Losing a child can be one of the hardest things a parent has to go through. There are many reasons why a child doesn't survive birth or loses the battle immediately after.
One local organization is prepared to help families grieve and give them closure in a specific and unique way.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a non-profit organization made up of professional photographers who volunteer their services to families who have lost a child in the hospital. At the parents' request, they visit the hospital in the hours immediately following the child's passing and capture images of the child alone or with the parents for them to have to remember the child by.
There is a representative of the organization responsible for nearly all of the hospitals in Arizona.
"We try to get parents to go home with something, we are basically trying to help them heal," said Amy Jamieson, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident and photographer. "If the world was perfect, every baby would go home. But the world isn't perfect."
When it becomes known that the baby will not survive, it is usually the nurse who will inform the family that this service is available. If they accept, a call is made to the local coordinator, who then contacts the photographers available in the area. This is done through phone calls, text messaging and a private group on Facebook.
"When I receive a call from the hospital, I send out a texting blast then an email blast to the entire Phoenix team," said Barb Gabriel-Conley, coordinator for St. Joe's Hospital and Medical Center. "Then I cross my fingers and pray that I am going to get someone to respond. If after 15 minutes no one does, then I do a follow-up text and start calling."
Gabriel-Conley said she receives about six calls per month. She has seven photographers assigned to St. Joe's, but it can be extremely difficult to get a response in such a short amount of time. Because of that, she herself has been to 18 sessions in the last year.
"My heart sinks to the pit of my stomach when you know the family is waiting through the hardest time in their lives," Gabriel-Conley said. "The struggle is there isn't a large window of time when these calls occur."
The photographers who apply and become part of the organization must have a website and display evidence of editing skills. The organization tells families that they will receive their professional photographs on CD within four weeks.
"When I get there, we spend time talking about the baby and how the session is going to run," Gabriel-Conley said. "We tell them anything they want, we can do, like if there is going to be a memorial service and if they want a photo, we will be able to provide them one."
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is always in need of photographers. The group asks that anyone who is able to volunteer their time, visit the website and submit an application.
"We are so short-staffed," said Kristen Self, coordinator for the East Valley. "It really is something that you give somebody that no one else can."
With such sensitive subject matter, Self said the training that is given to new photographers involves them shadowing an established member on sessions.
"We want to make sure everyone is on the same page," Self said. "What you learn is not to get emotional in the room. Something just comes over you in the room and you can hold back the tears until the session is completed."
There is definitely a spiritual aspect of the service, Jamieson noted.
"I look at it as I am taking a picture of a shell, that baby has left it and gone to heaven," she explained. "I don't think anyone can look at it as a job. You look at it from the prospect that it is better to have something tangible that can help in the healing process."
Jamieson worked in a neonatal intensive care unit until one night she had an experience that inspired her to leave that section of the hospital for another, as well as join the organization.
"A nurse brought in a baby (that wasn't going to make it) and said there was nothing she could do for it and walked back out," Jamieson said. "I held the baby until it died. What really bothered me was the callousness and it was the last night I worked in the NIC-U (neonatal intensive care unit)."
Self said she had a friend who had lost a child. The friend had taken pictures of the baby and sent them to Self.
"I kept thinking I wished someone would have edited the pictures for them," she said. "I wanted to help in that regard. Two or three months after that I looked up more information about the organization online and did the application."
Gabriel-Conley also felt the call to the organization. She had heard about it but her technical skills in photography and editing, she felt, were not up to par. She honed her craft and waited to see if a sign came to her. It did.
"Now I Lay Me never left my heart and I wanted God to let me know if it's the right thing to do," she said. "About a year ago, we had a pretty substantial traumatic event in our family. You do soul searching and ask yourself, ‘What am I doing for the world?'"
Gabriel-Conley had been to a speech by the organization's president and co-founder, Sandy Puc, in Phoenix and afterwards applied to the organization.
"At the time Sandy came, my career in photography was a passion and I was emotionally pulled by her words but was not technically ready," she said. "I think God places things on your heart and when the time is right."
To find out more about the organization or to apply, visit www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or firstname.lastname@example.org