Not every baby goes home from the hospital. It's heartbreaking, terrible, and absolutely true.
Two years ago our son joined our family. We were guests in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for a little less than two weeks. I'll share his story another time. We are fortunate because he did come home.
As I spend more time in the NICU photographing families, I become more attached to it. I am more invested. I celebrate extubation with parents. I cheer for oral feeds. I shared this with a friend recently and explained my desire to transition from the average family photographer to a photographer who helps families heal from loss and trauma with pictures.
"But that's so sad! Why do you want to be sad?" she asked. "Why would you want to expose yourself to so much grief?"
Those are fair questions. They also illustrate exactly why I am compelled to do this.
I don't want to feel weighed down by the sorrows of others. I don't want to feel like I am surrounded by despair. When I am in the NICU I feel strong and helpless. I feel gentle. Grateful. Appreciative. Supportive. Overflowing with love and compassion. I give all of that to my families when I photograph them. When they see the images days later, which is sometimes after the machines have stopped their medical symphony, they give it back freely.
Photographs like these honor and memorialize someone who might not otherwise be discussed. Our culture dismisses infant loss. We don't talk about it. Because we don't talk about it we don't heal. The pictures give us a place to begin the conversation.
Let's not turn away from things we do not understand or appreciate. Loss is . . . well, sometimes there aren't any words. There are pictures. They can help us on the journey of grieving.
So that's why. I am moving toward photography for families who are experiencing or recovering from loss and are in the grieving cycle, whether that's through death, illness, or trauma. I am doing it because of this empty bassinet and so many others. The dog collar and leash that hangs on the hook. The urn on the family piano. The little boy who cheerfully cooperates for each and every chemotherapy and radiation treatment although he feels terrible.
When they are here with us they need our support. When they leave we need to support their families.
The sounds of a hospital room can be gut wrenching. What is so much worse is the silence that falls when the machines are off.
I see a lot of incredible moments of the human experience while being with families in love and grief. From each family I learn, and those lessons and points to ponder are what I wish to share with you here.