NICU photography sessions in Texas
Mid-2012, I had the honor of working with a cross-section of the families served by the Texas Chapter of the March of Dimes. The families were diverse in every way--ethnicity, economic status, education level and circumstance. But the things they had in common hit at every parent's core. After all, the very first thing you hope for when you find out you are pregnant is that you come home from the hospital with a healthy baby. Nothing else matters as much.
For parents served by the March of Dimes, it's often that very first wish that seems so out of reach. Most of these parents thought they would bring their babies home from the hospital when they were just a day or two old. Instead, they found themselves spending the first months of their newborns' lives in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), a strange place filled with beeps and cords and nervous parents and very, very small patients. It's not the environment any of them thought they would be bonding with their babies in.
All of the families I interviewed had stories that were complex and deep and painful. To tell them with any integrity and give them the attention they deserved would have required turning the March of Dimes exhibit from banner project to book. I had about a paragraph's worth of space to dedicate to each, just enough to hit the high points really. But one of the things that occurred to me with this project is that there seems to be somewhat of a secret society of all the people who have been there. And they all can fill in the blanks. They don't need to read the whole story because they've lived it.
I look back at the pictures and I see Maria and Gabriel who spent twenty years trying to have a baby. In Mexico, where Maria had an hour’s walk to reach a doctor and four hours to a hospital, she lost seven babies--six babies at four months gestation and one baby at five months. Maria and Gabriel came to America for medical care but she lost another baby here. Finally, with her ninth pregnancy, Maria had a cerclage done and carried the baby boy to 24 weeks. He was delivered by c-section; they named him Angel. He was just as cute as could be when I met him in the NICU.
One of the moms photographed was homeless and five months pregnant when she found out her baby would probably be born with spinal problems. He was born with respiratory failure and a genetic birth defect which causes malformed bones in the spine and ribs. Babies born with his syndrome have difficulty breathing because the rib cage does not expand for their growing lungs. He had three major surgeries scheduled when I photographed him at just one month old.
In another picture, a little boy puts a bear on the wing of a plane. This family lost their first son, Jacob, at six months old, to chronic heart failure. They made a stuffed bear that weighs the same as Jacob did at six months. The "Jacob bear" is their way of introducing the three sons they had after him to their brother.
At Texas Children's Hospital, I met the surgical team who operated on Baby E in utero at 24 weeks gestation and then operated on her again the day she was born. To meet those doctors just two days after such an amazing surgery was humbling--they were so human and, in my eyes, so superhuman too. And the parents! The parents had been through so much--I was expecting people who were distraught. But here these two were playing with the still-a-toddler big brother and in such delight over their new baby girl. They seemed almost unaware of the scar that ran half the length of her spine. I'll never forget the mom leaning over to kiss her baby girl and saying, "God heard our prayers and healed us...and blessed us with a perfect little girl.”
Perfect. Of course. Our babies are perfect however they come to us. Blessings for sure.
I have to add a little interesting, and again humbling, aside: One of these amazing neonatal surgeons had huge black bags--yes, kind of trash bags, I guess--piled up about chest high around the wall to his office. Inside were medical supplies that we are only allowed to use one time here in the U.S., drip bags, etc. But they are perfectly fine, so he takes them with him when he travels with Doctors without Borders and uses them again in places where they wouldn't have any if he didn't bring them. I love that. Not filling his ego (as you might expect after watching a couple of medical dramas), but filling bags with medical supplies to serve others more.
Keywords: Austin Children's Photographer, March of Dimes, NICU, Texas Children's Hospital, bifida, birth, preemies, premature, spina
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