Nonprofit agency aims to assist parents who’ve lost children during childbirth

by Erin Odom

Temprance Wilkinson had a healthy pregnancy, so she didn’t think much about the “hiccup” she felt coming from unborn baby Chandler two weeks before her due date in April 2009.

Maybe she was going into labor, she thought. So, Temprance and husband Steve Wilkinson, drove to the hospital excitedly talking on the drive about the daughter they’d been expecting for eight months.

The Davidson resident had posed for maternity pictures, opened gifts at her baby shower and designed the perfect nursery. The Wilkinsons and their 9-year-old daughter Alexandria were ready to welcome their new baby girl to the world.

An ultrasound at the hospital shattered those dreams, however.

“I am so sorry,” her doctor said. “There is no heartbeat.”

Chandler’s death was inexplicable, Temprance Wilkinson said.

After five hours of labor, Wilkinson delivered her stillborn child. Her nurses asked if she wanted to hold Chandler – and perhaps even take pictures with the baby with a volunteer photographer from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a national organization that seeks to foster healing through the gift of professional portraits for families who have lost babies.

Huntersville photographer Faith Massey, of Images by Faith Photography, snapped the pictures of the Wilkinson family that day. She heads up the Charlotte-area branch of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.

“The photographs are something families can take home with them to help their hearts heal,” Massey said. “People don’t realize how healing it is to have those memories because their brains can only hold so much.”

Wilkinson said she’s glad to have something tangible to remember her daughter by.

“If someone was going to tell you that they were going to give you 20 minutes with your child, it would be the worst and the best 20 minutes of your life,” Wilkinson said. “If I had not had pictures of her, I would … never be able to see her again. If I didn’t have the … clipping of hair.

That’s the only thing I’ll ever be able to touch of my child again.”

This is a radically different approach than in times before. In many instances years ago, parents weren’t allowed to see their stillborn children, as it was seemingly “swept under the rug,” Massey said.

“They never got an opportunity to deal with it,” she said. “It’s so much better for them to grieve and say goodbye and have the opportunity to spend time with the baby.”

Massey has volunteered with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep for four and a half years. A mother of five, she nearly lost her fourth child who was born prematurely via emergency C-section.

Massey’s grandmother’s first child was a full-term stillbirth.

“She used to tell me all the time that they knocked her out right before she was born,” Massey recounted. “She never got to see her. She dreamed about what she looked like. That loss affected her the rest of her life.”

Massey trains nurses on how to suggest the opportunity of family portraits to grieving parents, and she and a team of about 10 other professional photographers volunteer their time at all hours of the day and night.

The Charlotte area Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep serves hospitals as far north as Lake Norman Regional in Mooresville to Carolinas Medical Centers in Pineville and Matthews.

The Wilkinsons welcomed a baby boy, Camdon, into their family in March 2010. But the pictures they have from Chandler’s birth will help them never forget their second daughter.

“Memories fade, but photos … if someday I can’t remember what her toes looked like,” Wilkinson said. “I have pictures.”

Want to know more?

For more information on Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, visit www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org. To contact Faith Massey, call 704-766-0661 or visit www.imagesbyfaith.com.