Working with Death Wednesday: Photographer

My name is Nicky, and I am a mother, a wife, and a photographer, living in Derbyshire. I have 2 older brothers, both married with children, and we are no strangers to grief, starting with losing our father when I was 19, and each losing a child in later life.

DW:  What is Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep?
NH:  NILMDTS is a charity organisation based in the US which brings professional photographers into hospital to use their skills to provide portraits for bereaved families who have lost a baby. They have volunteers all over the world though they are not as well known in the UK as in the US yet.

DW: How long have you been volunteering with them?
NH: I became an affiliated photographer about 18 months ago.

DW: What made you want to become a volunteer with this organization?
NH:  I lost my stillborn daughter 11 years ago; I came across NILMDTS about 4 years ago, just as my photography was becoming more than just a hobby, and I decided I must get involved to help parents like us have something tangible to help them always remember their lost baby. Photographs I have of my daughter Kim are not great, and if NILMDTS had been around then, I would definitely have been glad of their service.

DW: Can you tell me about your first experience volunteering?

NH: My first NILMDTS family contacted me after they discovered that their baby had Trisomy 13, a syndrome which affects the baby's development and is incompatible with life. Imogen was not expected to survive her birth, and if she did so, would not live very long. I met with Imogen's mother some time before her due date, and when Imogen was eventually born, alive, I photographed her with her family. After she died I was able to take photographs of her without her oxygen tube, and also to photograph her feet which each had an extra toe because of the syndrome. She had been so frail before that we did not remove her sleeper to expose her feet.

I was nervous, but I am nervous before every shoot, though I think there was more to it this time. I had already met Imogen, and she simply looked like she was fast asleep. The task of creating images was not difficult, with soft and gentle direction. I was not upset and felt no need to cry. I had not known how I would feel or if I would get upset.

I have since photographed 2 more NILMDTS sessions, and I am relieved that I am not overwhelmed by emotion - meeting the families and seeing the babies does not bring my own grief back to me - but I know largely what they are going through and have a great empathy for how they are feeling. Later I am exhausted because it is emotionally draining even though I don't get physically upset at the time: I am not immune.

DW: After you’ve photographed a baby who has died, do you have anyone to talk with about that experience? I imagine it must be very difficult.
NH:  There is support available via a NILMDTS forum for photographers, and I am in touch with a group of other UK affiliates and we share our experiences. My husband understands why I want to do this work and is hugely supportive, friends and family know what I do as well, and I find I can lean a little on a lot of people if I need to.
I have travelled my own journey through grief, and I am in a place where I am comfortable with my own loss, enough that I have the capacity to help others with theirs in a creative and meaningful way. I think I can do this because I have 'been there' and it is perhaps Kim's legacy that I have the strength to do so, a silver lining in the cloud of bereavement.

Thank you so much Nicky for sharing your work with me today!  It's beautiful.  And the work you are doing is so important for grieving parents.  Thank you.

So, readers, have you heard of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep before?  Know anyone who volunteers for them?  Give them a hug from me.