Yesterday I was at the hospital for about six hours with a family who lost their baby. And it was beautiful and hard all at the same time, like it always is. But yesterday I got angry. And I realized that although I’m there to take photos, I end up acting more like a patient advocate than photographer.

And I realized this as the new mom was holding her baby in the cradle position but looked a little awkward with all of her IVs and tubes connected to her arm. So rather than stand back and keep shooting I set my camera down, walked over to her and asked if she wanted me to help her get the baby up on her shoulder so she could hug him.

It’s a simple thing. Hugging your baby. But as I watched the scene unfold I realized that she wouldn’t move that baby unless someone told her it was ok. And no one was telling her it was ok. So I stepped in, got that baby nestled in up on her shoulder so she could put her face next to his. And she looked so happy.

A mom needs to feel the weight of her baby on her chest, cuddled up next to her face so she can nuzzle him and kiss him and close her eyes just BEING with him.

I know a lot of you that read this are photographers and I know a lot of you have considered doing Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep or other organizations like them and I know a lot of you are active participants already. So I’m writing this to tell you that if you’ve done enough of them you know what’s going to happen. You know people grieve differently, you know you have to walk softly, you know you have to melt into the walls, you know you have to capture the baby plus everything happening around the baby and you know when you’ve taken all the shots you’re going to get and it’s time to sneak away. But yesterday I realized that I’ve done so many I now feel comfortable stepping in a little. In the waiting room with the grandparents I warned them of what the baby might look like so they could prepare themselves, something hospital staff doesn’t do. I made sure mom had pillows under her arms and was comfortable with her son. I wiped his nose when it leaked a little fluid, something that might make a family member nervous. I suggested to a family friend to run out and get supplies for hand+foot prints so they’d have something to hold onto later.

I stepped in.

And normally my role is to step back, out of the way, hidden, just capturing.

But yesterday I stepped in and even if every decision I made was wrong I know in my heart that that mother needed to hug her son. And I’m glad I was brave enough to make it happen.

Don’t be afraid to step in.

Now I understand that our job is so much more than taking photographs of a grieving family and a deceased baby. We are there to be the eyes and ears. We can anticipate the needs of the mother… which leads me to something else I thought of yesterday.

A man shouldn’t do this job.

I’m sorry to all of you men that are amazing at what you do. I just believe very strongly that only a woman, another mother, can truly put herself in that mom’s shoes and try to anticipate her needs. Even though I’ve never had to suffer the loss of a baby, I can imagine the pain. A man can’t imagine that b/c he’s never been a mother. And although the dad is struggling it’s the mom that needs an advocate in my opinion. But what do you think? Can a man be as sensitive as a woman in this situation? If he’s a dad can he understand as much as another mother can? I’d love to hear your opinion b/c I really do believe strongly that a grieving mother needs another mother in that room with her to put her at ease since most of the time we’re strangers walking into the worst day of their lives. Just curious if you have any thoughts.

And now, after a really hard day yesterday I need to get back to work today and catch up!

7 thoughts on “advocate.

  1. I feel like shouting YES! I feel so awkward in the hospital, but you are SO RIGHT. Stepping in would make such a difference. I always feel a bit like a shrink on shoots figuring people out, but nilmdts shoots are even more tender…I should be more brave. You are so RIGHT that the nurses care, but they see SOOOO many patients that they lose the heart to care deeply for each one. If they did, I’m sure they would not be able to perform their job. But we can do that job for those moms…you are SO RIGHT.

    About the man thing…I think that often about photography as a whole…there is so much a man doesn’t get about childbirth, baby pics, even weddings from a woman’s point of view (and come on…we all know family photos are mainly for the gal)…BUT clearly there are men that do get it because they make incredible art. As far as nilmdts…if I were a mom losing a child, I would want another mom, but if the only choice was a man, I would much rather have the memories from his camera than none. We just need to get more mommies in nilmdts…

  2. I totally agree with what you are saying. And I do think a female photographer works best (particularly one that’s a mom). The only thing I don’t agree with is advocating for the mom vs. dad in this situation. They are a team, period. Trust me on this one, having lost a child in this very situation, Dad ALWAYS feels undervalued. He didn’t carry that baby in his belly, he didn’t get to deliver it, he didn’t get to bond with it for all those weeks of pregnancy. I think the tendency is for people the think that the bonds of a dad aren’t as strong, and I’ll tell you that Mike took the loss of our son much, much harder. And really, no one was advocating for him, because most people were so very concerned about me. Men need someone in there who they are comfortable with and trusting of, and that can help them to be soft and grieving…again, I think this job is TOTALLY better suited to a female, for sure. But I think it’s just not right to think of this as more of a moment for a mother–they both need an advocate!!

  3. As a pediatric nurse, I feel like I should mention that caring deeply for each of my patients is precisely HOW I am able to perform my job. You can’t just disconnect from your emotions to make things easier. It’s not easy, but it’s what makes people who work in helping professions extraordinary.

  4. hi jodie. this is so incredibly touching. i learned this week that I am miscarrying. this is my first pregnancy, and even though I will never meet and hold my baby, i still feel that this experience has made me a mother. This is so, so hard and I am so grateful for people like you who have such compassion to help grieving moms through the most terrible experience of their lives. I know you know that you are so lucky to have such a beautiful and loving family, and it is so amazing of you to share your heart and your skills with people that really need your love and understanding. I know I would absolutely need somebody to be my friend and advocate in that situation, so thank you, thank you, thank you.

  5. Jodie
    I just heard from a family you did this for. They spoke so highly of you and what an amazing job you did as a photographer and that you were also more like a social worker. I love looking at all your pictures. Terri Joe likes to show them off every chance she gets! Thank you for all you do! You touch more people’s lives than you know!

  6. I am the mother that Jodie is speaking of and I am so eternally greatful for having Jodie at the hospital for me and my family. Having spent so much time with infants and young children I thought I would always feel comfortable holding my own when I had them. I felt very comfortable with my Little Man but nothing prepared me for our loss. For anyone who has spent time with their Angel Infant nothing can prepare you for hold them. I was so scared I was going to hurt him. A feeling I never thought I would have as a new mother. This experience has been and will continue to be painful but the memories Jodie captured for me, my husband, and our families are what we have of our Little Man and they are beautiful. Jodie, you have touched me and my family in the most meaningful ways it’s hard to find the right words. Thank you doesn’t quite cut it.

  7. This is an amazing post that is coming at just the right time for me. Having had two miscarriages in 6 months this year, I have felt the overwhelming desire to help other women who have suffered some sort of infant loss. A friend and I are doing what we can to support other women who are hurting – a hurt that never really goes away. My friend suffered the loss of her first baby this past summer.

    Cara, my deepest sympathies and prayers to out to you. I can truly say I know what you are going through.

    Emily, your loss is more profound than I know. I pray for healing, comfort and peace for you and your husband.

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