More than once, I've been rushing to the hospital, cameras in hand, to have bystanders wonder aloud, "are you sure they want pictures now?" Or "why would anyone want pictures now?"
This is situation might be my favorite instance to employ the picture-tells-a-thousand-words rule.
This is why.
Things might be happening differently than expected (a LOT differently), and not everyone would even think to ask their photographer to join them in the NICU with everything that's going on and it all happening so fast. But when it transpires that I get to be there, I am humbled by the privilege and importance of the images. No matter what else is going on, it's still your first hours with your baby; still the first time your family has been together. Yes, it documents the real story, and this includes the sometimes harsh reminders of the locale: an IV on perfect baby feet; a cannula across the softest cheeks. But just as real is the overwhelming love in parents' eyes, in siblings' reaching hands, and in grandparents' supporting caresses. These things are just as real as the procedures, the uncertainty, the fear. And personally, I feel that they are the things I will treasure and cherish for the rest of my life - and making images to document that love is a true passion that makes me feel a sense of purpose.
The first time I was invited into the NICU was two years ago. My dear friends Rachel and Nels knew I was in Anchorage visiting family and called me to tell me that their forth child had finally joined them earthside - but that he had to be resuscitated immediately after birth and was being medivac'ed from Fairbanks to the NICU at Providence. Rachel wasn't immediately allowed to travel with him since she was immediately postpartum, so Nels rode with their baby boy and Rachel waited to be cleared to fly the next day. I met her and her mother at the airport in Anchorage and drove them straight to the hospital.
At the time, it was still somewhat unclear what was happening; all they knew is that there was swelling around the baby's brain and he had suffered a traumatic shortage of oxygen (HIE). After time, it was determined that he had suffered a massive stroke either during or immediately before birth. To mitigate the swelling, he was kept on a cooling blanket for the first leg of his stay in the NICU (which is the reason you won't see kangaroo care in the first set of images below).
Though his injuries were severe, the baby they named Stellan ("calm, strength") proved his tenacity right away. By the time I came back to Anchorage two weeks later, he had gone from a comatose infant to a baby who was exclusively breastfeeding. The change in him was utterly remarkable, and he's continued to approach life the same way since then, under the caring and loving eyes of his parents and siblings.
Here are the images.
On Stellan's second day of life, at the Providence NICU in Anchorage:
12 days later, still in the NICU:
And finally, three months later, at home in Fairbanks.