Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep captures last moments of still-borns for parents

By Brooke Thibodaux |Friday, May 6th 2016| WCHS-TV News

CHARLESTON, WV (WCHS/WVAH) — No parent plans to lose their child, but for some their worst fear becomes a reality. One nonprofit organization, named after a classic bed time prayer, is helping parents capture moments they can never get back. Eyewitness News shares the story of the Johns family.

Erica and John Johns were ecstatic to welcome their baby girl Harmony into the world, a first pregnancy for Erica. She said it went as smoothly as pregnancy can, but that all changed.

“It wasn’t until I gave birth, and she didn’t cry. We immediately knew that something was wrong,” Erica said.

Harmony was unable to breathe. her trachea had not developed.

“She was a fine healthy baby, until they cut the cord and she needed to breathe on her own . Unfortunately, she could not do that,” Erica said.

The Johns said they both felt numb. They said it was hard to take in the loss of their baby girl. One year later it still is.

“Grieving your child isn’t something that you’re going to get over,” Erica said. “Don’t plan to get over it; you’re going to be changed forever. The day before I gave birth and the day after I’m totally different and I’ll be different forever.”

But there was a way for the Johns to remember Harmony forever. A nurse asked the couple if they wanted professional pictures of Harmony. They immediately said yes.

“At the time, I didn’t think about it being odd because I wasn’t thinking. All I knew is she was my baby and I wanted pictures, ” Erica said.

Despite the late hour, a volunteer with Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep walked into their hospital room and took pictures. The organization is a nonprofit that takes pictures of still born babies and those who aren’t going to make it. It never charges parents for the photography.

“I’m really glad. I’m ecstatic that I got the pictures because like she mentioned it’s one thing that we’re going to hold on to and cherish forever, and it’s something over the years we can look back on,” John said.

Stacey Vallarta is the area coordinator for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep and a volunteer who helps couples just like the Johns.

“People learn to trust you. I’m not a medical person. I don’t give out medical advice. I can talk to people,” Vallarta said.

Vallarta said she can handle the difficult situations. She is also a funeral director.

“I’m the person that says it’s OK. It’s OK to be mad. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to curse up a storm. It’s OK to not respond, however, you have to do to get through it, it’s OK,” Vallarta said.

Vallarta sees grieving while Erica and John lived it.

“Grief is definitely a process. It’s not a condition. It’s not a disease. There’s no set forth you do a, b, c and you’re over it. Grief hits each and every person differently,” Vallarta said.

Erica and Vallarta said society pressures women not to grieve and move on quickly. It’s a topic that remains hushed.

“Because nobody knows what’s appropriate when your baby dies, that’s not normal. There is nothing normal about your baby dying, so you don’t know. Should I hold the baby, should I bathe the baby? Should I take pictures of the baby? These aren’t things you sit down and talk about with your friends. You don’t prepare for that moment,” Erica said.

Both women want to see that norm change.

“I want other men and other women to know that it’s healthy to grieve. You’re supposed to grieve. You’re not supposed to just pack up their belongings, pack up their nursery and put it away. It’s good to have pictures, It’s good to have memories. It’s good to have those happy times and those hopes and dreams because you’re never going to grieve, you’re never going to be healthy until you actually accept it,” Erica said.

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is that change. The concept may sound odd, but for mothers it’s the start to a lifelong journey of accepting grief.

“Afterward, whenever I got the pictures, I thought, should I share them with people? Is that weird? Is that appropriate? Is that normal? I’m kind of one of these people that I’m going to do what I feel is best for me if you don’t like it that’s fine, but I’m going to do me. And so I started sharing with people. I was proud of her. I wanted to show her off and she’s beautiful and I think that actually opened the door for a lot of other women,” Erica said.

Vallarta said someone who has experienced a loss of a child needs compassion and kindness, not to be fixed.

“I have pictures of every moment of my child’s life. Why shouldn’t every other mother?” Vallarta said.

Vallarta said the group needs volunteers in many capacities in many areas. There are only two volunteers in the entire state. To contact Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep head to this website.

Watch the video at WCHS-TV News.