Every Moment Counts: The Happy Baby Project Continues

I was asked by an expectant mother to photograph her newborn right after giving birth in the hospital. The mother knew her child may either be stillborn or have just a few hours to live because of a birth defect: Anencephaly, in which the baby was developing with the absence of part of the brain and skull. I cannot begin to fathom what it was like for this family (particularly the mother) to know that their little one had a terminal illness.

When she asked me to be her photographer, I said, yes, of course! 

As most unscheduled births go, I was not told by her doula until it was incredibly close to her birthing that I should be on my way.  My family and I were coming back from a late afternoon at the beach and based on the sudden timeline I was given, I knew we had to run back to the house, grab the camera and go straight to the hospital - sticky sand, messy hair and all. I'm glad my honey and toddler were accommodating. (Oh thank god!) 

I got there shortly after she gave birth. Baby Charlie was not stillborn. 
* exhale in relief * 

I quietly made my way into the birthing suite where the mom, husband, daughter and extended family stood around admiring baby Charlie. Mind you, I had not met this family before but I knew there were no introductions needed. This was their time - and my job was to move around them and photograph these beautiful moments without disturbing their time together - or frighten Charlie. 

Charlie was holding onto his big sister's finger so tight. It was so sweet. There was a moment the grandmother tried to have him hold her finger but it was as if he knew ... I want my sister.  I believe there are deep energetic and spiritual connections like that. The grandmother made a cute joke about not being able to have him hold her finger that moment. 

Charlie's eyes remained closed from what I could tell. When the mom moved him off of her chest to get a good look at him, his heart rate dropped. When she returned him to her chest, his heart rate went back up. Skin-to-skin is a powerful thing -- more of that loving energy. 

The doula, the lady who texted me while the mom was nearing the end of her labor, was quiet and gave the family space to themselves. She wore her emotions on her sleeve - she looked relieved for the mom that she had a chance to hold her baby, she looked happy to have helped with the labor and she was clearly heartbroken and tired by the situation ...  She had good energy though. I liked her energy immediately and could tell she was an asset to laboring and delivery. (Doulas are wonderful - and she was no exception) 

I must give credit to the nurses at Tradition Medical Center in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. They were calm, loving and gentle with the mom and baby. Everyone was on the same page about Charlie and I suppose that helped the energy in the room -- the family would be with him until he passed. No need to weigh him, bathe him or anything ... the family simply wanted time and the nurses were there to help mom get more comfortable. I was very impressed with their kindness and soothing energy as well.

The grandmother, oh the sweet grandmother ... she was the most visibly emotional. I'm sure they all had months to prepare for what was going to happen at the birth but that doesn't make it easier. The grandmother's expressions of love and sorrow were so powerful. But, I suppose it was Charlie's big sister who I empathize with the most. She was a young girl - maybe in her early teens? This is a memory that will get etched in her mind's eye forever. 

Things affect me differently now that I'm in my 30s. In fact, each decade I get older, my perspective changes a bit. I have no idea how a young girl might handle being in this situation ... I know her family is strong and loving so I'm sure they will comfort and grieve together but I just can't help but wonder how a younger spirit copes with this experience and all of the complex emotions. 

My mother had asked me how in the world I was able to deal with being there and photographing Charlie. To me, photographing these beautiful and precious moments was such an honor. His life here was short but when I walked into the birthing suite, I felt like I walked into a family who had fortified the room with love, compassion, understanding and strength. They were all on the same page, from what I could tell, so it made it easier (from my standpoint) to be there. The room was calm and the energy was consistent. 

As a breastfeeding mother, I must admit that my boobs were going berserk for my daughter. The empathy I felt for this mother made me want to kiss, hold and smell my daughter. I think most breastfeeding moms can attest to how our hormones and milk production change in certain situations -- sometimes our boobs literally need our children. (that's a different blog, I suppose) Anyway, besides the hormones surging in my body for my daughter, I simply felt honored to be there with this family - to be there for this mother. 

It's not that the fathers don't matter ... that's not at all the case. Fathers matter very much. But, birthing hormones and postpartum hormones make motherhood unique and I knew that this mom's journey didn't end here. Her body and hormonal recovery from birthing ... her emotional journey to grieve ... to accept ... to ... whatever she needed to do in this incredibly difficult situation ... I simply know there is a long journey ahead and postpartum hormones might make it even tougher for her.

Baby Charlie was born at just after 7pm and passed just before midnight.
Bless his soul.
Bless his family. 

If you have a moment, please pass along loving vibes to this mother and her family -- and for all grieving families. I am so grateful they had a few hours with baby Charlie, and I simply cannot say it enough, I am so honored to have been there to capture some of these precious moments.

All photography was donated by my company Girona Consulting through the Happy Baby Photography Project, which offers free portraits to families with terminally ill babies and children. If you'd like to learn more or donate to the project you can visit here.  

I asked the mother if I could share a few of the photos. She said yes.

View the collection on Facebook here

















To learn more about the Happy Baby Photography Project or to donate, click here


You never know what battles someone has gone through,
You never know what battles someone is going through ...
So please be gentle with one another.
Everyone needs love. 

 liesl
xoxo

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