in memory.

His name was Christian.

His grandfather was a spiritual mentor of mine, his mother an acquaintance. We were both pregnant with our first children and would often grin and admire each other’s bellies in passing. In October Sarah was born and he was expected three months later.

Thanksgiving came. Christmas. And then, a handful of days before his due date, Christian was born — still. Even now, coming up on three years later, typing those words takes my breath away. As a new mother still riding the wave of adrenaline and hormones and exhaustion I couldn’t wrap my brain around such a loss despite the countless nights I lay awake trying. I still can’t.

His mother and I became friends that winter, meeting for lunch and coffee and trips to the cemetery. Our conversations were punctuated by tears and questions. How? and Why? And Where is God? Timidly over lunch one day she said, almost whispering, “I have a picture. If you want to see it.” And of course I did. Every new mother deserves to pass around photographs of her beautiful child, and this was no exception.

The polaroid told what I already knew would be true by looking at his mother – he was beautiful. All 8 1/2 pounds of him. A big, strapping, tragically-lost baby boy. But now, for his mother, the only physical reminder of those details was held in 2 or 3 polaroids snapped by hospital staff. She carried each of them in her purse. And she sat at lunch that day sobbing silently about how she never unwrapped him and looked at his feet. And she’ll never get that chance again.

The heartbreaking truth of that story replays itself daily, hourly around our country. Even in 2008. According to the March of Dimes 1 in 200 babies are born still.

I was profoundly affected by Christian’s birth and death. Several months later I heard about an organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and knew working with them would be the way I would honor his mother’s pain and his memory. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep has made it their mission to make sure that families in the throws of such loss leave the hospital with more than a grainy, temporary polaroid in their purse. Professional photographers like myself from around the country volunteer to photograph and preserve the memories of these beautiful children. I had my first call three weeks ago – twin girls – and my heart stopped. But the heart-wrenching time I spent with those girls was tempered by the knowledge that this family would have images of their babies to hold dear.

And before I left the hospital that day I did something with Christian and his mother, my friend, in mind. I carefully unwrapped each of those tiny baby girls, and photographed their feet.

As proclaimed by President Reagan in 1988, October is recognized as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Foundation holds its Annual Fund Drive for six weeks starting in mid-September and ending in October. If you are in a place to make even a small contribution to NILMDTS, please know that doing so will continue to allow the organization to provide improved resources, training, communication, and other tools necessary in support of the professional photographers who provide the gift of free remembrance portraiture to families in need. Click here to read more about this campaign and to donate.

StephanieMay 6, 2010 - 6:54 am

I don’t know if you read comments back this far, but I want to leave one for this post anyway. I am sitting here in front of my computer with huge tears running down my cheeks.

You see, my mother is the proud owner of two extremely grainy photographs taken of my little brother after he took is one and only breath, in December 1988. She never got to see his feet either.

20+ years later, my best friend from college and I were pregnant at the same time and loving every second. I had my baby in December and she was beautiful and healthy and gorgeous. She had her baby on April 20th, and hers was “born sleeping” (as the nurses referred to the baby). Early that morning, I received a single text message telling me of the tragedy. I absolutely had no words.

From the bottom of my heart and the deepest part of my soul, thank you. Thank you for giving these mothers more than two grainy photographs.

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