Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Angel Babies

I know I sound like a broken record, but I am amazed by how many wonderful people are doing so much to give back to others & to honor their children.  I never thought I would find this many people or services when I started this blog; I am pleasantly surprised.  With this I welcome Heidi with our first guest post.............
by Heidi from Angel Babies

Heidi, Alan and their children at the time of Elizabeth's birth.

Elizabeth Jane

Allow me to introduce myself.  I’m Heidi, wife of Alan, and mom of 4 great kids – three that I hold in my arms and one that I hold in my heart.  It’s been just shy of 5 years since Elizabeth Jane was born.  She lived for 3 hours, 3 very amazing hours.  We found out at the 20 week ultrasound that she had no kidneys, a condition that is incompatible with life outside the womb.  We had 11 ½ weeks to prepare before I went in to preterm labor and she was born.  That sounds like a long time, but it didn’t feel like long enough.  We had a lot of emotional processing to wade through, and by the time I finally felt like I could breathe again and start focusing on actually preparing blankets and things for her birth, it was almost too late.  One of my dear friends wound up putting the binding on the last blanket while we were already at the hospital.
We did not know whether Elizabeth was a boy or girl until she was born due to the lack of amniotic fluid.  She was scrunched up inside of me in such a way that even with multiple ultrasounds, we couldn’t tell for sure.  I had a hard time finding suitably sized clothing to take to the hospital.  I wound up purchasing two outfits, one boy and one girl, just to have something.

Once she was born and we dressed her in her outfit, I realized that I wanted to keep the one that she wore while she was alive.  As a result, we found ourselves wandering around the aisles of Babies R Us on our way home from the hospital trying to find a burial outfit.  It was pretty much the last place we wanted to be at that moment.  Again, it was hard to find something the right size.  We wound up burying her in a newborn sized shirt with a newborn sized sweater over the top, sleeves tucked up inside themselves.  It fit her like a dress.
Each year, we have done a project of some sort to celebrate her birthday.  The first year, we wrote a brochure, published 1,000 copies for local distribution and posted it on our web page, along with Elizabeth’s story – www.angelbabiesinfo.com.  Five years ago, there wasn’t that much information available about how to handle infant loss.  With the increasing popularity of blogs, that has changed in a very positive way.  We have since done a revision (not posted yet on the webpage, but will be soon, and hard copies are now available), and hope to have a Spanish translation done next year.
Two years ago, I realized that the hospital I worked at had very little in the way of blankets, gowns, and other supplies to help families with infant loss.  That spurred me to take on a one time blitz project of getting volunteers to help me sew blankets, gowns, crochet hats, and make bracelet sets.  A frenzied two months later, I was pleased to drop off several bins full of items.  I thought that would be the end of it.  But word gets around, and every month or so, I’d get a phone call or an email from someone looking for an extra small gown or one with short sleeves for a baby with a particular condition.  Each time, I pulled out my sewing machine and worked frantically to get one done to fill the need.
As a result, this year, my birthday gift was to commit to having a sewing session each month to keep a steady supply of gowns and blankets going.  I am pleased to say that even through a massive construction project at our house, I have met that goal.  I am now also a volunteer photographer with www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org, and it has been extremely satisfying to be able to give these handmade items to families that I serve.  At one of our recent gatherings of the photographers, I was able to distribute dozens of blankets and gowns and hats for them to have on hand and also to take to the hospitals that they serve.  My stash is low now, so I am anxious to get back to work to get it built back up. 
I have devised a pattern that is suitable for boys and girls, is very economical with fabric, and is relatively simple to put together.  The pattern and step by step instructions with photographs are available on my Angel Babies website.  It is purposely open all the way down in the back to allow for easy dressing.  This is an issue I have seen with several other donated gowns. 
Girl gown shown above.  
The boy gown is similar in style but has white ribbon and two blue buttons.

I live in the Salt Lake valley, and welcome anyone that wishes to come join me at a sewing day.  I post the dates on my personal blog – www.thevawdreys.blogspot.com – usually a week or so in advance.  It is open house style, from 10-3, and kids are welcome.  Best of all, I always feed my helpers.  If you can join me, please send me an email at hvawdrey (at) gmail (dot) com so that I can send you directions to my house. The next scheduled day will be Tuesday, December 7th.   For those of you not in my area, I would encourage you to make some and donate to your local hospital or perinatal hospice organization.  It’s a wonderful feeling to make something beautiful for an angel to wear.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Spotlight on Angel Wings Memorial Boutique

Today I am spotlighting Lea, the founder of Angel Wings Memorial Boutique , Nicholas' Touch and Angel Wings Cards.  Lea started Angels Wings in honor of her son Nicholas.   

You can read Lea and Nicholas' story here at her site Nicholas' Touch.  

I love this quote on Nicholas' Touch.  Touching and so true...

"I would rather have had one breath of his hair..
one kiss of his mouth..
one touch of his hand..
than an eternity without it.." 

In honor of her son Nicholas, Lea started Angel Wings Memorial Boutique.  Here is what she says about why she started Angel Wings Memorial Boutique.

This initiative was created in loving memory of our youngest son, Nicholas, who was born sound asleep on November 7, 2008.

In the difficult time following Nicholas' death, a beautiful friend gave us a pair of sweet, delicate Angel Wings which now hang gently over his picture and footprint frame. They are a continuous reminder that we have our very own Guardian Angel watching over us.

I am now offering this simple comfort to other grieving parents. It is a small gesture from my heart to yours ... from our Angel to your Angel.

To make a request click here.

Want to make a donation to Angel Wings Memorial Boutique go here.

Lea also makes beautiful cards with messages of love and support for those that have lost a child at her site Angel Wings Cards:Messages of Love and Support.  Below is the description for her cards.

Welcome to Angel Wing Cards ~ Messages of Love and Support.

When a child dies, their parents and family's lives are forever changed. Often, friends and supporters of these families struggle with what to say or do to reach out and show that they care.

The purpose of Angel Wing Cards is to assist with these difficult times.

We offer several styles of cards, messages and comforting words ranging from sympathy when a baby dies, to expressions of support after multiple losses, to offers of love and comfort in the days leading to an anniversary.

Current selections are featured below as well as by clicking the categories on the sidebar.

We would also be honoured to customize a card for you.

It is our hope to broaden the selection of cards available as opportunities and situations arise.

Each card or inscribed photo is available for $5.00 CDN

Pair a card with a set of delicate, handmade Angel Wings for only $10.00 CDN

All donations will assist us in continuing to comfort grieving families.

Questions/comments to lcreeves3@hotmail.com

We are continually working on new categories and designs.

Thank you Lea for all that you do to give back in honor of Nicholas!  It is a truly touching and beautiful gift.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Angel Tree

A wonderful article written by the Salt Lake Tribune about an amazing service provided by an angel mom Heidi in honor or her daughter Jocelyn.  

Angel tree helps grieving family through holidays

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Mourner's Bill of Rights

The Mourner's Bill of Rights

Though you should reach out to others as you do the work of mourning, you should not feel obligated to accept the unhelpful responses you may receive from some people. You are the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain "rights" no one should try to take away from you.
The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help. This is not to discourage you from reaching out to others for help, but rather to assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.

1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.

No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don't allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.

2. You have the right to talk about your grief.

Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don't feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.

3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.

Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don't take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.

4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don't allow others to push you into doing things you don't feel ready to do.

5. You have the right to experience "griefbursts."

Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.

6. You have the right to make use of ritual.

The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don't listen.

7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.

If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won't be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.

8. You have the right to search for meaning.

You may find yourself asking, "Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?" Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, "It was God's will" or "Think of what you have to be thankful for" are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.

9. You have the right to treasure your memories.

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.

10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Spotlight on Once A Mother

Meet Kristin & sweet Peyton from Once A Mother & Doing Good In Her Name.  I am in serious awe of all the amazing women I have connected with that are doing so much to give back to others.   I am truly honored to spotlight Kristin and Peyton today! 

Peyton Elizabeth

 Kristin & Peyton's Story from Once a Mother

I lost my first pregnancy in '07 to miscarriage, but held out hope & soon learned that my husband & I were expecting again. My pregnancy was picture perfect. In September 2008, after 42 weeks, I gave birth by c-section to my 1st child, a beautiful baby girl, Peyton Elizabeth, who unbeknownst to any of us had Infant Leukemia (ALL w/ MLL) the odds of which fell around 1 in 50 million. Peyton blessed us with her beautiful smile & unguarded love, never letting on just how sick she really was. For 28 days she fought with the heart of a prizefighter & we held onto the hope that she would beat the cancer & the odds. Infant Leukemia made Peyton an angel October 2, 2008 & a piece of me left with her. A year later we began trying again & learned that an infection from my c-section with Peyton had destroyed my tubes & left me infertile. After two rounds of IVF, we are pregnant with twins. I write this blog as a tribute to Peyton, and my journey through life without her. I don’t know where this story goes, or how it will end, only that loving & mothering Peyton has left me forever changed & losing her has washed a perspective over my life that I could never have anticipated.

Kristin also has a website, Doing Good In Her Name, that gives service to other struggling families in honor of Peyton. 

Here is Kristin's story from Doing Good in Her Name

We are Andrew and Kristin. On September 4th 2008, after 42 weeks of a seemingly picture perfect pregnancy, our first child, Peyton Elizabeth, came into this world with bright blue eyes, and full pink cheeks. Within moments, our world came crashing down. During her routine post birth exam by the pediatrician, it was discovered that none of Peyton's injection sites could stop bleeding. Our "beautiful, perfect little girl" had, unbeknownst to us, been born with an extremely rare form of Congenital Infant Leukemia (ALL w/ MLL rearrangement) the odds of which fall around 1 in 50 million.

The name Peyton means "warrior" and a warrior she was, fighting for 28 days through chemotherapy, countless tests and transfusions, procedures, and operations, all the while blessing us with her beautiful smile and unguarded love, and never letting on just how sick she really was. She fought for life with the heart of a prizefighter, and we, as her parents, held onto the hope that she would beat the cancer & the odds.

Her fight was valiant, but the battle was too great. Only a small percentage of children born with ALL live to see their third birthday. Sadly, on October 2, 2008, at just 28 days old, Infant Leukemia made Peyton an angel.
During Peyton's life, we were the recipients of many acts of kindness. Wanting to pay that kindness forward, we started Doing Good In Her Name In November of 2009, an initiative focused on honoring the memory of our little warrior, Peyton Elizabeth, by assisting other critically ill infants and their families.

How can you help? Want to donate?  Read the information below or just click here.

Thanks to your amazing generosity, our item donation drive has been such a huge success that we can now shift our focus through the holiday season to providing financial support to the families of critically ill children being treated at CCMC!

Having a critically ill infant puts an incredible financial strain on the infant's family. Beyond the medical expenses, there are many other unexpected expenses including lost time from work, travel expenses, parking expenses, food expenses while at the hospital, etc. 

Through Doing Good In Her Name, you can help support these families in two very special (and tax deductible) ways:

(Keep your receipts)
Every gift card donated, will be distributed to the parents/ family of a critically ill infant being treated at CCMC. Gift Cards in any amount are greatly appreciated from the following establishments. These cards are easiest for these families to use, as these establishments are located at or near CCMC.

*Dunkin Donuts 

*Gift Cards To Area Gas Stations 
*J Restaurant and Bar
-located directly across from the hospital at 297 Washington St. Hartford, CT 06106. 860-527-7764.

Tax Deductible financial donations can also be made and will be used to provide the families of critically ill infants with parking passes and food vouchers for the hospital cafeteria, as well as with financial support. Parking at the hospital is quite expensive, and we know from personal experience what a great help these vouchers can be in alleviating some of the financial burden that families with very sick babies are facing. 

Cafeteria food vouchers help too, making the prospect of grabbing a quick bite much easier for these families when it is not possible to get away from the hospital for a meal. 

If you would like to make a monetary donation, please make your checks payable to The Connecticut Children's Medical Center Foundation and reference "Doing Good In Her Name" in the memo line.

Please send your donations to
Peyton’s Pals
Attn: Doing Good In Her Name
P.O. Box 1281
BurlingtonCT 06013

Thank you in advance for doing your part to help these families through this Holiday Season. God Bless!

Check out Once a Mother and Doing Good in Her Name.  Make sure to leave her a comment and tell Kristin Honoring Our Angels sent you!

Monday, November 22, 2010

This article is from Storknet.com

Coping With Holidays and Celebrations
By Sherokee Ilse
Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years - celebrations that bring families together. A time to appreciate friends, God, family and the gifts of life. They also serve as reminders of who will not be with us when our family comes together.Holiday times can be bittersweet for families who have had a loved one die, particularly a child. There are ways for you to gain some control and minimize the difficulty of the often tense, yet special time. Long before the day, make plans, speak up about your needs and desires and follow your heart. In your decision-making process do take into account the rest of your family, but remember it's okay to put your needs at or near the top of the list.
If you decide you want to do things differently this year, let your family know your desires (either personally or through a note). Be tactful and use "I" and "we" statements. For instance, "We are feeling the need to do things differently this year. We miss our baby so much that we can't imagine sitting around a dinner table without her. Please understand that we do not want to hurt anyone's feelings. We ask for your support during this difficult time and request that you not challenge our decision."
As you attempt to discover what seems right for you during the upcoming holiday(s) ask yourselves, "What usually happens in our family to celebrate this holiday or family event? If there were a few minor changes could we handle it better? What do we want to do differently?" If you come to the conclusion that you want to make changes, maybe you will find some of these suggestions helpful:

  • Buy or make a special ornament or item that could be put on a shelf, on the tree, on the wall or some other place. Put your baby's name on it along with significant dates.
  • Get a candle that you can light during the festivities as a reminder of your baby. Either tell others the significance of the lit candle or write a poem or note to set near it to explain.
  • Make a donation to a children's hospital, Toys-for-Tots program, your church or synagogue or some other charity in memory of your baby. Or volunteer your time with a local charity.
  • Take holiday decorations to the cemetery.
  • Seek advice and input from clergy, your faith, community, and the Bible. Maybe you will find comfort in the Lord and that your baby is under God's care.
  • If you feel a strong need to get away rather than joining the family, do that. Let your family know that it is hard right now and that you need to alter your plans to help you cope during this holiday season. Hopefully, it won't always be like this. Pick a place you have wanted to visit. Plan some quiet time as well as some activities to keep you busy.
  • Set aside some time to remember. Cherish the memories - keep them alive. Write a note or a poem to your baby. Make a present or ornament for them. Say a prayer for them.
  • Write a holiday letter to your family and friends telling them what has happened and how you are coping. Ask them for support by being specific about how they can help. For instance, you could tell them you hope they will keep saying your baby's name out loud. You could invite them to make a donation to a favorite charity in memory of your child. Be brave and open about what you are going through.
  • If you have other living children, be sensitive to their needs. They may think that their sibling who died is getting more attention than they are. Find special ways to include them. Yet, be honest and open with them if you are having a hard time coping.
  • If you feel it best to not talk about your baby during a certain time of the holidays make that known to others. Maybe they will want to bring up your baby and you prefer that they don't.
  • Use your creativity to express your emotions. You could write, play or create music, sculpt, paint, draw, make something out of wood, work in your yard, weave, do needlepoint or any number of other creative activities. Either keep what you make or share it by giving it to someone else.
  • Avoid holiday shopping by buying from catalogs or online. Go shopping early in the season or during times when crowds are lessened.
  • If you find yourself getting quite emotional during holiday gatherings, escape to a quiet room and consider telling the hosts you need to leave early.
  • Take one day at a time. Don't push yourself too hard. Deal with the moment and what you can do today. The tension and anxiety of worrying about the tomorrows will not help you cope with today.
Many of the above ideas are discussed further in the short booklet, Coping With Holidays and Celebrations by Sherokee Ilse. It is published and distributed by A Place To Remember, deruyter-Nelson Publications, 1885 University Ave, Suite I 10, St. Paul, MN 55104, 612-645-7045.
Sherokee Ilse has suffered the loss of three babies and is an internationally known consultant, author and trainer on the subject of infant loss and bereavement. She has authored many books and booklets including her ever-popular Empty Arms: Coping With Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death. Sherokee is also the coordinator for the National Coalition for Positive Outcomes in Pregnancy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Spotlight on Project Sweet Peas

I wanted to spotlight another group that is giving back to the community, Project Sweet Peas!  

 Aiding families who have a child in the intensive
care unit by providing gift bags that offer comfort
while building cherished memories

Who we are:
We are a nationwide network of parents who strive to provide support and comfort to families who have children in the intensive care unit. We understand the stress of having child who has spent time in an intensive care unit or passed away. We are in the process of becoming an incorporated 501(c)3 non profit organization, to be registered in the state of Pennsylvania. 

 What we do:
Project Sweet Peas works with hospitals to provide their patients, and families with items to aid them throughout their stay. We offer a variety of 
gift bags which are customized to the hospitals need and availability. 

Our Mission:

To Aid families who have a child in the intensive care unit by providing gift bags that offer a touch of comfort while building cherished memories.

How we started:
Corin Nava had never imagined watching her baby fight for his life. Her son, Gabriel was diagnosed after birth with CDH. After 55 days in the NICU, Gabriel passed away from  complications due to his condition. Through Gabe's death, Corin met Kate Crawford. Kate's daughter, Shannon died from a combination of CDH and HLHS. Corin and Kate then befriended Stephanie Olivarez  who also had a child diagonsed with CDH. Stephanie's daughter Shelby, still suffers from complications due to her defect and stays in the Intensive Care Units . The three came together for comfort and support. They started filling gift bags with items that they wished they had or needed during their stay in the hospital. The three gave name to their little project, naming it Project Sweet Peas. All children are such sweet peas during the stays, and often resemble little peas in a pod in their beds. Project Sweet Peas slowly grew to a nationwide network of parents who started their own projects to honor and memoralize their own Sweet Peas.

What We Offer

We offer a variety of gift bags to families in intensive care units.
Each gift bag includes an array of items to provide a touch of comfort and build
cherished memories.


This is our most common gift bag. It includes a variety of items that can
 assist a family while their child is in the hospital.

Long Term NICU/PICU Bag

This bag includes most of the items on the basic NICU bag list and a few
extra items to help families who may spend nights in the hospital.

Angel Bag

This gift bag is for parents who have lost a child. We provide items that
 will help to collect precious memories to cherish


This gift bag is geared to bring extra comfort to parents during a holiday
such as Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patricks Day, ect..


These bags are item specific and given directly to the hospital to distibute.
They are based on hospitals availability and needs.

To see a list of items we currently
are in need of to fill these bags,
see our Wish List.

Project Sweet Peas can be found throughout the U.S. & Canada
Click on this link to see if there is a project in your area.  If not consider starting one!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Vast and Sudden Sadness

This article from Newsweek Magazine is great.  Here is the link or you can read it below.

A Vast and Sudden Sadness

Each year thousands of families experience stillbirth. As science seeks causes, parents use photography to honor their babies and cope with their grief.

Marirosa Anderson was still sweating from a workout when her cell phone rang at 8:20 p.m. on Nov. 11, a particularly cold night in northern Virginia. Anderson had planned to spend the evening with her husband and two small children. Then she saw the caller-ID number. She took a deep breath, readied herself and answered the phone. Karen Harvey, a labor-and-delivery nurse at Inova Fairfax Hospital, gave her the rundown. A baby was about to be delivered by C-section and the parents wanted photographs. Could she come right over?
Anderson threw on jeans and a sweatshirt, grabbed her camera bag and ran out the door. At the hospital, Harvey led her to a quiet room where Laurie Jackson and her husband, Michael, were waiting. Laurie’s pregnancy had been easy and enjoyable, filled with the happy buzz of baby showers and the lovely air of expectation. But during a routine check that Tuesday afternoon—just three days before her due date—the Jacksons were given the incomprehensible news that their baby no longer had a heartbeat. The night before, Laurie had felt the baby kicking. Now she and Michael were confronting the impossible: saying hello and goodbye to their firstborn child at the very same time.
Anderson introduced herself, then took out her camera, turning her attention to a perfect little girl who lay still in a bassinet, peaceful in a white cotton blanket with pink and blue stripes. “She’s precious,” Anderson said. Then she started to shoot. The baby’s face. Click. Her tiny hands. Click. Her little pink feet. Click. Now it was time for the three of them. Laurie cradled her baby girl in the crook of her elbow, Michael leaned in next to her. Together they studied their daughter’s face—her mouth resembled Laurie’s family, the rest was pure Michael—they whispered to each other, they came together as a family. Their baby girl weighed six pounds, seven ounces and she was 19 inches long. They named her Brenna Rose.
Pregnancy is supposed to be the most wonderful time, brimming with anticipation, kicking with newness and life. But as novelist Elizabeth McCracken writes in “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination,” a recent memoir about the death of her first baby, “this is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending.” Stillbirth happens more often than we imagine—10 times more often than sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, a condition most every parent knows about and dreads. Every year some 26,000 babies die during or after the 20th week in their mothers’ womb (a loss before that is considered a miscarriage) or die during birth. In at least half of all cases, doctors have no idea what went wrong. The impact is impossible to measure. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends—all must figure out how to absorb the vast and sudden sadness, to grieve and, in many instances, to reconcile with a God who has shaken their faith to its core.
Decades ago, stillborn babies were whisked away from their parents to morgues; doctors and nurses pretended nothing happened, mothers were medicated with Valium, parents suffered their sorrow alone. It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s that the medical and psychological thinking about stillbirth began to evolve when researchers started studying the impact of a baby’s death and parents began telling their stories. From silence and detachment came acknowledgment and remembrance. Today nurses encourage parents to hold the babies. Molds of hands and feet are created. Locks of hair are collected. And photographs are taken. Not just the clinical snapshots that nurses have been capturing for years, but striking and sensitive portraits that have burgeoned since the formation of a group called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep in 2005.
Volunteer photographers who belong to the group, including Anderson, take pictures of stillborn babies—and babies expected to die soon after birth—for their parents at no cost. The idea was born from the life of Maddux Haggard, who was 6 days old and on life support in Colorado when his parents, Cheryl and Mike, decided they wanted pictures of their baby and contacted Sandy Puc’, a local photographer well known for her beautiful baby portraits. After that photo session four years ago, Cheryl Haggard and Puc’ founded Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which has since grown to 7,000 photographers, most of them professionals, across the globe.
Photographing the dead may seem strange, even morbid, especially in our American culture so uncomfortable with death. Those feelings are only intensified when the dead are the newly born or just hours or days old. “We associate giving birth with life, with the future, with the defiance of death,” says Irving Leon, a psychologist at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor who specializes in reproductive loss. “To have that smashed, violated so powerfully, it’s something people don’t want to look at, both literally and metaphorically.”
Postmortem photography, though, has a long and treasured past. In the 19th century, when people died at home, families spent much of their savings on expensive silver daguerreotypes depicting their loved ones after they had passed away. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a modern-day incarnation of this “memento mori” photographic genre (Latin for “remember your death”). Memories facilitate grieving, says Leon, which is critical to long-term healing. Holding a baby, talking to her and photographing her—all create memories that help parents cope with a devastating loss.
Parents who are hesitant about holding their babies often change their minds toward the end of a shoot, realizing that they’ll have no other chance to embrace their child. And the sessions bestow a quiet time for mothers and fathers to treasure and honor their babies without any interruption from nurses or doctors. In years past, parents didn’t expect all of their children to live. Today babies are dreamed about and dwelt on, and the deep attachment that develops between parents—especially mothers—and their unborn children starts earlier than ever before. At eight weeks, a baby’s heartbeat can be seen on ultrasound; parents now find out gender and assign names months before their babies are born. All this has intensified the grief reactions many women feel after they suffer not just a stillbirth, but a miscarriage too, says Leon.
Studies show that mothers benefit from bonding with their stillborn babies. Joanne Cacciatore, a researcher at Arizona State University, studied 3,000 women and found that those who had the chance to see and hold their babies had fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. This benefit may be temporarily reversed during a subsequent pregnancy. And nobody should be pressured to hold their babies. But more than 80 percent of women who did not regretted the lost opportunity. Cacciatore, whose fourth baby, Cheyenne, died in 1994, calls this a period of “ritualization,” a time for parents to honor their child and to feel some semblance of control during an emotionally chaotic time. Holding a stillborn baby allows women to connect and then separate themselves from their babies after months united in the same body. And it gives parents the chance to create positive memories, rather than live with the unknown: What did she feel like? Whose nose did she have? Was she peaceful?
Doctors, nurses and social workers who encounter stillbirth have come to know this, and their thinking about how to care for patients has evolved enormously. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s seminal 1969 book, “On Death and Dying,” exposed the impact of loss and the long and intricate process of grieving. Parents of stillborn babies started talking about what it felt like to lose their children; physicians and psychologists began challenging the hush-hush approach. Michele Schwarzmann, director of maternal child health at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, can’t forget the first stillbirth she witnessed in the 1970s. “ ‘Michele, you can’t cry, you have to be strong’,” she remembers her supervisor telling her. A decade later, Schwarzmann says she was finally allowed to express her sadness: “I sobbed for every baby I never got to cry over.”
Stillbirth is in many ways a medical mystery. Despite its gravity, it has been largely overlooked. Even today, researchers don’t know the true incidence of stillbirth nor do they fully understand why it happens. In some cases, doctors can identify a cause—a prenatal infection that travels from mother to baby, a genetic anomaly, a placental abruption, an umbilical-cord accident. But in at least half of all cases—more than 10,000 a year—they can’t pinpoint the problem. “Over the last 50 years, we’ve put a lot of research and clinical energy into preventing sick babies from dying after birth and a lot of energy into premature babies,” says Dr. Robert Silver, an Ob-Gyn at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “We haven’t put the same energy into stillbirth.”
All that became clear at a workshop held by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in 2001. “We realized that we needed to do a study that was larger than anything undertaken in this country,” says Dr. Catherine Spong, chief of NICHD’s Pregnancy & Perinatology Branch. With NICHD funding, Silver and other researchers began collecting data on more than 500 stillbirths at five sites around the country. Now they’re analyzing the information. The hope is that the new information will help researchers sort out how to reduce a woman’s risk for stillbirth, identify problems in advance so that couples can prepare for a loss and, ultimately, save lives.
No matter how good the science gets, however, some number of babies will continue to die and parents will continue to grapple with the shock. Not long after joining Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep in 2007, photographer Jennifer Clark got a call from a hospital near Salt Lake City. The parents, Melina and Tom Anderson (unrelated to Marirosa Anderson), had three other children—a son, Jack, then 6, and two daughters, Amy, 4, and Mae, 2—and they were excited about welcoming their fourth, another girl, named Ella. At 39 weeks, however, the baby’s heartbeat started dropping precipitously and Melina had to have an emergency C-section under general anesthesia. Melina remembers waking up and hearing her doctor say, “I’m so sorry, she didn’t make it.” The umbilical cord, wrapped tightly four times around the baby’s neck and once around her arm, had cut off her blood supply. Melina “made the kind of sound you never want to hear,” says Tom. “Not really a scream, but almost. A moan.” And then she started to cry.
Clark was nervous. “I remember standing outside the door before I went in and I prayed,” she says. “I wanted to make photos they would cherish.” She also remembers a sense of peacefulness as she worked. It was a sacred time, and she was buoyed by the gratitude shown by Tom and Melina. But she was also profoundly saddened. At times, she had to put her camera down to wipe the tears from her eyes as she captured the images. Amy touching Ella’s fingers. Mae, in her pink-and-yellow kitty-cat pajamas, a pacifier in her mouth, peering at the baby’s face. Jack, who had accompanied his mother to every doctor’s appointment. Tom and Melina looking at their daughter’s face.
The next day Tom carried his daughter to a hospital exit next to the ER, far from the place where new mothers are wheeled out with newborns in their arms and smiles on their faces. A mortuary attendant strapped Ella onto a gurney and drove off in a big white van. In the weeks after Ella’s burial, Melina suffered both physical and emotional pain. Her breasts had to be bandaged to stop the milk from coming in—a poignant reminder of what should have been. Pregnant women brought tears to her eyes; new babies made her think about the milestones she was missing with Ella. But tangled up in the sadness was the conviction that Ella needed to be remembered. Clark’s images allowed Melina to savor a face that was fading from her memory. And the Andersons’ tributes to their daughter now assure her a constant place in the family. On the first anniversary of Ella’s birth, the Anderson family held hands at her grave and sang “Happy Birthday.” Then they went out for dinner and shared a birthday cake.
When Clark first heard about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, she felt a powerful urge to participate, but she never imagined that she’d find herself on the other side of the lens. Last year Clark was overjoyed to discover she was pregnant. Her first three babies were healthy. This time, Clark’s fetus was diagnosed with trisomy 18, a genetic disorder so catastrophic that less than 10 percent of babies make it to their first birthday. The Clarks, devout Mormons, never considered terminating the pregnancy. Above all else, they prayed that their little boy would be born alive and that he would live for some time—hours, days, weeks, maybe even long enough to go home.
Connor Clark was born on Dec. 22 at 5:54 p.m. For just over an hour, his parents, his siblings—Ellison, 10, Sydney, 7, and Hayden, 2—his grandparents and some of his many aunts and uncles held him, talked to him, rejoiced in him. Two photographers from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep shot the sobbing and the smiles, the kisses, the hugs, the gentle cradling and the embrace between Jennifer and her husband, Spencer, when they realized they were losing their son. At 7:20 p.m., Connor took his last breath. At his funeral service two days after Christmas, the Clarks showed a powerful video compilation of black-and-white photographs set to music for their family and friends. A life deeply mourned, a life lovingly celebrated.
With Andy Murr
To learn more about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, visit their website. For additional information on stillbirth and to find support resources for families, visit the M.I.S.S. Foundation and First Candle. And for more on research conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Development, you can visit their site.

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