98: Memories of Sarah

98: Memories of Sarah

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Memories of Sarah

A photograph is memory in the raw.

~Carrie Latet

One evening I get a call from the hospital about a photo session. My evening plans are forgotten as I collect details from the nurse. I discover baby Sarah will be delivered by C-section, but she has not moved in her mother’s belly since yesterday. At the hospital, I carry my photographic equipment with me through the sterile, white halls. I check in with the head nurse, and sit in the waiting room, waiting for her to tell me when they are ready. The C-section is underway. Silence permeates the empty waiting room, and I see baby Sarah’s extended family waiting; waiting for a miracle.

As a professional photographer, I’m no stranger to capturing smiles and exciting, happy times in peoples’ lives. Most of my clients want me to document joyous events—those moments you will remember forever. But, occasionally my calling as a photographer requires capturing a different kind of memory. You see, I volunteer for an organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which provides compassionate portraiture for families facing the loss of their newborn (or unborn) child. The parents often have only a few hours, or even minutes, as their child clings precariously to life. They do not get to welcome their child home, and have to say goodbye forever.

The staff leads me into the recovery room so I can assemble my equipment. After what seems like forever, a nurse tells me the delivery is complete—but baby Sarah is stillborn. My heart sinks. The recovery room doors open, and a hospital bed rolls through the door. I see baby Sarah, in her mother’s arms. Both parents’ eyes are red and glistening. Grief floods the room, filling every nook and cranny. I am sorrowful but focus on the task ahead. My soul aches for the parents as I tell them I am their photographer.

Baby Sarah is put into my arms. She is beautiful: her skin is unmarred, curly wisps of hair grace her head; it is almost as if she is sleeping. I tell her parents how beautiful she is, and then begin photographing. With her little hat on, Sarah appears to be simply asleep. I gently unwrap the blanket, revealing Sarah’s tiny hands and feet—which I photograph as well. Once I am finished, I ask her parents if they would like to be photographed with Sarah. I position Sarah in their arms so she appears to be sleeping. Through their grief, her parents caress Sarah’s petite fingers. I do my best to capture these poignant moments. Their faces are exhausted from the long ordeal. I see it is time to wrap up the session.

I have not been in the shoes of these parents. I sense their pain and witness their grief, but know that I cannot fully comprehend their anguish. No words will ease their heartache, yet I say, “I am so sorry for your loss. Your daughter is beautiful.” Gratitude fills their eyes. Each of these sessions changes my perspective, reminding me how precious life really is. I am honored to be a part of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. It takes my photography calling to a deeper level. I am still creating memories. Baby Sarah’s portraits memorialize her brief existence. Sarah really was here.

~Betsy Finn

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