I recently left my part time job as a hospital newborn photographer. It was a hard thing to do because I’d been at it over two years and I was at the hospital I wanted to be at (the one my kids were born at) and I absolutely adore newborns, especially in those first couple of days where they pretty much just sleep and don’t usually cry loud enough to burst your eardrums. I also love taking photographs and I loved being able to capture moments that I know that these families will hold onto for years. I know that on many nursery walls or refrigerators or in wallets or above mantels are priceless photos that I took - and that’s an awesome feeling.
I snapped pictures for fathers that were serving overseas and would be introduced to their new child through those photographs. I photographed tearful grandparents doting over their new grandchild. I cuddled big brothers and sisters with their new siblings and watched them smile proudly. I nestled little heads into their fathers’ hands for unbelievably beautiful shots. I placed babies on their moms’ bare shoulders and captured that peaceful bond. I got to take pictures of a few sets of twins (which, being a big sis of twins, I ate up.)
I also did photo sessions where I had to work around monitors and IV lines. I took pictures of little guys that weighed in under five pounds and some that were nearly eleven pounds. I sometimes went to work to find a sign on a mom’s door that indicated that the baby had died. I took pictures of one agitated baby who shook and screamed at each noise or flash…and then found out the baby had been born addicted to drugs. I was in some rooms where the stories would make Jerry Springer blush and shake his head.
I never knew what each day would be like, which was kind of nice. I encountered more scenarios that you could think of: mixed-race couples, teen parents, couples with a huge age span between them, same-sex couples, adopting parents, mothers who were about to give their child up for adoption, a baby whose mom had died during labor, families who didn’t speak a word of English, families who were hostile toward me because my head wasn’t covered, moms who were in tears because they were going home while baby was staying in the NICU, moms who did not want to be there and were leaving early against medical advice, moms who were physicians or newborn nurses themselves, a mom who had given birth in a car on the way to the hospital, a severely depressed mom who wouldn't hold her baby, babies who had been born after several medical interventions, babies who were born to the most devoted of fathers, babies who were born without fathers who wanted to be involved, babies born where the mothers weren't even sure who the father was.
One sad thing I learned from the experience is that not all babies are born into happy families. I knew it happened, but it is different to see it first hand and realize how frequently it happens. It really was hard to handle this little being who is brand new to the world, look around the room they are in and see the people that will care for them and know that it isn’t a good situation…and then place them back in their hands and walk away.
On the other hand, I was in so many rooms with parents who were ecstatic and terrified and loving. It was nice to sometimes be able to offer a little bit of advice from experience when asked – whether it was what kind of diapers I liked best or tricks to keeping those little socks on their feet or if breastfeeding was easy. And it was mind-blowing to see all the new products that have been introduced just since my last one was born 7 years ago.
I met people from all over the world. Some had been here since childhood. Some had come to the country fairly recently. Some talked about health care and child rearing in their home land. Whenever I detected an accent, I always asked where they were from. And the answers were always fascinating.
As I heard the names of the newborns, I pictured a kindergarten class full of Isabellas, Avas, Sophias, Lillys and Olivias or Evans, Aidens, Ethans, Calebs or Masons. I saw odd spellings and three or four middle names and names that were double hyphenated with an accent mark above each letter e. And I felt sympathy for the kids who would forever have to spell their names four times for people and still have them get it wrong. There were two so unusual that I’d only heard them once before – one in a movie and one in Greek mythology. I’ll never forget those kids, but I’m sure that was the intention of the parents in choosing that name.
Oh, and then there were the clothes. Oh, how I love the clothes. My favorite photos to take were always shots of a naked-chested baby, snuggled among white sheets with eyes closed. But many of the parents wanted the babies dressed up and eyes wide open. I often did the dress up job, especially if it was a new parent who was scared to bend baby’s arm to get it through the sleeve. It was just way faster for me to do it myself. There are just so many cute clothes out there – monkeys and frogs seem to be popular as of late for boys. And the girls…oh, my…the girl clothes. I have five boys. So, you can imagine how I’d swoon over a newborn baby girl in a ruffly pink dress with a tutu and a matching headband. It’s further affirmation that I was meant to have boys, for I would have surely landed us in the poorhouse on a little pink princess wardrobe.
But, there were some doozies…outfits that were made for a 9-month old that just swallowed the poor kid or ones that were too small that we had to squeeze them into because great grandma bought it and they had to have a picture of baby in it. And there were just the clashes that didn't work – striped pants, shirt with stars, a leather jacket, high top baby sneakers on a polka dot blanket. And then I loved the ones that injected the personality of the family (usually the dad’s) like the onesies with “Rock Star” plastered on them, the head to toe camouflage or the favorite sports teams. I remember taking pictures of one baby in a long lacy gown made by the grandmother who lived in Europe and would probably never meet the baby. And a few times we incorporated blankets into the picture or other items that had been worn by the parents long ago or had links to a deceased relative. I rarely left those rooms without there being tears all around.
Yes, I admit, there were many days I cried on the job and it was a job where it was okay to do so. I cried when I took pictures of a baby whose dad died a few months before he was born. I cried along with a grandma when she set eyes on the digital images of her first grandchild. I cried when a mom talked about how it would be months before her husband would be home from Afghanistan and with a mom who had to go home while baby stayed there for more tests or when the mom talked about losing several babies before this miracle one arrived. Some days were incredibly emotional.
I loved the job because each day I went to work I got a glimpse into a family’s life. I might have only known them for about an hour, but witnessing those tender moments when a parent is introduced to their new child is so uplifting. Especially when I was in the room with brand new parents, it was such a treat to see these young moms get to know their babies and these new dads change a diaper for the first time. Witnessing these young guys bonding with their brand new babies was the best.
So, I really am missing it. I’m missing getting my baby fix. I’m missing wiggling a six-pounder into a little outfit. I’m missing the smiling nurses I’d pass in the hall. I'm missing passing the nursery window to see a child on his tippy toes peeking in at his new little sister. I’m missing the feeling of being a little, tiny part of a family’s first days together. I’m missing rubbing the back of a baby as I try to quiet them. I miss seeing the look on a mom’s face when I captured an amazing image of their new bundle of joy. I even miss the cafeteria food.
I took the job when my youngest one started kindergarten. Even though my plate was full with my freelance work that I do from home, being a room mom and spending time at school and some community organizations I’m involved in, I somehow felt like a slacker and that I should be working outside the home a bit while my kids were in school. I loved the job instantly. Life just got too busy and something had to give. But I’m so grateful for the experience I had to spend that time with so many precious new little ones and their families as they started their lives together.