A Nonprofit Organization That Helps Grieving Parents Is Suffering In The Wake Of COVID-19

by Jenna Fletcher
Originally Published: 
A Nonprofit Organization That Helps Grieving Parents Is Suffering In The Wake Of COVID-19
Courtesy of Jenna Fletcher

CW: child loss

COVID-19 is affecting the maternal health and child loss community greatly. Restrictions on hospital visitors means access to support for bereaved parents is limited. As the parent of a stillborn, this devastates me.

When one of my twins was stillborn in 2018, we were fortunate enough to have a roomful of friends and family keeping our spirits up. They arranged for a professional photographer through Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep to capture the moments we had with our sweet boy.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a nonprofit organization dedicated to capturing the precious moments grieving parents have with their deceased or terminally ill newborns by providing parents a professional photographer.

Courtesy of Jenna Fletcher

These photos are even more important now. Not only are some bereaved parents finding that their hospital won’t allow visitors, but funeral services are also being restricted. The photos now provide not only memories for the parent but a way for grandparents and extended family to meet and grieve the baby.

Perinatal mental health specialist, Cara Koslow MS, NCC, LPC says, “Before COVID, the photos validated the loss. There’s a stigma around child loss and no one talks about the hardship it creates. The pictures provide parents a way to do something to memorialize the baby. Now with all of the restrictions regarding funeral services, typical traditions aren’t there. In this situation it can provide closure in being able to share with family and friends.”

In the face of COVID-19, I look back and am immensely grateful that I was able to have these momentos. In the current situation, it’s becoming harder for the organization to provide heirloom photos to loss families. The organization is trying to adapt to the situation by providing nurses and medical professionals training to capture quality photos for the families and offering two continuing education credits for completing the course.

Missy Thomas is responsible for spearheading the organization’s program. Thomas says the idea for the program came to her a year ago. She has been a longtime volunteer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, preserving moments full of love meant to last a lifetime for grieving families and coordinating with photographers and hospitals across the country to send photographers to grieving parents.

Courtesy of Jenna Fletcher

Unfortunately, even in normal times, there aren’t always enough photographers available to provide every bereaved family with photos. “We provide photography services to between four and five thousand families per year, but 40 to 50 thousand babies per year qualify for services,” Thomas says.

To help fill the gap, Thomas developed a program full of easy techniques that allow nurses and other medical professionals to improve the quality of the photos they can take for the families.

When our son was stillborn, a compassionate nurse took care to make us a memory book, full of photos of our precious boy, to capture all the details a newborn photographer would have caught during a newborn photography session. We have pictures of his perfect fingers and toes so I’ll never forget those precious little pieces of our son. That way when our NILMDTS photographer came out, she could spend her time capturing photos of us with our son.

Other loss moms have similar experiences with their nurses after a loss. Nurses are already trying to provide parents with quality photos and meaningful reminders of their children. The medical personnel training program provides them with the opportunity to do this.

Courtesy of Jenna Fletcher

“We’ve had about 100 people per week sign up to take the program since it launched on March 17. The program is open to nurses, physicians, social workers, child life specialists and hospital chaplains,” Thomas says. Right now only nurses get continuing education credits for it, but NILMDTS is trying to expand those credits to other professions in the future.

Not only is the service crucial for bereaved families, but the continuing education credits are helpful to nurses right now. Because of COVID-19, many in-person continuing education courses have been cancelled.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is currently not charging medical professionals to take their program.

Thomas says, “The plan had been to charge 50 for the whole course, but due to COVID, it is free. There are costs associated but we want nurses to be able to do what they can. As photographers, we can’t do a ton right now. Some photographers aren’t comfortable going to hospitals right now and some hospitals aren’t allowing photographers in at all.”

Unfortunately for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, COVID-19 has caused an 80 percent drop in funding even while rolling out this unfunded free program. To help Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, you can make a donation in any amount or sponsor a nurse for $50. Some supporters of the charity are donating $15 per month to celebrate the organization’s 15 years providing photos for bereaved parents.

If you’d like to make a donation you can do so here.

To learn more about the Continuing Education program for medical professionals, click here.

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