Be The Change : Labor of love – Volunteer NICU photographer focuses on tiny, most vulnerable babies
Like most parents of a premature baby, Erin Cox suddenly found herself in a whirl of doctors, machines and incubators when her daughter came into the world.
Evalee was born two months early, not long after Cox’s water broke without any warning 30 weeks into her pregnancy. When the baby was delivered via Cesarean section at a Kansas City hospital last June, she weighed just 4 pounds.
“She was very tiny. I mean, you walk around in the beginning holding her and it’s like holding a bag of cotton balls,” Cox, 33, told TODAY Moms.
“When you go back and look at the pictures, it’s like, oh, my gosh. What a journey. How amazing is this that she was that little and that she had to be so strong.”
The pictures, tender portraits taken during Evalee’s three-week stay in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, came courtesy of Jessica Strom, a Kansas City photographer who has made it her mission to provide free photo sessions to local families of preemies.
Various organizations have started similar efforts in recent years, including Preemie Prints, a Texas nonprofit that has about 60 volunteer NICU photographers in more than a dozen states, and Capturing Hopes Photography, which has 21 volunteers in Winston Salem, N.C. Most NICUs allow photography as long as no flash is used, said Sherri Crum, assistant director of Preemie Prints.
It’s a service that may touch many families: One out of every eight babies is born prematurely in the U.S., according to the CDC. The agency doesn’t track how many are admitted to the NICU.
Strom, who makes a living taking maternity, birth, and newborn photos, said it’s her way to give back to families who must leave their babies in the care of the NICU, which veterans like Cox simply refer to as “Nick-U.”
Strom calls the tiny patients warriors.
“It’s an amazing experience to be able to see what these little babies have to go through,” Strom said. “It’s awe-inspiring. The human body is just so amazing.”
“By the time I see them, they’re stable and they’ve already come so far from where they started… it’s just a really exciting time and I think the parents are relieved to be somewhat normal.”
That chance to be “normal” is as precious as the images themselves for the parents, who watch other couples take their babies home right away. Strom knows the pictures she takes allow these weary moms and dads to show off baby photos just like everybody else and give them a break from the day-to-day hospital routine.