Photographer Lindsey Villatoro was contacted to photograph a less than ideal (but also very real) situation. Emily and Richard Staley lost their daughter to stillbirth, so close to her due date. Lindsey was asked to capture her delivery and subsequent precious moments after her stillborn birth.
WARNING- these images are extremely emotional. The family wishes for these to be shared in their child’s memory. It has taken an extreme amount of courage for them to share this story and any negative opinion is not needed, nor will it be tolerated. They deserve encouraging words, stories and comments. If you do not like these images or feel they could be harmful to your day, then please do not proceed in reading the rest of this posting. The purpose of this story is to educate, share and empower others about stillbirth, and the incredibly tragic journey some parents endure. This is their story, and they want to share this with you. If you chose to continue reading please join us in supporting these parents.
I discovered this on Lindsey’s Facebook page and immediately felt compelled to share. My heart broke reading the story as it unfolded, seeing the photos and imagining the heartbreak that Emily and Richard must have been going through. The below is a direct replication of the story from the eyes of the photographer. Please keep all comments respectful and supportive. Thanks, Bel xx
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“I often ask God “why” and question life. I question things like cancer, tragic accidents, and murders, stillborns, child deaths… everything that just seems so painful for someone to bear. I know death is never easy but I believe everyone should die of old age, I know that’s not reality. As a mother the last phone call/email I want to get for a “forever loved” session is anything that has to do with a child. Friday afternoon as I was preparing for my weekend sessions with all 3 of my girls I got an email from a girl named Kelly telling me her sweet friend just found out her baby had died. She told me some details and asked if I would contact the family to be there in their time of need.
Given the circumstances, you only have a very short window to truly capture these forever moments. I rushed out of the store I was in and called this woman. When this mother answered the phone she could barley speak. She knew I was calling which I’m sure was the only reason why she answered the phone. She was short of breath, crying uncontrollably between her words and could barely even speak. She told me that earlier that morning she was eating breakfast, oatmeal actually. She had a cup of coffee and was proceeding with her usual routine. Her husband had already left for work and she was just at home relaxing with her son and niece. She noticed that her daughter hadn’t been moving in her belly like usual. Normally it is her baby’s routine to have some fun in mom’s belly once she drinks her coffee.
Considering that her baby hadn’t kicked all morning, mom moved her tummy a bit and after still feeling nothing went and got her heart monitor to check on her. Again mom heard nothing. In a panic she called her husband and told him what was going on and said she was going to drop the kids off to be watched and head to the hospital. Once she got to the hospital they got her in a room to be monitored, and the nurse could not find a heartbeat. They then gave her an ultrasound and discovered her sweet baby had died due to the umbilical cord being wrapped around her child’s neck.
They asked her if she would like to delivery the baby vaginally or said she could have a C-section. Given the fact mom had ate that morning she needed to come back for the surgery, she wanted the C-section. She was told she could come at 3:30pm later that afternoon or 5:00am the following morning. Mom decided to come back given she was alone and wanted the support of her husband who was working over two hours away. She would of had to do the surgery alone if she decided to do it that day because it was impossible for him to be there by 3:30pm. Mom, a total wreck left the hospital in disbelief. How was this happening? Her baby was just moving and alive late the evening before so how… why… why her? Why her baby? Why their child? Every question known to man popped into her mind- nothing made sense.
I met the family at 6:30am Saturday morning. I am a professional but human. Set aside my everyday photography, I photograph about 15 to 20 terminal sessions a month that range from every tragedy under the sun BUT that NEVER makes these easy. Every session I do affects me differently. I walked into a cold hospital room, room 230- full of tears and family, everyone was in disbelief. I grabbed mom’s hand and I told her this was quite literally the worst thing that could ever happen to a mother but together we were going to get through this. I smiled at their nurse sweet Ronda, looked at dad and told him I was here to help them both. I also told them that there was NO right way to handle this. If they wanted to freak out on me, throw something, cry, yell…whatever, it was absolutely OK. Thankfully I know many of the nurses and doctors at the hospital Mom was delivering at so I called Friday night and told them I’d be there in the morning.
When I got there they gave mom the option of having me in the OR during the C-section. Mom and Dad decided that was right where I needed to be, although both were very scared and nervous. I went into the bathroom before we walked into the OR, said a prayer for the surgery and for everything that was about to transpire. I then got all geared up, and together Dad and I met mom in the OR where surgery had already started. I looked at mom on the operating table, she knew my heart was breaking for her. With my hair and mouth covered, and only my eyes to be seen Mom and Dad both knew I was doing everything I could to be supportive and hold it together for them. I needed to be strong; I needed to do my job.
At 7:52am I looked at that clock and sweet baby Monroe Faith Staley was born. I was the first to see her. My eyes quickly filled with tears as I pulled my mask down, looked over to mom and dad and said, “SHE IS PERFECT.” Together we all cried. I stood next to the baby and watched the nurses give Monroe her first sponge bath, I touched her hands, put the hat I brought her on and took a few pictures. The nurse Miguel which we all adore then handed mom her baby girl as the doctor finished her surgery. It was a dream, this family was living a total nightmare.
I can’t even begin to describe the pain I knew Mom and Dad were feeling at that moment. As mom pleaded for her baby to wake up, her sweet husband brushed her hair with his hands crying with her. Cheek to cheek, clinging to their baby girl in disbelief; the two of them were pillars for each other. At 8:20am the four of us went across the hall to Mom’s room and for almost 9 hours Monroe never left their sight. I was able to capture moments that this family will forever have. I kissed this sweet baby over and over again… I even joked with Mom about taking her home. We both got a giggle out of it. Baby was full term and ABSOLUTE PERFECTION, Monroe defined perfection.
Throughout the morning and afternoon family members came to meet this perfect angel. I took the baby to the infant warmer and snapped away. Any image that came to mind, I shot. I wanted this family to have every possible memory of this child I could physically give them. So with that being said, I would like you all to meet this beautiful family. 26 year old Mother Emily, 29 year old Father Richard, and baby girl Monroe Faith Staley weighing 6 pounds 2.5 ounces, 19 inches long.
This family wants you all to know they have felt your prayers. To those of you that responded to my post when I asked for prayer Friday evening, they appreciate the kindness you have shown to them. Sweet Monroe has a 5 year old big brother that loved her dearly and was counting down the days until he could finally meet his baby sister. This death was EXTREMELY unexpected and tragic. I am asking you all for your prayers. Emily will be released from the hospital today and have to go home to a house full of baby items. She will have to walk into her daughter’s nursery and relive this nightmare for the rest of her life. Please stop and pray for them.
I said on Friday, “No matter what anybody says about grief and about time healing all wounds, the truth is, there are certain sorrows that never fade away until the heart stops beating and the last breath is taken.” And I meant that. NO FAMILY deserves this unbearable pain. The Staley’s rest assured knowing they will be reunited with their sweet baby girl one day soon, but until that day comes they struggle thinking life will ever have some normalcy. They would like their story to be shared; they hope to bring comfort to other families out there that have also experienced such tragedy. They want their daughter’s life to be remembered. Join with me in donating and praying for peace for you sweet Emily and Richard.
Em’ and Richard, I hope you enjoy your pictures. Thank you for allowing me to be there with you both in this time of grief. THANK FOR FOR SHARING A PEICE OF YOUR LIFE WITH ME & letting me love on your little piece of heaven. Xox” Lindsey Villatoro, www.lovesongphotography.co