Intro by Skip Cohen
February is volunteer recruitment month for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, and this is the last weekly installment of volunteer stories. I couldn't be more proud to be a NILMDTS Ambassador, but it's also frustrating talking with photographers whose immediate response is something like, "Oh my God, I could never do that?"
Yet, talk to any NILMDTS photographer, or read the stories I've shared, and over again, they have the same sentiment. "It's changed my life!" "It's the greatest contribution I've ever made with my camera!" I've grown so much as an artist and person because of the experience."
Today's post is from a volunteer who joined NILMDTS during the pandemic. So, not only was she dealing with support for the babies and families she photographed, but her own health and the safety of those around her.
Please read this story and then click on the link below to find out how you can help support one of the industry's most recognized non-profits.
by Melanie Rodger
When I first became a volunteer, I wasn’t sure I could do this. I wasn’t sure I could handle seeing people in pain and sad and crying. How was I going to be able to be the strongest person in a room filled with those going through the devastating loss of a baby? A baby that was someone’s daughter or son, and was also a brother, a sister, a grandchild, a niece or nephew.
What I quickly learned was that being the strongest person in the room meant showing a family the features of their babies that are like moms or dads, pointing out the long middle toe, or the cute little button nose that adorns their babies face.
I get to help families cherish their babies and spend time admiring all the parts of who they are, and most importantly, capture photos they will have to remember their baby for the rest of their lives.
When COVID 19 hit and our entire state was put on a stay at home order, the first thing that came to my mind was the deafening silence of our dispatch line.
I knew right away that while the fears and reality of the pandemic were setting in for everyone, there were still families out there that were going to have to say goodbye to their babies, without us photographers. I’m thankful NILMDTS was able to fill the gap of photographers’ absences quickly by launching their Medical Affiliate Program to help train nurses to take professional quality images, but I felt myself constantly checking to see when the phone would ring again.
Only a few weeks went by and the phone started ringing, letting us know that we were allowed to come into the hospitals again but that things would look different. Different how? Temperature screenings, a long list of questions to answer, a mandatory mask to be worn, and that was about it. For me, that is such a short hurdle to overcome if it meant we were allowed back and able to provide families with these memories. Sure it’s sweaty to wear a mask and have your viewfinder fog up. Sure it’s harder to navigate sharing things you normally would, but there’s so much honor to be there in the chaos of the world and just take a moment to be present for someone who’s going through this unimaginable loss.
To this day, I find myself being overly cautious of what I am doing in my personal life to make sure that not only does my family not get sick during all of this, but that I am still able to be on call to help families. When I lost my son in 2010, it was a Thanksgiving morning and everyone was home with their families. Everyone was sitting down, eating dinner, and saying what they were thankful for that year. No one was thinking about what I was going through and that I would have cherished photos of my son (I lived in another country where NILMDTS services were not provided at the time). Or that I needed someone to be there and encourage me to hold him longer than 5 minutes, and to take mental notes of all of his traits.
I find myself in a position where I now have the honor of meeting someone’s baby while their family members can’t.
I know that the only way everyone else will get to see these sweet babies is through my eyes and what memories I create for them to share. But I also always find myself going back full circle, to that moment where I wasn’t sure I would be strong enough to do this, and remembering that I am strong enough, and at the end of the day, it’s truly the biggest honor to be able to help families remember their babies.
I’m so grateful to each of the 8 families I’ve been able to serve during this pandemic.I know that these memories will be ones they’re able to hold close to them in a time of a lot of uncertainty.
About Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
NILMDTS is seeking volunteer photographers and digital retouch artists (DRAs) to volunteer. Even during the pandemic, many hospitals look to NILMDTS photographers as essential workers. If you are comfortable or able to go into hospitals, we need photographers to capture the only moments parents will spend with their precious babies. NILMDTS is also in need of DRAs where you can volunteer from your home. Since the pandemic, retouching sessions have increased by 132%. This includes medical providers and bereaved parents submitting photographs for retouching.
Since 2005, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep has gifted complimentary remembrance portraits to parents experiencing the death of a baby. For many, these priceless images serve as a critical step in the healing process.
Having done over 40,0000 complimentary portrait sessions, NILMDTS works with photographers and digital retouch artists from around the world to offer grieving families the gift of photography to honor and validate the legacy of their precious babies.
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Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.