Volunteer photographers help SC families grieve lost infants

It is the hardest thing a parent could have to deal with, losing a child. For one South Carolina family, their baby, Mina, only lived for 11 days. It is almost impossible to cope with that type of grief, but thanks to one local nonprofit Mina’s parents found a way to help their family through the process.
Cristina Rateb, Mina’s mother, says, “It’s just so painful and you grieve so much for what you don’t know would’ve happened, and you don’t know this potential that was lost in a life.”
Rateb was pregnant with twins, Mina and Moe. She knew early on that baby Mina had a heart defect, but it wasn’t until she was born that doctors knew the extent.
She says, “Her heart defect was so bad, that doing surgery was not really an option for us. So we kind of knew that going in that that could be one of our options.”
She knew Mina’s life would be much too short and needed a way to preserve her memory for the whole family.
Rateb says, “Moe is going to be separated from his twin for the rest of his life. And so I never wanted for him not to know that there was two.”
So she called a group called “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”. It’s a nation-wide nonprofit made up of volunteer photographers. They come to the hospital to take family photos of stillborn and terminally ill infants.
Photographer Laura Stribling says, “These are one-of-a-kind photos that we don’t get a second chance to do, and it’s very important that we can help as many people as possible.”
Laura Stribling usually spends her days photographing families during happier times, but donating a few hours to these hospital-bound infants is a different kind of reward.
She says, “When someone goes through a really hard time, a tragedy, we all say that we want to do something, we want to help, let us know how we can help. And I specifically know how I can help and that is a huge gift to be able to walk into someone’s darkest hour and do something for them that physically helps them go thru the grieving process, to remember their child and recognize the life that they had.”
There are only three photographers in the Lowcountry who volunteer for the program, but with a prominent children’s hospital like MUSC nearby, there sometimes aren’t enough photographers to meet the demand.Stribling says, “I would love to see 10 new volunteers, especially since it is hard and when you do them back to back it can be very draining.”
She says that’s often what holds people back, the feat they can’t handle photographing a family at such a sensitive time.
Stribling says, “It is sad, but when I’m actually in the room I’m so focused on doing a good job that I really think about the sadness later. We tell new volunteers it’s okay to cry with the families. A lot of people are afraid of crying, but that’s a very realistic thing to do with the family.”
In the end, the gift the families are getting is so much bigger than a few tears.Rateb says, “Those family photos were important to help remember that we are a family of five, even though we’re missing one. Because every photo from here on out is going to be missing one.”
For more information about how to volunteer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, click here.