Nicky Heppenstall LNPS is a parent, a bereaved parent, a photographer, and co-founder of Remember My Baby. She has been volunteering as a Baby Remembrance Photographer since 2010 and believes the images she provides can make a real difference to the families who have lost a lifetime of capturing memories in photographs.
The moment you’re told your baby has died, they’re stillborn, you’re shocked, you’re numb, there are so many unanswered questions rushing through your mind, and the last thing you think about is photographs. But this is probably the most important ‘photo-opp’ ever: a lifetime’s worth of photo opportunities suddenly all cancelled in an instant. What if a professional photographer volunteers to come in to hospital and take portraits of you and your baby as a permanent tangible memento of a brief and precious life? Wouldn’t that be amazing? I think so, which is why I do exactly that.
In April 2001, I lost a stillborn daughter, Kim. After 3 days I was able to take some photographs, but I was upset, still in shock; it was the best I could do. They’re not great. But that was then.
Six years ago, I came across the NILMDTS website and was moved to tears as I watched footage of stunningly beautiful and sensitive images that parents could treasure forever, that could be framed and on display without fear of causing fright.
At that time I was a keen amateur photographer, tentatively exploring taking my passion further, but I knew immediately that I wanted and needed to be able to provide that service to bereaved parents. Discovering there was such a charity out there was a major catalyst in the decision to turn professional and become a Baby Remembrance Photographer.
The first family contacted me in January after their unborn baby was diagnosed with Trisomy 13 (Patau’s Syndrome), unlikely to be born alive, or to live long if she survived her birth, her parents wanted me to photograph her. I had the chance to meet with this young Mum in advance and talk at length about what was likely to happen, and about my own experience of loss. Baby Imogen was born on a Tuesday in May, alive. I photographed her with her parents and brother on Thursday at the hospice where they were being looked after for the few days that Imogen survived. She died in her mother’s arms in the small hours of Sunday and I returned to the hospice on Sunday afternoon to photograph her without her oxygen tube, as if peacefully sleeping. Meeting a family in advance is not the norm, but does happen from time to time when a diagnosis means a loss is inevitable. I am honoured to be a part of this family’s journey through grief, and to provide a tangible link to the precious few days that Imogen was with them.
I met Jonah’s family a few days after he’d been stillborn, and photographed him with his parents and grandparents, an older sibling and his aunt. The midwife had made them aware of my own loss and they commented how this must be difficult for me to do, but I think it’s because of my own loss that I am able to do this at all. I have travelled my journey, I am comfortable with my grief, and I have found that whilst I can feel empathy for their loss, I am able to softly and gently go about capturing images that will bring much greater comfort than any word or gesture of mine could possibly do.
Following on from my experience of being an affiliated Volunteer Photographer for NILMDTS, myself and 6 other professional photographers plus another volunteer with the same passion, co-founded a new UK Baby Remembrance Photography organisation called ‘Remember My Baby’ which was launched on 18th August 2014.
Remember My Baby (RMB) coverage within the UK is steadily growing. It is our aim to have an official RMB Volunteer Photographer in all hospitals and birth centres across the UK, but how can we tell people about this amazing service at such a delicate and painful time? Actually, how can we not?
There is such a small window of opportunity; there is only one chance, to make images that will provide comfort for a lifetime. Every parent should have the choice. For more families to benefit, two things need to happen: more photographers need to volunteer, and more hospitals and birth centres need to be aware that this service exists and be willing to offer it. I hear so many times, from parents who did not know, how they would have jumped at the chance, had it been offered to them. “If only we’d known…”
Midwives are the best placed people to make parents aware of this service. As the frontline carer they are on hand as parents are losing their baby and if there is an official RMB Volunteer Photographer local enough to the unit, staff can check if they are available before showing parents a leaflet which explains exactly what we do. A phone call to check our availability, and a second one to request we attend if the family wish it is all that’s required, the rest is up to us.
Families receive a free ‘gift’ of images on a disc which includes high resolution images suitable for printing, low resolution images for smart phones or sharing via email, along with slideshows of their images in formats suitable for smart phones, and for viewing on a laptop/pc. This is all provided free of charge within 3-4 weeks.
All volunteers are skilled professional photographers and as such are fully insured, and independent from the hospitals and birth centres we visit. We are truly grateful to those who help us to provide this service for bereaved parents.
RMB volunteers in the UK are working now to raise the charity’s profile. It has been said that we need to “shout quietly” about this service, it’s such a difficult time, but this is so important, and such a uniquely time sensitive event, I want to shout rather louder. We are recruiting more professional photographers to increase the UK network, and we are approaching people who work with baby loss support to increase the number of units willing to offer bereaved parents this choice.
To find out more about RMB’s Remembrance Photography Service please visit www.remembermybaby.org.uk.
The RMB ‘Find a Photographer’ Directory will be available soon, but in the meantime, if you are a family or a health professional requiring a service please either call 07837 739855 or email [email protected] so as to determine if there is a RMB Volunteer Photographer covering your area.
~ Kim’s tiny footprint ~
It’s Kim’s tiny footprints which are featured in our RMB ‘Footprints on our heart’ logo.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Nicky and Mark for allowing us to incorporate Kim’s footprints into our logo.
What a beautiful legacy in honour of Kim’s memory.