As a small business owner in the Jacksonville community, it has always been on my heart to use my photography skills to give back to others in some way. There are so many deserving families who each have their own unique circumstances, so it is often difficult to even know where to start. There are also many different organizations available, and each serve their own special purpose. Often times we will have our own struggles and heartbreaks in life, which will lead us to help others in a very specific way. This is exactly how I knew that I was called to volunteer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep | Why I Volunteer
In February 2010, I was pregnant with our second child, Ava. Our oldest daughter Emma had just turned 2, and she was so excited to become a big sister! Of course I had the normal worries about being a mom of two, and juggling life with a toddler and a newborn, but I was very lucky to have had a completely normal pregnancy thus far. I felt great, and every checkup was perfect; our little girl was growing just as she should. Knowing she would arrive any day, her nursery was all ready to go. We opted for a girly green and blue theme, since our house was already completely overloaded in PINK! The clothes were washed, the diapers were ready, and my bag was packed. All we needed was for her to make her grand entrance and our family would be complete!
On the morning of February 26, 2010, our day started like any other. It was a very chilly day for Florida. The sun was out, but I still remember the cold wind howling thru the windows as I made waffles for my daughter and I. After we finished eating, we went upstairs to get dressed, as we were going to make one last trip to Babies R Us for some last minute baby items (and so I could walk that baby out!) Her due date was one week away, and I was SO READY. Emma sat down on my bed to watch Ice Age for the hundredth time, and it dawned on me that I really hadn’t felt Ava move that morning. Usually, she would have a dance party in my belly after breakfast, but today she was strangely still. It didn’t worry me yet, but I did get out my home doppler to put my mind at ease. So, I placed it on my belly, and…nothing. Everything was quiet. Even in that moment, I STILL did not allow myself to understand that something might be wrong. But, just in case, I decided to head to the hospital. I knew that they would check on the baby, give me a good report and send me on my way!
We arrived at the hospital, and were immediately taken to triage in labor and delivery. The nurse asked a few standard questions while my husband and I talked about his day, and watched my daughter play on the bed. Life as we knew it in that moment, was normal. Everything was going to be fine, and this was just another case of me over reacting. The nurse tried to locate the heartbeat, but did not have any luck. She let us know that she would need to go get the doctor, and right then I knew there was a problem.
The doctor walked in after about 5 minutes (but what seemed like an eternity), and she brought an ultrasound machine with her. She placed the wand on my belly, and we immediately saw our sweet baby on that screen. There was no movement. No heartbeat. She was gone. “I’m so sorry.” That’s all I remember the doctor saying. In that moment, the walls in that tiny room became even smaller, and I couldn’t hear anything that they were saying. I don’t remember what else was said; I don’t even know how I reacted. But it was the worst moment I have ever experienced.
After the confirmation of our worst fear, we opted to stay at the hospital to be induced. It was an awful choice to make, but there really was no good answer. I had to labor this baby, one way or the other. The next 7 or so hours were a complete blur. Friends and family came to be by our side. We were loved and supported, there is no doubt. And so was our sweet girl. Then, at 8:21 pm, she arrived, and I will never forget that moment. It was complete silence. Birth is not supposed to be this way; you are supposed to hear that first cry and the moment of excitement as everyone comments about that beautiful baby. But not this time. She was quiet, and so were we. The doctor handed her to the nurses to be cleaned up first (per my request). I remember looking over at her on that warming bassinet, and seeing her little feet and her dark hair. They handled her so delicately and treated her just as any other baby. They took footprints, and a lock of hair. Once she was swaddled up, they handed her to me and all I could do was sob and tell her I was so sorry. I was sorry that I didn’t know something was wrong. I was sorry that she couldn’t be saved. But most of all, I was in awe of how beautiful and perfect she was. She was 6 pounds, 11 oz, and 20 inches long. She has dark curly hair, and the cutest little nose. I never wanted to forget her, but I was so scared she would be slowly erased from everyone’s minds in the days, months and years to come. In our moments of desperation and heartbreak, we opted not to receive professional portraits in the hospital. We took a few of our own (thank goodness) but it was always been a regret. My favorite picture of her is a grainy cell phone shot, but I cherish it.
As the months and years went on, Ava was always with me on my mind and in my heart. My grief was heavy, and I needed to do something with it. After months of thinking about it, I decided to seek out information about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. My deepest regret of not having professional portraits would either make me or break me. I decided that it was time to use that energy for something good. In 2014, I officially became a volunteer photographer! It was absolutely the best decision I could have made. Knowing that I am able to somehow help a family on the worst day of their lives, it completely worth it. Other people often ask “How do you do it? It seems too sad.” And to that, my answer is always “I just do.” Yes, sessions can be sad, but it’s natural. Knowing that I am giving them a precious gift allows me to work thru it and get the job done for them.
In 2017, I have had the honor of accepting the role of Area Coordinator for Northeast Florida. We service all hospitals in Jacksonville, Orange Park, and St Augustine, FL. We currently have a wonderful group of photographers, who I am so thankful for. Some weeks we help multiple families, and other weeks we are not even needed (thankfully). We always welcome new volunteers, no matter how many we have on board. I have also had the pleasure of recently working more closely with some of the amazing staff and Volunteer leadership folks at the NILMDTS Headquarters in Colorado, and around the country. Everyone is doing a phenomenal job of making sure our volunteers and families are best served. I really could not ask for a better organization to give my time to, and I encourage anyone who has considered it to take the leap and apply. You can find out more information about Now I lay Me Down to Sleep here: https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/