A non-profit organization is looking for people with shutterbug skills who want to make a difference for families in need.
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep was started in 2005 by one mother and one photographer and is now comprised of 7,000 professional photographers in 25 countries who volunteer to give families who lost a child a remembrance portraiture.
Photographer Jenni Denton of Blissful Images in Peoria first heard about NILMDTS when she was living in Waterloo, Iowa.
“I attended a photography seminar by the organization’s founder and I didn’t think I could emotionally handle it. I heard her speak again a year later and there were still no volunteers and I knew I had to at least give it a shot,” Denton said.
Denton said she didn’t get her first call for a photo for two years and it just happened to be one of her existing clients who she was already very close with.
“When I moved to Peoria, there was no area coordinator so I do that too now. I am the first point of contact for a family or the hospital,” Denton said.
Denton said when nurses or social workers at the three Peoria hospitals call her on behalf of a family or a family contacts her directly, she packs up her gear and heads to the hospital.
“I first offer the family my condolences on their loss or impending loss and then I get to work, knowing that the images I capture will be their only connection to that child once they have said goodbye,” Denton said.
Denton said some of the babies pass away at or near birth due to genetic defects, pregnancy trauma or stillbirth and in other cases the doctors have tried everything they can to help find a cure for whatever ailment the child suffers from.
She added the hospital calls her when the family has realized all efforts have been exhausted and they will soon be disconnecting life support.
“I am able to capture the last images of this child’s time here on Earth and in other cases the parents are more interested in seeing their child memorialized eternally at peace, meaning once the child has passed and no cords or IVs are connected,” Denton said.
The photos are then professionally retouched and presented to the family at no cost in a DVD slideshow format with music as well as a CD of high resolution images.
“Many families have never heard of us, which is sad. The idea of going home without your baby makes me so sad, but the idea there are families not getting our services breaks my heart,” Denton said.
For people hesitant of using NILMDTS’s services, Denton said she tells the families to let them take the images and they might change their minds later because they can use the photos to help in the healing process.
“I told one mother that if she got the CD in the mail and put it in a drawer and never looked it, that is okay. But if in five years, she decided to look at them, they were there,” Denton said.
Denton is a parent to a newborn and she said it has made her volunteer photography job more difficult, especially during the last session she did while pregnant.
“I was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and thanking God we would not have to experience that aspect of things. Little did I know my daughter would come six weeks early and we spent 17 days in the NICU. It has made me a much better volunteer and I photograph things now that I wouldn’t have before, like the room number or the heart monitor,” Denton said.
“It is comforting to look back on all the memories and the journey and those things I would have never thought to include before are now must haves for me,” she added.
Mike Miller of Denim to Lace Photography in East Peoria volunteered for NILMDTS from 2006 to 2008 and estimates he took more than 40 photos during that period.
Miller said he got to know the nurses so well at the hospitals that they would often give his name and contact information to families.
“The first time, not knowing how hard it would be, I teared up so bad I was thankful for auto-focus,” Miller said.
Miller said the session he found to be the most emotional was photographing a 10-year-old girl who had been in a house fire.
NILMDTS is an organization for mostly newborns, but Miller said he found himself wanting to help this family in the same way.
“This little girl was on life-support because of the smoke damage to her lungs. What made this so emotional was knowing that as soon as I was done with the session, the parents were going to pull the plug,” Miller said.
“I can’t describe the feeling I had when walking out of the room when done,” he added.
Miller said he values his time with the organization.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that, possibly, my photography truly made a difference in someone’s life,” Miller said.
With only three volunteers in the Peoria area at the moment, NILMDTS is seeking more volunteer professional photographers to help fill the gap.
Denton said while they normally get two to three calls per month, the process can be emotionally draining for just three people.
“I would really love to see 10 to 12 volunteers for an area this size. I don’t want any of us to get burnt out. We also accept donations online,” Denton said.
For more information on the organization or to volunteer or donate, contact Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the NILMDTS website at www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org.