NEO-NATAL REMEMBRANCE PHOTOGRAPHY

Neo-natal remembrance photo from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. [1]

Family neo-natal remembrance portrait from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. [2]

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep describes itself on its website as a “nonprofit organization that has provided thousands of families of babies who are stillborn or are at risk of dying as newborns with free professional portraits with their baby.” [3] They claim to have provided neo-natal remembrance photography to over 30,000 babies since their founding in 2005. [4] This service undoubtedly has an enormous impact on the grieving process of the families they encounter. The widespread nature of this service, and the compassionate, respectful, and open attitudes speak to a shift in American acceptance and understanding of death. By providing neo-natal remembrance photography organizations like NILMDTS normalize stillbirth and infant mortality. They make infant death something that can be talked about and provide a chance for families to celebrate and honor the brief lives of their children. In his essay The Reversal of Death: Changes in Attitudes Toward Death in Western Societies, Philippe Aries suggests that in America "it is no longer correct to display one's grief, nor even to appear to feel any." [5] But the existence of organizations like NILMDTS suggests that attitudes about death (or at least infant death) and grieving are potentially shifting.

 

NILMDTS was established in 2005 by a Cheryl Haggard and Sandy Puc. Puc was called upon to photograph Haggard’s six day old son just after he was removed from life support, when he was “free from the tubes and the wires that had sustained him.” Their Mission Statement video [6] includes testimonials from three couples: one who is pregnant and accompanied on the testimonial couch by a toddler, and two who have toddlers in their arms. This inclusion of parents who have had successful pregnancies mitigates the fear of those parents who have lost a child that they may never have another chance to welcome a healthy baby into the world.

 

Through their website NILMDTS connects local “affiliated photographers” with local hospitals, neo-natal hospice services, and parents who have or are expecting to suffer the loss of a child at birth. Their database includes over 1,700 photographers (they list fifteen photographers within the Portland area alone) who can provide services in every state in the US and in over 40 countries [7].


 

They actively recruit photography volunteers and include video testimonials that make the case for the importance of this service and for the fulfilling nature of this volunteer photography work. One volunteer, Olivia Grey Pritchard, describes the work in their “call to action” video: “what an amazing honor it is to have been there; to have witnessed that life and to be able to provide documentation of that life.” [8] They post regular webcasts on issues like “working with grieving parents,” “lighting and posing techniques,” and “volunteer recruiting.”

 

Similarly to Victorian post-mortem photographs, it is the documentation of existence that seems to matter here. A volunteer photographer explains: “People who don’t understand this will say ‘well this is morbid, it’s macabre, how could you do this? but you talk to the families who have these pictures and you’re going to get a different answer. This is really a validation for the family that their child existed.” [9]

 

 

Image from Posing Guide for Hospitals from NILMDTS. [10]

The existence of services like NILMDTS normalizes infant death and represents a shift in American acceptance of more public grieving. In Media Responses I explore some of these public reactions further. Some of the most impactful things on the NILMDTS site are the testimonials from parents talking about the death of their child with frankness and honesty. The openness about death is in stark contrast to the American relationship to death conveyed in Aries' essay and represents a change in American perception of death and dying.

[1] Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Accessed on July 31, 2015. <https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/>

 

[2] Ibid.

 

[3] About Us. Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Accessed on August 2, 2015. <https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/>

 

[4] Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Mission Statement Video. Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Accessed on July 31, 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01NibSKylig>

 

[5] Aries, Philippe. “The Reversal of Death: Changes in Attitudes Toward Death in Western Societies,” Death in America, ed. David Stannard, 1975. Page 147.

 

[6] Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Mission Statement Video. Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Accessed on July 31, 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01NibSKylig>

 

[7] About Us. Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Accessed on August 2, 2015. <https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/>

 

[8] Photographers: A Call To Action. Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Accessed on August 2, 2015. <https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/>

 

[9] NILMDTS Mission Statement Video. Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Accessed on July 31, 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01NibSKylig>

 

[10] Posing Guide for Hospitals. Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Accessed on August 2, 2015. <https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/medical/posing-guide-for-hospitals/>