Photographer Yumi Wilson was looking for a way to give back. Nothing seemed to resonate.
A friend informed her of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a nonprofit organization that offers remembrance photography to parents who have lost a baby with a free gift of professional portraiture.
Wilson submitted the paperwork, an application fee and samples of her work. After joining the group of more than 1,700 photographer volunteers, training followed. It was focused on what to expect from a grieving family.
The mother of two adult sons, Wilson was a little nervous when called to photograph her first request.
“You don’t know if you can do it until you do it,” she said.
Wilson said at first she didn’t want to touch the babies, opting to let a nurse help. That lasted about four to five months.
She began to grow more comfortable and admits to loving the baby’s feet for tender shots. Another favorite is to put the baby in a sleeping position and place the mother’s and father’s ring by the baby for size reference.
Rather than let emotions interfere, Wilson focuses on giving families the best images she can. The images are black and white.
“I’ve cried, usually when the father breaks down,” she said.
Wilson is usually summoned by nurses at the hospital. She is the only photographer in Solano County for the nonprofit.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep asks that photographers only be called between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
There have been times she’s waited several hours for the mother to deliver and have the family change their mind about pictures after the baby’s arrival.
“I’ve never had to experience that (the loss of a child),” Wilson said. “I can only empathize what they are going through.”
Wilson readily admits it’s not a volunteer post everyone can handle. She’s suggested it to some friends who also work as photographers. None has signed on.
She also had some people tell her they think it’s weird to take pictures of deceased babies.
“I really see it as providing a service in their time of grief,” she said.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep was formed in 2005 after Maddux Achilles Haggard, who was born with a condition called myotubular myopathy, died. It prevented him from breathing, swallowing or moving on his own.
When he was six days old, Mike and Cheryl Haggard made the excruciating decision to take him off life support and called photographer Sandy Puc to snap black-and-white portraits of them cradling Maddux.
Puc photographed the family at the hospital before and after he was removed from life support.
“That night was the worst night of my life. But when I look at the images, I am not reminded of my worst night. I’m reminded of the beauty and blessings he brought,” writes Cheryl Haggard, on the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep website.
She and Puc started the organization, which has reached around the globe.
Services are free. Photographers upload the images to a secure link. Parents are given a license for usage so the pictures can be printed by any photo lab.
Wilson also does photography for the Solano Land Trust and a Contra Costa County fraternity of black males who mentor young black males on everything from table manners to handling a job interview.
Amy Maginnis-Honey joined the staff of the Daily Republic in 1980. She’ll tell you she was only 3 at the time. Over the past three decades she’s done a variety of jobs in the newsroom. Today, she covers arts and entertainment and writes for the Living and news pages. She also covers Suisun City and general assignment. Reach her at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.