A newborn baby, an exhausted mother holding back tears, a couple cherishing the life they created together.
At first glance, it looks like your ordinary hospital newborn photo session.
But for child loss photographer, Jessi Snapp, these photoshoots are anything but ordinary and the stories behind each and every photo she takes are beyond heartbreaking.
The first and final photoshoot: Behind the scenes with a child loss photographer
Jessi is a stillbirth photographer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. She works in conjunction with hospitals in Colorado, visiting families that have had to say goodbye to their babies far too soon. It’s something she has been doing for a long time now, but something that never gets easier.
Jessi shares her story on Love What Matters, offering readers a glimpse into what being a child loss photographer entails.
Sometimes a nurse will say, ‘Baby was only 22 weeks and has been gone for quite some time.’ Or it’s, ‘Baby was full term and they found out yesterday there was no longer a heartbeat.’ And other times it’s, ‘Baby has been in the NICU for days/weeks and parents are preparing to remove life support and say goodbye.’
No matter the version of their story, my heart sinks.”
No one plans for this
Jessi explains how she enters the hospital room, overwhelmed by the silence and the sadness. She introduces herself as the child loss photographer, holds the baby, talks to her, treats her like it were her own. She assesses which poses will work and how to capture every beautiful feature of their precious angel.
She asks if the parents would like to hold their baby, to get some photos as a family. Many do, many others decline.
They don’t want to be present at all while I take pictures because this is just too much to bear. It’s unfair and not how they imagined their time with their baby at all.
And most definitely not the kind of newborn pictures they envisioned.
I work gently, efficiently, and try not to overstay my welcome. I do my best to capture every single detail. From baby’s precious hair, long toes, to the memory box the family will soon be carrying out the hospital doors instead of their baby.
As the shutter on my camera begins to release, their tears begin to flow.
The pain and realisation of these pictures sinks in deep. No one plans for this. No one wants this. This is a reality I wish no parent had to endure.”
Jessi has been on the other side too. Before she became a child loss photographer, she lost her son, Silas, in 2014. This is why she does what she does – because she knows just how important these photos are. And will be for years and years to come.
Holding my own child, knowing it would be the very last time. The gift of these photos has been priceless to us and we cherish them greatly.”
After Jessi has taken the photos, she says her goodbyes and leaves the session. She returns to her car and lets the tears flow. She drives home to her own family, who has had time to heal over the last several years.
I think about these families and all the pain that still lies ahead of them. Because the hardest moments are still yet to come. Their grief doesn’t end when they leave the hospital or after they bury their child.
Their grief has only just begun and the memories that are being held inside my camera are priceless and irreplaceable.
These photographs carry so much pain and heartbreak. But more than that, they carry great love and proof that their child existed. Proof that their child was so loved and so wanted. Proof that this little life mattered a whole lot.”