Today’s Life After…story is especially poignant. I wrote last year of how not having a photo of Hugo’s beautiful face (without his medical paraphernalia) was my one regret of his too-short life. At the time, I had no idea about baby bereavement photography, or that organisations staffed by wonderful volunteers provide such a service to broken-hearted parents.
Alongside seven other like-minded women, Nicky Heppenstall established the baby bereavement photography charity Remember My Baby a year ago today. Everyone involved would wish their service is never needed, but they have provided comfort to countless families in the past twelve months. Their goal is to provide this service in every hospital and birth centre in the UK.
Over to Nicky to tell the story of this wonderful charity:
What’s the first word that springs to mind when you hear a friend is expecting a baby? “Congratulations!”
So, what’s the first word that springs to mind some time later when you hear that their baby is lost, stillborn, born still? … maybe there isn’t one because you are shocked and stunned into silence.
The worst news in the world for expectant parents is to hear that their baby won’t be going home with them. In the blink of an eye the potential for so many precious memories to be captured in pictures is gone, first smile, learning to crawl, first steps, first birthday…
Many of us take pregnancy and photography for granted these days, yet when a baby dies this is the most important ‘photo opportunity’ ever.
This is where Remember My Baby can make a world of difference to grieving parents. Professional photographers, some of whom have been touched by a loss of their own or by that of someone close to them, volunteer their time and skill to create beautiful images for families losing their baby before, during or shortly after birth. At a time when the last thing on the parents’ mind is professional portraiture, we can come in and record the most precious of images.
Remembrance photography is not a new idea. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when photography was still far from commonplace, grieving families would commission a photograph of a deceased family member which was often the only photograph of that family member, becoming one of their most precious possessions. This was not confined to babies and children, but these were the most common portraits to be taken.
With almost every smartphone doubling as a camera one might assume that that might be enough, but what if your phone is lost or stolen, and the only images of your baby were on it?
Images taken at a RMB session are backed up as soon as possible afterwards. Within a few weeks they are carefully edited and retouched, converted to black and white, and delivered to the parents free of charge for them to keep and print at will. Remember My Baby also keep back-ups of those images just in case anything happens.
Sometimes a family will know in advance that their baby isn’t going to make it, and they might then think ahead to have some special photographs taken. Other times everything is going great through labour and then a heartbeat can’t be found and the baby can’t be saved and there is shock and the last thing on their minds is professional portraits. And if a baby is born very poorly, not expected to live more than hours or days, well this is when photos can make a real difference too.
As a volunteer photographer, I have been privileged to meet bereaved parents at the most devastating time in their lives and capture images that can bring comfort on their journey through grief. We call their baby by name, and we refer to the parents as Mum and Dad in the gentle direction for photographs, because they are now Mum and Dad even if this lost baby was their firstborn as well as their stillborn.
Co-founded by eight passionate women determined to make the choice of remembrance photography a reality in every maternity unit and birth centre across the UK, Remember My Baby has gone from strength to strength in the 12 months since its launch in August 2014. Achieving registered charity status for England and Wales and later also for Scotland within a few months, enquiries regularly come in from bereavement midwives and managers in NHS Trusts interested in finding out more about how the service works.
These are the people best placed to tell bereaved parents about us, but we also have relatives and indeed bereaved parents themselves getting in touch because word is spreading slowly but surely. The majority of Trusts are more than willing to embrace our service and we are so grateful for this, for the benefit of the parents in their care.
Parents receive high resolution digital images on disc or, more recently, on a special RMB USB memory stick, with a copyright release allowing them to print at will for personal use. Images are sent 4-6 weeks after a session takes place, but we also provide an image for a funeral order of service if requested.
Primarily, we are targeting professional photographers to volunteer, building teams around a maternity unit means we can maximise our availability whilst also protecting each volunteer’s emotional wellbeing, and also the impact on their family and business life. We can’t have too many volunteers. We recognise also that there is a pool of non-professional but nonetheless highly skilled photographers out there, so it’s not essential to be a full time photographer to send in an application. We provide training and support for volunteers, and resources and assistance in approaching new hospitals.
Industry support has been amazing; we have a list of supporters on the sponsors page of our website, having been given discounted or donated goods and services such as web hosting, display banners and photobooks.
We can’t quite believe how far we have come in such a short time, all volunteering and juggling RMB, family and business, and not always keeping all the balls in the air.
But RMB is headed up by a great team, and we are lucky to have such capable and willing volunteers joining us to deliver a valuable service at a very challenging time in any parents’ lives.
To find out more, visit the Remember My Baby website where there is a wealth of information including how photographers can apply to join, and how to get in touch.
You can find a photographer by entering your post code, but please be aware that although the network is growing we cannot guarantee being able to provide a photographer in your area.
Nicky Heppenstall is a parent, a bereaved parent, and a photographer. She and her fellow co-founders celebrate Remember My Baby’s first anniversary on August 18 2015. Follow their continued success on Facebook and twitter.