Gift of photography helps families remember
'Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep' organization helps local families
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Thousands of families throughout the United States will light a candle in honor of a baby that passed away on Wednesday because Oct. 15 is known as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
However, families who are living with a loss know their baby will always live on in their hearts and one local organization’s mission is making sure families also have a lasting memory of their child.
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is a national organization at work right in our backyard. It is a program where professional photographers volunteer their time and equipment to take pictures of a baby that has passed away and then give them to the family as a keepsake.
One mother in Tomah said she was hesitant to get the photos at first but now she couldn’t imagine her home without her daughter’s picture hanging on the wall.
“I was about 12 weeks pregnant when I found out I was pregnant with her and she was a surprise,” said Pam Kirk, a mother of four.
With two beautiful girls already by her side, Kirk and her husband found out they were expecting baby No. 3.
“When I was pregnant, she loved listening to her sisters, screaming, yelling, playing and having fun,” said Kirk. “She was healthy and happy until my doctor’s appointment.”
At almost 31 weeks, Kirk went in for a normal, routine checkup with her doctor.
“He went to go check for her heartbeat and he couldn’t find it,” said Kirk. “I just closed my eyes and said this can’t happen, this shouldn’t happen because everything had been fine up until that point.”
With one final ultrasound Kirk’s world just stopped. Her unborn daughter no longer had a heartbeat.
“It’s so much of a cloud and a fog that you can’t really believe it but you kind of hope that they are wrong on some level so it’s just one of those OK my next step as her mom is to have her so that is what I got ready to do,” said Kirk.
On Jan. 9th, 2009, Victoria Marie Kirk was born.
“She was only two pounds and 11 ounces when she was born,” said Kirk.
There would be no first smile, first birthday or first steps. Only a few hours to take in the little life she will never get to know, but then came a visit from a stranger she will never forget.
“Jessi came in, walked right into the door, walked right over to me, looked at her, said I’m sorry, put her stuff down and just picked her up and started talking to her and loving on her and started getting all of her stuff ready and just started taking pictures,” said Kirk.
“I guess photographer mode kind of kicks in. It’s a baby, no matter the size, shape, the condition; he or she is a baby,” said Jessi Hill, a photographer for NILMDTS.
“It’s an organization that offers photography services from volunteers who go in and help these families when they are having an infant that either has passed or who is fighting for life where they could pass,” said Hill.
At first, Pam was hesitant.
“I wasn’t too sure,” said Kirk. “She wasn’t what a baby looks like, the pink, the bubbly.”
But after a few photos, Kirk realized that didn’t matter, especially to Hill.
“She was able to take moments and just look pass through everything and see her as the baby that we saw her as,” said Kirk.
“Despite the fact that these babies have passed and they are not going to roll off the table. I still put the guard rails up on the side. I still wrap them up tight. You know it’s those moments that make the difference for these families,” said Hill.
Photography has always been a passion for Hill, but this project is deeply personal because this is a loss she knows all too well. In 2003, Hill gave birth to a son, Tristan Tyler Hill.
“Had no idea anything was wrong with him until he was delivered,” said Hill. “They whisked him out of the room faster than I could acknowledge if I had a boy or not and he was up and gone.”
By the time Hill was able to see her son, he had already been intubated.
“So I never seen his face without all the equipment, I had never seen his arms without all the lines and things in them,” said Hill.
Hill and her husband basically lived at the hospital with Tristan until he passed away.
During those three months at the hospital, Hill photographed Tristan.
“I have tons of pictures from being there,” said Hill.
But her favorite ones are actually after Tristan had passed away because they are ones where the pain was gone.
“It’s just him. There are no medical lines on him. You can see his face and those are just the more comforting ones for me,” said Hill.
And from that moment on, as a mother and as a photographer, Hill knew other families, like Kirk, needed that same kind of healing.
“I think he was here to bring me to this organization when it was formed. I think he as here to give me a purpose,” said Hill.
For almost a decade, Hill has been helping families remember the good moments, along with the tough ones. But most importantly, capturing the precious few moments they never want to forget.
“There is a special place in my heart for her and what she does and there are no words that I can say to thank her but she is an amazing woman and has an amazing gift that she provides,” said Kirk.
In the past nine years as the regional coordinator. Hill said she can proudly say she has never had a family who wanted photos go without them.
And because of that, she has been nominated, by Kirk, for our “Pay It Forward” campaign.
News 8 has given Hill $250 dollars to use towards her mission. She can use the money for gas, equipment, for babysitters so that she can go when called no matter what time of day.
Hill was very humbled after receiving the money. She said she is a volunteer with the organization because she truly believes these memories should be shared for years to come.
The volunteer organization, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, reaches every state in the United States and has more than 11,000 volunteers.
However, Hills said they are always looking for more photographers. Click here if you would like to know more information about the organization.