Birth and Death

by Lorien E. Menhennett

Home page of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, an organization that provides portraits to families whose babies are stillborn.

I’m in Florida for a few days. This morning, I went swimming with manatees. I might write more about that later. But now, about someone I met on the boat out into the bay. I sat next to a woman from Tennessee. As the only two single people on our boat trip, we temporarily paired up. We chatted. “What do you do?” I asked. “I’m a wedding photographer,” she said. “And a nurse.” Not your usual job combination, so I gently probed. She told me she did nursing no one else wanted to do. I tried to imagine what that could be. Trauma? No, there is the rush of adrenaline. Same with ER. Oncology, maybe? Hospice? Even with the grief in those fields, I know nurses who find them rewarding.

Not even close. This nurse really does do something unimaginable — she assists with the birth of stillborn babies. Then she puts her photographer’s hat on, and takes portraits for each family to remember the baby by.

The organization she works for is called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, after the children’s lullaby. The organization’s founder lost her own baby shortly after birth. In a blog entry of hers that I read, she wrote about the different nurses she met in the NICU while she was with her baby — the ones who were respectful, helpful, and kind, and the one who was cold and rude. I could feel the pain in her words, even though her own child died years ago.

Death is part of life. Especially in medicine. So the people in medicine — doctors, nurses, other health care workers — leave an emotional legacy to those who remain. That responsibility, and privilege, should not be taken lightly.