I had never heard of the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Foundation (NILMDTS) before Dekar’s diagnosis.  After I had shared the news with some friends a few of them mentioned NILMDTS’s work.  Honestly, my brain was numb.  I put it on my list of things to think about, and left it there. 

After some of the fog cleared, I inquired again about NILMDTS.  Some people couldn’t remember the name, but knew there was a group of volunteer photographers who will take pictures of your baby who died too soon.  Another lady could tell me that the name was a children’s nursery rhyme or prayer.  Finally, I got the the full name and was informed that they had a website.

I did a search,  entered the website, and that was as far as I could go.  The pictures that are displayed on the main page took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes.  The pain was too close to my heart, as these were photos of people who have already lived what I would be going through. 

I did a search for a photographer in my area, and unfortunately, there was nobody nearby who signed up for the hospital I would deliver.  I then hit the “contact us” button and typed this letter:
“Hello,

I was referred to your site. 
The closest photographer I see is in ____, and from his profile it appears he only services that area hospital.  (We are about 50 miles away from ______.)  Our zip code is #####–we are a smaller community, but I would still like to see if somebody might be available to do a photo session. 

If you are needing to know—my child was diagnosed with Trisomy 18 and will likely die before or soon after birth.   My original due date is July 1, but this could happen at any time.
I have eight other children and I am wanting to do all I can to make memories for them.
 
Thank you for any help you can give me,
Marge
phone number”


I didn’t know if I’d hear back from them.  I couldn’t look beyond those first two pages on their website to find out more about the organization, and I didn’t know what to expect.  But experience has taught me that it didn’t hurt to ask.

I don’t know why I did it, but after emailing them, I emailed the local radio station that mostly focuses on stories of local interest.  I suggested they research the NILMDTS site and consider getting the word out so that more local photographers would consider getting on board.  I knew if I was a photographer I would do it, and I assumed there were others who would also.

After that, I made plans of calling a friend whose husband used to be a photographer.  I would call her to see if he would be willing to come to the hospital if a NILMDTS photographer was not an option.  Time was of the essence—I could lose Dekar at any time.  I wanted to be sure I got some excellent photos in some way, shape, or form.

Not more than four hours after sending the email to NILMDTS headquarters I got a call from a photographer with a sweet voice.  She introduces herself–her  name is Danielle Felton and she said the NILMDTS headquarters called to inquire if she would be willing to do the session.  She called me directly to let me know she’d be happy to.  I asked how far she’d be driving and she said it’s about two hours. I was so impressed at the quick reply and the willingness of Danielle to drive such a distance to do this for my family and me.

She also offered a maternity session.  That was an unexpected blessing.  She came over and was very comfortable with my house full of children.  I found out she came from a large family herself, so she wasn’t scared.  🙂

A few days after contacting the radio station both Danielle and I were asked if we would do a short interview on the air.  Both of us agreed.  I told them my story, why I would be using the service offered, and why I felt this organization needed exposure in our area.  Danielle was able to share her experiences and let them know that more photographers were needed.  (Edited to add, that photographers are STILL needed in our area and many others.)

Danielle and I kept in contact.  She knew that I could give birth at anytime to a still baby or that I could be holding a live baby after birth.  After I decided on a c-section, I told her the date, time, and that the staff knew she would be there.  I saw her photography work and I knew she was very capable of doing a lot–but I told her I really wanted memory pictures. The artistic stuff didn’t matter as much–I wanted pictures of each of the kids holding Dekar as well as family pictures. She honored my request, and threw in her creative work as well.

I felt a bond with Danielle. Maybe it’s because I was letting her “into” a very personal part of my life–and I have become a very private person. The day that Dekar was born I could see that Danielle was doing her best to respect the situation–and with eleven people in the room (my family), plus the nurse(s), she really did well to manuever around and take pictures and capture memories. I still can picture her moving around and asking me if it was okay to do this or that….Even though I was focusing on Dekar and my family, I was also aware of Danielle and that she was doing this out of complete selflessness. She was taking time from her own family to be with us. As a mother (and a human being), I appreciated that so much.

I also grew a bond with Christine Barrack, who put together the slideshow which you can view here. I felt she really put her heart into making it as beautiful as she could. The placement of the photos, the seamless transition of the music; everything in the show conveyed a sensitivity.

It was as if both of them were thinking, “If this were me, what would I want to see? How can I be the parents’ eyes and capture the moment/life to the best of my ability?”

So, that’s my story and my experience with the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Organization.

Danielle and Christine will forever take a special place in my heart and life.  This organization is what it is because of each individual photographer and volunteer–and if they only had Danielle and Christine to represent them, they could be proud.

The day I post this (09-27-08), Dekar would have been three months old. I am so thankful that I have beautiful photographs to look at and remember the life I held for only a short time.  The photos capture his uniqueness, his beauty, and the strength that he gave us for those eight hours on earth.  I am forever changed because I held a lifetime in my arms.

Thank you, Danielle, for giving of yourself and your time.  Thank you, Danielle’s husband and children, for letting your wife and mother go for the day to help capture lasting memories of a life that was too short.  Thank you for letting her work on presenting us with a wonderful picture cd and slideshow full of memories.

Thank you, Christine, for working with Danielle to produce a beautiful slideshow that brings tears to my
eyes and a smile on my face. 
 
Cheryl Haggard, extending a “thank you” doesn’t seem appropriate.  You and your husband lost your precious son, Maddux, and that is not something to be grateful for.  But using your experience as a catalyst to start Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep shows what a beautiful heart you have. 
 
Sandy Puc’, thank you for sharing Cheryl’s vision and giving of your time and talent to work with other photographers to ready them to do this precious work. Because of you and all of the other photographers and the volunteers who give of their time and talent, parents can heal and remember the life of thier child that was taken too soon.
 
Losing Dekar was the hardest experience of my life.  Although I left the hospital with empty arms, my heart was full, knowing that God had been with me through the whole thing.  In His graciousness and mercy, He extended His love to me through the giftedness of Danielle’s photography and the whole Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep organization.  For that, I will be eternally grateful.

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