. I first thought about joining Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep when I saw an article about it in USA Today a few years ago.

Essentially, It's a volunteer organization dedicated to helping families through early infant loss. Professional photographers throughout the US, Canada and some parts of Europe volunteer to be on-call to do sensitive, private photo shoots with families in hospitals and hospice locations to create images of their newborn babies who only have a short time with their parents.

I know that this work is going to tug at my soul. I know that it will change me forever. I want to do this, for Ava and for Liam, because they were here, and they lived, and they are loved. I also want to do this in memory of a little girl I grew up knowing about, but never got to meet.

In 1976, my mom found out she was pregnant with my sister at the exact same time her best friend and co-worker M. found out that she was expecting as well. They were both having girls, with my mom due in the beginning of March and M due in the beginning of April. They purposefully booked their OB/GYN appointments on the same days.

They were both well into their third trimesters when M's daughter stopped moving inside her. In a heart-wrenching twist of fate, my mom learned that M delivered her stillborn daughter after 17 hours of labor when she overheard nurses discussing it as she came out of anesthesia after delivering my sister via c-section. My sister's birthday was the worst day of M's life.

My mom genuinely mourned the little girl she was so eagerly anticipating for her best friend. Shortly after that, M's husband applied for a job transfer out of state. They saw each other to say goodbye, but M. didn't lay eyes on my sister until 1988.

Anyway, this being the 70s, my mom and M, wrote a lot of letters. In 1978, a year after the tragedy, M. had a healthy baby boy. My mom had me in 1979, and M. had another girl, L, a year after that. M's family continued to move around lot for her husband's job. We visited them as a family in Boston in 1988. We went whale-watching. There was a lot of vomit. In 1992, we went on vacation together. M's son, the one born a year before me, became my first mutual crush. Had it not been for a loud dryer buzzer and some incredibly bad luck with an LL Bean windbreaker, he would have been my first kiss. (Dammit.)

I know my sister's life milestones are bittersweet for M, thinking about the daughter who was born into Heaven within 24 hours of Amanda's birth. When my sister got accepted at her first choice college- M's alma mater- she had a sweatshirt and windshield sticker FedExed to the house the next day. When my sister got married in the campus cathedral in 2005, M. flew from Seattle to Boston to sit in a place of honor by the mother of the bride with her daughter L., the healthy baby girl born in 1980, at her side. Later, M led the conga line around the dance floor at the reception.

I hope that this work that I will do for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep will honor M's strength, and Karla's perseverance, and Kate's grace. For healing, and remembrance.

8 comments:

beccatown said...

This sounds like a very wonderful -- and very heart-breaking -- venture. I had a stillborn son in 2002. The nurses at the hospital took pictures, but the film roll is still sitting in our file there. I haven't had the courage or ?? to have them developed. It was certainly the most painful experience of my life -- something I will never entirely "get over" (despite the pressure in our culture to "get over" everything).

Becky said...

Wow. I've never heard of this organization, but what a wonderful idea. I can only imagine the pain associated with infant loss, but it sounds like such a wonderful service you could provide to people.

Chunky Photojournalist Barbie said...

Oh, beccatown, I am so sorry for your loss. Thanks for delurking to share something so personal. Welcome.

Michelle said...

It is SO weird that you just posted this because about a month ago my boss told me a story about her very good friend. I honestly don't know her friend's name so I will call her J. J was 8 months pregnant (I don't know what year this was, but I would say it was within the last 10 years) and she found out that her baby had no brain. It was too late to terminate the pregnancy in our state, and J did not want to have the baby naturally and then just allow it to die - and suffer (apparently it can take up to 5 minutes for the body to "realize" their is no brain). So J had to fly to Colorado with her best friend and husband to have the pregnancy terminated. To make matters WORSE, apparently it is extremely difficult to fly on a plane with a corpse, and by the time J could get all the paperwork completed, she would have already gone into labor naturally. So she had to fly back to our state with her dead baby in her uterus. Just let that sink in for a moment. Then, when she arrived back here, her doctor induced labor and she gave birth to the dead baby. In the midst of all this, a very astute nurse went and found a disposable camera and asked J if she minded if she took some pics of her baby. J said she didn't care, but she was very out of it at the time. Now, she cherishes those photos because they are the only ones she will ever have of her first child. And, the whole experience made her realize her calling in life (which she is sure was given to her by her baby in heaven) and not long after this happened she became a professional photographer and has been one ever since.

cindy w said...

Man, good for you for doing this. I'd be collapsing in giant heaving sobs every time, not exactly providing comfort for the grieving mothers. I think it's awesome that you're going to give it a go.

shannon said...

That's important work you're going to do. You're a good person, lady.

karla said...

You heart is so pure Angie. I know that so many parents will forever be grateful for the memories you are helping preserve for them.

Chunky Photojournalist Barbie said...

I hope so...

As for purity of heart, thanks for that, it's a very kind thing to say. I have my blind spots, stubbornness, and self-centered issues about some things, too. But this, this I can do.