By Christina VanGinkel
If you are the parent or grandparent of a preemie, taking photos is something that you may find yourself not thinking of doing, not with all the other stresses and time limits involved with having such a newborn, but surprisingly, you may be prompted by the nurses or even your doctor to do just that. They know something that most parents of premature infants do not. That taking the time to chronicle your child's life, through the triumphs and the turmoil of such a start, may be one of the most important things you can do for yourself and the loved ones around you.
Photographs are a great way for the parents to step back and see their infant beneath all the tubes and wires. To mark their milestones, and make permanent memories of these all-important occasions, the same way they would do with any other newborn. The milestones may be different for a while at least, but just as, if not more so, important. Some might think that all you are doing is making a permanent picture of all the wires and tubes, but that is not so. There is something about an infant, which once the snapshots are taken, that allow you to see past those wires and tubes, and to see the baby.
A series of snapshots taken over several days, even weeks, is also a great way for the parents to look and actually see the strides and improvements their baby is making. When they see them every day, or nearly so, it is hard to pick up on the growth spurts baby is experiencing, yet a few pictures, even a few days apart, will allow that growth to jump out at you like you never realized a photograph could display. They will allow you to take to heart the improvements that everyone is telling you the baby is making, but you are so afraid to believe are truly occurring.
Sadly, if baby is not making strides, and difficult days lie ahead, you may feel as if taking the pictures is not something you can do. If this is the case, if you have the slightest inclination that down the road a ways you would like some photos, ask a friend to chronicle your baby's days for you, or even an understanding nurse. You may be surprised at the outpouring of help you will receive on this, a very important task. Having photographs to later look back on may be one of your biggest supports to get you through your grief. Some hospitals will even arrange with professional photographers to come in and take a portrait photo for you to remember your baby.
If you are a close friend of someone who has just given birth to a preemie, maybe you could approach them with the offering to go in every day or so, and chronicle their infant's first days. It would be a wonderful way for you to show them how much you care, and that you know they must be so stressed with all the activity that goes with such a birth. If they are allowed to hold the baby, you could even offer to take a few snapshots of them together. If they give you the go ahead, then just double check with the nurses when the least intrusive times would be for you to come, and then do it, even if baby is having ups and downs. When all is done, and baby comes home, you can pass the photographs onto the parents right away. If things do not, turn out as planned, put the photos away for safekeeping, and at least know that when the parents are ready, they will have some very special mementos of their baby's life thanks to your gift of time to take a few simple snapshots.
A photographic memory of a premature infant can be a very therapeutic object, no matter how things eventually turn out. Memories are, after all, one of lives most enduring gifts. And, if you are fortunate enough for that preemie to come home, when they are themselves a bit bigger, think of how rewarding it will be for them to look back on where it all began, and provide them with a better sense of just what struggles they have overcome to make it as far as they have!