When tragedy befalls a family through infant loss there is an opportunity to give an amazing gift. To the family — and yourself. The gift to the family is remembrance portraits to help in their time of grief. The gift to you is in the giving. This can be some of the most meaningful work you ever do.

What is Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep?

NILMDTS provides professional portrait photography to families who are suffering the loss of an infant newborn. If you are like me, when you first hear about the NILMDTS mission you say, “There’s no way I could do that.”

Hopefully, like me, you’ll give it a try and find how truly rewarding doing this work can be. I have been with the NILMDTS organization since 2006 as a photographer, trainer and served as a board member for two years.

What is the need for volunteers?

There are about 20,000 stillbirths in the U.S. alone every year. Right now NILMDTS serves about 5,000 of those families. There’s a huge gap in what services NILMDTS is able to cover. You can help even if it is a single family.

Chat with Ali

Alison Furtwangler came to NILMDTS after receiving photos in 2011 of her firstborn son. “After receiving the gift I became a community volunteer,” shared Ali. “From there I continued helping in various ways, and then finally, decided I needed to go and be a photographer.

“I got into photography because of the impact of these photos and how profound it was on me. I left a career in auditing. I became the NILMDTS Volunteer program manager. I’m now an affiliate photographer as well.”

But what about those who think they might be uncomfortable performing this work?

“We have many people say that they’re too emotional and they can’t do this. But when you get in there behind your camera, you get into photographer mode. You never know what you can do until you try,” said Ali.

now I Lay me Down to Sleep photo
Image courtesy of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Photographer: Susan Toon.

How to get started

Photographers can get started by filling out an application and submitting five images.

“We ask them to submit their best work. Their portfolio does not have to be a newborn or baby portraits. Work that shows off their lighting and technical skills is what NILMDTS are looking for.

“After the application process, they get approved and go into training, which is an online format with videos and text. Following training on how to conduct themselves in the session and what we expect of the standard gift, then they are able to go out to provide services to families.”

Chat with Melanie

Melanie Roger is another volunteer and she shares her story.

“I became a volunteer through the assistant to photographer position. I wasn’t sure I had the skills and didn’t know if I could do it. Ali talked me into applying as an assistant. I ended up going on my first session. I didn’t feel right after I went. I decided I couldn’t do it.”

Melanie continued, “I started dispatching photographers and became an area coordinator for the Seattle team. Six months after I went on my first session, I decided to try again. The second session gave me more confidence in how I could handle the after part when you leave the hospital.

nilmdts photo
Image courtesy of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Photographer: Melanie Smith.

“The long and short is you go in and meet the family. You take pictures of them. That’s it. That’s where the door closes. You have to remember that it’s not your story. You are there to tell someone else’s story. No matter what personal experience that you have with loss it’s not about you.” Melanie concludes, “The amazing thing is it’s about them and giving a gift that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob

Lead photo courtesy of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Photographer: Megan Toohey