It's been over nine years since Shawn and Clayton were born. Somedays it seems like yesterday, but on most days, my memories unfortunately grow more distant and random. And while the details of our stay in the NICU have grown fuzzy, the love and support we received from family, friends, and even strangers is still fresh in my mind. At times I am moved to tears when I recall the lengths people went to in order to help us survive the first year of Clayton's life.
I've always known that I wanted to reach out to other parents who find themselves unexpectedly in the NICU instead of enjoying a healthy baby at home. How and when that would happen was not so clear. Before now, I simply wasn't ready. As recent as three years ago, if I would hear about an acquaintance with a hospitalized child, my heart went out to them, but I avoided embracing the common ground I had with them. I didn't want to live in those memories at the time. Not to mention I just plain get tired of discussing medical issues with people! But alas, God brought me full circle when a friend of mine recently gave birth to a preemie at 24 weeks gestation.
When her baby girl was born and began fighting for her life, I grieved for my friend (and maybe again for myself anew). To know that her family would have to face the struggles we faced was an overwhelming thought. Although I grieved, I also had this resolute feeling inside me: IT'S TIME TO PAY IT FORWARD. All the prayers, gifts of resources, gifts of time, and simple kindnesses that had been done on our behalf could never be repaid to the doers of those deeds, but I can pass on those kindnesses to others who find themselves immersed in the NICU life.
And so, I paid it forward. I visited the hospital last week to take photos of my friend, her husband, and their precious baby girl. I had my game face on, but I still broke when I stepped foot in Pod 7 where Clayton was discharged from. Yes, it was hard. But it wasn't near as hard as my friend has it now as she leaves her baby in the care of others each night. If she can do that, then I can certainly hold back my own memories long enough to get to know her baby and photograph her family.
With that, it begins. Now that I've proven to myself that I can handle being in that environment, I will continue to reach out to other NICU parents and offer the gift of professional photography (something I would have loved to have had as a NICU parent!). I trust that God will lead me to other families who need the voice and eye of someone who has been in their shoes.