4 years ago I had a a month of people asking me for money to support this or that. Now, don’t get me wrong, when my friends are doing charity events I will put my hand in my pocket and support their cause. But after numerous phone calls and approaches in the street I had personally had enough.
I had been looking for a while for a charity or cause that I could support and that would be linked to photography. My looking coincided with going to a photography convention where Sandy Puc was talking about the charity Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Whilst sitting listening to her talk, I realised I had found a charity I wanted to get involved with.
Quite simply Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a charity offering remembrance photography for babies who will never leave hospital. And as a photographer I volunteer my time and skills to the families requesting the service, and give them a collection of images of their precious baby.
These are no ordinary photo sessions. Throughout a session, each moment is treated like a last moment, and there are no second takes. I have to get it right first time and each time I press the shutter button, as the images I give to a family are going to become prized possessions.
Every affiliated photographer who works with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (or NILMDTS for short) has had to go through an application process, where their photos are evaluated to make sure they can deal with all lightening conditions in a variety of environments. In the UK, at time of writing, there are only 28 photographers affiliated to NILMDTS, and it means that we frequently pull together, often going out of area to support families requesting the service of remembrance photography.
Usually I’m contacted at short notice about a session, with only hours or a few days to prepare. The preparation is not just pulling together camera gear and paperwork, but it also involves getting emotionally ready for what I’m about to see. And at times these shoots get far more personal than I ever thought they would when I started with NILMDTS.
I attended the funeral of Anastasia Joy recently, and this is the shoot to date that has affected and touched my heart the most. Not because of what I saw, but I got to know the family personally over a number of months.
In February I had an email and a long telephone conversation with a lovely lady asking if I would help her. Her little girl had been diagnosed with anencephaly …. Anencephaly is a condition that prevents the normal development of the brain and the bones of the skull, and actually affects about 1 in 1,000 pregnancies, although most of these pregnancies end in miscarriage, so the prevalence of this condition in newborns is much lower.
Anastasia’s mum was great with sharing information and photos about the condition, it was like she was not just preparing herself, but she was sharing this with me as she knew this was a big request and she wanted to give me an opportunity to say no if I felt at all uncomfortable by what I saw. Her sharing was the best preparation I’ve actually ever had for a shoot, and gave me a clear idea of what she was comfortable with, what she wasn’t sure about and let me prepare a mental list of shots I wanted to capture for them.
I personally got to know the family as they booked a maternity shoot, which took place several months before the due date. However, within a couple of weeks of the shoot we got a late night phone call. I was out at the time, but when Gavin phoned, the restaurant bill was paid and I jumped in a taxi home to find my bag and paperwork ready to go when I got home.
I arrived at UCH in London at around midnight. For me as a mum having two little ones, it was surreal to be on a maternity unit and not be the one having contractions. It made me realise what my husband, and other husbands / birthing partners go through whilst sitting there. All you can do is support, offer a hand to hold and encouraging words.
I was privileged to share this time with the family, help where I could, record the journey they went thorough that night, but most importantly I am only one of a handful of people who can say that I was there when Anastasia lived. And she lived for 1 hour and 20 minutes. That may not sound much to some, but for a baby with anencephaly this is a long time.
I know my photos helped the family as I saw them a few days before Anastasia’s funeral. And I went to the funeral not because I felt obliged to, but because I wanted to. However, attending the funeral actually made me realise how many people I had touched with this voluntary work. Far more than I ever realised it would.
The death of an infant happens more than anybody cares to talk about, and grief is a price we pay for love. So to end this blog post with a image, it’s not going to be an image of a baby, but it is going to be an image of the sky….. I remember that Anastasia lived when there was a blue sky, I remember seeing blue sky at her funeral, and today a month on, I look out of the window and there is again a blue sky.