It’s what you do to me.

At three o’clock I received another one of those phone calls. This time I wasn’t going to be in Room Seven, this time I am to be with the parents of a baby girl when they turn off life-support. They are waiting for me.

A mother, visiting, laboured suddenly and birthed a baby too small and too soon. Her only child lies in a bed for two weeks while her mother grieves alone, in a city she doesn’t live in, and isn’t hers. Her husband is on a plane, rushing, while tubes force the last breaths in and out of a daughter her hasn’t yet met and will only see for a moment…
They are waiting for my entrance through the frosted NICU doors so I may stand by their side while they shut her down, take her to a small room and hold her as she goes.

There are four volunteers in this city, I am the lead.
Every ounce of me knows that, this time, it needs to be me.

I can never forgive Them for creating the circumstances that led me to miss everything. My heart is so heavy with hurt and anger.
I want to go back: beg harder, scream louder, fight, push before the doctor pushed back. I want to recreate it and find a single, solitary moment of victory in the tormented memory of that night. I want to feel like his mother; to have touched his life outside the safety of my womb, instead of only knowing the weight of his death as he lay in my arms. Asleep without dreams, but with a soft, perfect face so quiet and peaceful.
When the last breath left his body I was another floor away, arced and twisting in a bed searching for the strength to scream for help, clawing for consciousness and desperate to glimpse the smallest moment of his life before it was gone.

Instead I have nothing except the nightmare that he never knew my touch, heard my voice, felt my breath as I sang to him and smelled the scent of my weeping breasts as I held him to me.
I couldn’t even hold his empty body to me.
…I could have, and I didn’t.

I am not embittered, I am not enraged tonight. I am humbled to bear witness, but heavy knowing that I will watch my worst nightmare, and greatest most desperate need. Tonight I am driving up a dark road to watch someone’s baby die in the arms of her father and mother.
They are receiving what I was never offered, and perhaps I can selfishly take on some of that moment to put a drop of healing in a wound that never closes.


My cheeks were stained before we reached the parking lot. I went through the motions of cleaning lenses, checking battery life, formatting cards, sterilizing my hands, re-packing my bag… Test and focus, check, count, breathe.

A social worker met me, a nurse led me to a curtained section of the NICU where a mother and father sat next to the smallest baby I have ever seen. She was looking at her mother through a pane of plastic and a web of wires.
I waited in the back room with the father, who could not bring himself to watch her be extubated. Mother came in next, disrobed and waited.
When I saw the little head inside the swaddled blanket come through the door I could only see the bundle they handed to me that night.

She was alive; breathing, beautiful, wide-eyed and inquisitive.
“I have been waiting so long to hold you,” I heard. “I never knew this is what you looked like…”

Over the moments, the whispers and shutter clicks I watched her eyes become heavier. She stopped startling from the click of my camera.
Mother and father whispered to each other.
Where is your phone?
In my bag, but…
We have to play the song. She needs to know why her name–
-it’s dead. I-I can’t.
So quiet I could almost not hear it: …Oh.

I found my voice. “Do you think someone here might have a charger that would work?”
“No… The brand is different.”
He spoke, “– I have my charger, in my bag.”
“Here?”
“Yes. By the station…”
“Do you want me to get it?”
Both looked up, “Yes!”

I ran down the hall, told a nurse, who ran to another, and another. I knew before I left the room which song they needed. In less than a minute I saw a nurse racing down a corridor with something in her hands. Like an Olympic torch the bag was run through the tight NICU halls from nurse, to worker, to another nurse, to me, to the quiet room with the weeping parents and only moments left.
I put the charger in the wall and watched his shaking fingers find what they needed. Soft guitar music started to fill the room.
“Mommy can’t sing, so this will have to do…”.
Baby girl let out a shuddered breath and slowly closed her eyes. The towel wrapped around mother’s waist began to soak through with milk as though her body had begun to weep.

Hey there Delilah
What’s it like in New York City?
I’m a thousand miles away
But girl, tonight you look so pretty
Yes you do…

Father broke through what he’d been holding back so well until that moment. And I wept, too. Mother softly sang along, stroking the tiny head of silken blonde hair.

Delilah I can promise you, that by the time we get through, the world will never ever be the same.
And you’re to blame

The doorknob turned silently, then crept open only a fraction of an inch. I saw a doctor stand just out of sight with a stethoscope around her neck. She heard the music softly playing, so stayed in the hall where they did not notice her, and waited.
Through the crack between the door and frame I saw her eyes look toward me. I don’t know why I stood up and looked back at her. Through the last lines of the song I stopped taking photos, lowered my camera and our eyes met. I let her see my face; my swollen eyes and river of tears. She did not look away.

Oh, it’s what you do to me.
What you do to me….

A moment past the silence she stepped inside, and pressed the stethoscope to the baby’s chest. The length of time she spent waiting, listening, was enough to know the answer. Mother’s face twisted into a sob before the words were said:
“… there is no heartbeat. I’m sorry, Delilah has passed away.”

Suddenly, the room seemed so empty.

Comments

comments

58 Comments

  • allisonbb says:

    I heard this song over the weekend and thought of this entry. My husband and I love this song and I had to share this with him. I had to tell him an abbreviated version as I was too choked up to talk. When I finished, my husband was crying as well.

    I just wanted you to know I am thinking about you, baby Delilah and her parents.

  • allisonbb says:

    I heard this song over the weekend and thought of this entry. My husband and I love this song and I had to share this with him. I had to tell him an abbreviated version as I was too choked up to talk. When I finished, my husband was crying as well.

    I just wanted you to know I am thinking about you, baby Delilah and her parents.

  • sualkin says:

    Sweet Delilah, what a beautiful name.

  • jennnk says:

    Despite my hatred for that song, this made me cry. I can’t even begin to understand. I hate that there are so many who DO understand.

  • bruken says:

    I cried so hard once I read the first line of lyrics and realized what song it was. This song has special meaning to me too and every time I hear it I either cry or have to change the channel.

    You have done a wonderful thing for this family.

  • noelove says:

    I love that song. and you are an amazingly strong person for being there for that family.

  • maylea_moon says:

    ok, that has me bawling. i sing that song to my daughter (Lila) ALL the time, i know what it’s like to have a song that so reminds you of your child, so it really hit me because that’s the same song. i’m just showering her with kisses now. they sound like great parents and my thoughts are with them.

  • Anonymous says:

    What a gift

    I went to college with the original Delilah, the All-American runner at Columbia who was so beautiful she inspired a boy with whom she was never in a relationship to write a song about her.

    Her impression was that big…

    And now you. You give us this new little girl… the shape of her brow and the surrender of her eyes piecing themselves together in your words. Impressions of her remarkability that otherwise would not have made it outside the walls of that small room.

    I have followed your livejournal for about two years, admiring your poise and humor, your photographic mastery of light, your strength… but I haven’t commented until now.

    But you, lady… and the gifts you give. The gifts that one day, when “normal” has been redefined and they’re once again feeling their feet on the floor and making coffee… those gifts will suddenly be the only thing of value that they have ever been given.

    We should all lead lives of such value, generosity and love.

    xoxoxo

  • birthingway says:

    Blessings on her way.

    And, as always, Heather: thank you for sharing.

  • mammaopal says:

    You must be so strong to be able to offer this kind of gift to perfect strangers.
    It’s not just a sharing of skills or charity. This is an offering of a piece of your soul to another family who in their time of sorrow has joined your tribe.
    It speaks volumes of how much impact Jericho’s life has had on so, so many people.

    You’re an amazing person Heather. I’m honored to be able to read your words and be witness to your healing and pain.
    Thank you.

  • apers says:

    I read this post this morning and cried so hard i had to step away from the computer. As a matter of fact I am commenting now without rereading it because my heart still feels raw from this morning when i read it. And I dont wanna cry again.

    What you do is amazing. I dont think I could. i feel like my heart would just hurt too much.

    I just want you to know that you are amazing. The way you put this to words was so……. simple yet deep and meaningful.

    Thank you.

  • facethemoon says:

    God damn this is so fucking sad. I’m sitting here holding Koa and just crying. This was my biggest fear with him. I was so terrified that I’d have to hold him while he died, barely taking his first breaths.

    I’m so angry, so angry, sad and heartbroken at what was done to you, at what was taken from you with Jericho. I wish I had been there. I wish I had known you then. I wish I could have fought for you, with you.

    I’m sending love and light to that poor sweet family, and beautiful tiny Delilah.

    I love you.

    • admin says:

      The experience with Jericho feels very raw and close again, not just because of this, but for a while. Part of healing is trying to make myself see that there is nothing I, nor anyone, could have done to change it.
      Curtis needs it as much as I do… I had no idea that for three years he’s been carrying a guilt so heavy it’s almost destroyed him: he thinks he killed him, as though with his own hands, because when they said, “There’s nothing we can do” he didn’t say, “Try harder”, and instead just said nothing.
      He only broke down and told me some few weeks ago, while we were fighting one night at 2 in the morning. Then cried harder than I’ve ever seen him cry for almost an hour.

      Losing your child is something that seems like such a cultural taboo. It’s there, but it isn’t. There’s so much depth that just is never discussed, or is glossed over. It’s been three years and right now it feels worse than it did six weeks after. And then tomorrow I’ll feel okay again. A friend of mine (one whom I actually took photos for, and she later became a good friend) posted [ this ] to her blog that I thought was timely, and helpful – it’s like required reading for friends of someone who has lost their child.

  • sylvanna says:

    My tears for Delilah and her parents tell me I may not be able to face being a doula for fear of…this.

  • This broke my heart to no end!

  • .

    Delilah, her mom and dad…and you and yours. Love to you all.

    .

  • It gives me great hope and solace that you exist in the world. Thank you for touching my heart.

  • just_shoe_me says:

    My heart is broken for them.

  • sarcasta says:

    *hugs*

    I don’t know how you do it.

    I wish we had had someone like you…

  • What a selfless gift you are giving. It’s infinitely precious and I can’t even imagine how you do it. I hope that bearing witness at times like this and providing such a service to these families brings you some healing, Heather, I really do. I don’t think it’s selfishness at all. You are there for them and even in their pain and sorrow they are there for you, even in they don’t know it. There is a give and take in sharing grief. It’s not selfishness.

    *tender hugs*

  • Same as everyone else. Just crying… and holding Zachary a little tighter.

  • Heather, how do you do it? That song has always stood out for me…something about the words and the way they flow together with the sweet and simple running chords of the guitar in the background. There is something just so innocent about that song. I can’t even believe this is a real story about real people, because it is so utterly sad. Too sad for the word, really. That’s all I can say at the moment. Blessings to you, Girl.

  • acme says:

    Thank you for being you and for sharing. I have much more to say, but the words just aren’t there.

    Thank you.

  • sprytaen says:

    I would love to volunteer for this program, but seriously.. I don’t know if I could handle it. I’m sitting here crying just reading your post. I can’t imagine what I’d be doing if it were just.. there in front of me.

    I wish I could be as brave as you.

  • fkgirl says:

    Wow…so heartbreaking.

  • delababy says:

    I was really mad and pissy tonight about something that didnt matter at all in any scope and this crashed perspective right into me. I am sitting here bawling with you now, and everything else seems really petty.

    Love to them, love to you. I hate that you ever have to get those calls, and am so very thankful that you are willing and able to be there when they come. You know the gift you are giving these families, and that in itself is a gift in its own right.

  • madamemonday says:

    I sobbed while holding my baby girl tight. I just can’t imagine. I just can’t.

  • lifeonearth says:

    Thank you for doing what you do, you are such an inspiration…

  • ivymae says:

    This is beautiful Heather.

  • gerimaple says:

    Speechless, except to say how deeply I honour your work that honours babies like Delilah.

  • Oh gosh Heather, this is one of the saddest… I’m totally choking up here. I’m glad it was you there for them 🙁

  • emfish says:

    I think you are so amazing for what you do. My heart breaks for the parents of little Delilah. I hope they find some peace & comfort in the photosgraphs of her too-short life.

  • duchess_k says:

    Oh, this made me weep. oh…

  • Words fail me. Be at peace Baby Delilah.

    Babs,

    You are amazing. Thank you for being there for them.

  • Anonymous says:

    im melted.
    i seldom cry, that tears me apart. the story. im no good at words either. youre amazing, in more ways than one. this is one.

    ive considered applying to this organization for a while not, but not sure i could handle it. and really. im still doubtful, but i think im going to do it anyways, because its not about me.

    • admin says:

      There is a place for anyone who wants to help, be it in the room with photographs, helping with retouching, building a CD, or even connecting parents to the local photographers… The organization is extremely understanding of the fact that not many can take on the emotional burden of being present for it, which is why there are so many places within the organization for other volunteer work.

      • sprytaen says:

        I know there’s pretty major training you go through. Does any of it include shadowing? Like.. going with the photographer and observing? Or do they just throw you into it your first time?

        • admin says:

          I was the only volunteer here until mid last year, so I was thrown in. I’ve had two people ask to shadow me, but it makes me uncomfortable – given the situation I’m not sure most parents would appreciate an apprentice standing behind you not doing a damn thing except staring and/or sobbing…
          However, I suppose this also depends on the individual situation. I’ve been to some where the parents almost seemed… peaceful. They would never have minded the intrusion. Others where they seemed on the brink of losing it completely, and even though they’d asked for my services, it was clear they were too unstable to be comfortable with me there for more than ten minutes.

          There was also no training program when I signed up. The training program is now in the form of a manual, and seminars that travel around several times a year if you can get to them… I haven’t been able to.
          However, you can’t get in as a photographer unless you go through an important screening process. As you can imagine, quality is incredibly important. Despite the good intentions that so many have, you can’t have just any old camera enthusiast entrusted with something this important… you have to have good skills, and not only that, but your retouching skills need to be way better than par. There is help for you in that aspect (through other volunteers specifically there for that purpose) if a session exceeds your level… but in general it’s good to be the type of person who could handle it.
          The worst I did: the baby was missing or torn most of the skin off her face. The nurses are supposed to warn you of the baby’s condition: no one did that time. It took me five weeks and a lot of emotional turmoil to work through that one.

          They also ask that you be a regular poster at the forums. There’s a private section for photographers only. I understand and appreciate it’s existance, and the need for it: emotional support is key to making it through a lot of this.
          That said, I only participate on and off. I’ve had some major public (and private) tiffs with the admin and some of the bigger name posters. I disagree strongly with the heavy, almost oppressive religious tone and have taken big issue with some racial insensitivity issues in the past (I tried to take that one right up to the top, but was given the brush-off). But I think as the organization grows more diverse, perhaps that will change and the overall tone of the upper echelons will acclimate away from “Bible Belt” to “multicultural”.

  • This is so heartbreaking. I don’t know how anyone could read this and not weep. It’s beautiful, though, in a way. In a really, really, really heart-wrenching way.

  • all i can do is cry…you have a gift. please continue sharing it with those in need.

  • sunlit_mists says:

    Thank you, for being who you are, and for sharing this.

  • ppplmgwiw says:

    Oh God, Heather, there’s nothing to say after this.

  • _evalution says:

    oh my god, this just breaks my heart. i’m crying so hard i can scarcely see the screen.

    it’s just not fair.

  • skyrose says:

    I am having a hard time even putting words together through my tears. That was so heartbreaking and so beautiful.

    I feel the need to thank you for being there for them. I second what says. The world needs more people like you.

    *hugs to you and your family… and to Baby Delilah and her family*

  • snowbunny says:

    This world needs more people like you..

  • jenrose1 says:

    So very sad. And powerful.

  • altarflame says:

    I really thought I would make it through this without crying…*sigh*

  • This broke my heart.

    Hugs to you and the family of little baby Delilah. <3

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