now I lay me down to sleep

I went directly from the doctor’s office to the funeral.

Holding my breath, I lay on the table while my doctor moved the electronic stethoscope across my belly. Nothing. Nothing. And then… tip, tip, tap, tip tip tap… the steady rapid heartbeat of baby Ben. He was real! Stay there baby, stay and grow, I prayed. Choked with tears, I thanked the doctor and pulled on my yellow dress.

My parents met Erik and I in the parking lot and we joined the long snaking line for the viewing. Little Mitchell was just 5 years old, the baby of the family. Giggling and wrestling with his friends he fell from a hay ride at a church party and was run over by the massive tractor wheels.

The mothers in the vicinity screamed, “A doctor, we need a doctor.” Scott ran to help and found his own critically injured son– Mitchell died in his arms a few moments

As the line entered the building we passed posters covered with Mitchell’s smiling face– newborns photos, crawling, walking, riding his trike, grinning out from under his favorite red baseball cap. Tears streamed from every face, but I was shaking and sobbing, soaking through my dad’s everpresent handkerchiefs and wiping my face on Erik’s sleeve. This was the risk of parenthood– to love a child body and soul and then to lose him.

Reaching Mitchell’s parents, they began to comfort me as people at funerals often do, “We’re going to be all right. We know we’ll see our boy again.”

But as Scott looked behind me and saw my father, he too began to shake and sob. The two men embraced and wept with their whole souls. Over and over Scott repeated, “You know how you love your children. You know how you love your children.”

Many times since(too many times), I’ve watched my friends bury their children. A bit of my own heart breaks with them. Always, always, I’ve been aware of the fragility of life.

Last year, I wrote about baby Britton, his incredible parents and his profound impact on my family. We took hundreds of beautiful, priceless photos documenting his sweet short life. Later, when Zalia was healing we dreamt of forming an organization that would photograph babies in critical condition so that every parent would have the comfort of beautiful photos, of proof that baby existed.

Thankfully, someone else formed Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep(NILMDTS) and incredible non-profit that gifts professional photography to families of still-born and critically ill newborns.

On President’s Day I went to an all-day training session for NILMDTS. I couldn’t have been more excited, my portfolio had just been accepted for membership– this is why I built a website(they require one), this is why I became a photographer! But the training was difficult, sobering— most babies are not beautifully pink and perfect like baby Britton, some situations are toxic and even involve police. We went through list after list of privacy issues and legal ramifications.

So, I’m scared.

But I’m also looking forward to my first photo session at the hospital– because I truly believe that grief can be cut into bits and parceled out. My friend Pam told me of of standing on her front porch just days after her baby boy died of SIDS. She said she could literally feel the love and prayers and concern of her neighbors wash over her. “Every person who cries with me,” she confided, “takes away a piece of my pain.”

So please, don’t think I’m attempting any self-aggrandizement with this new pursuit. It’s truly a completely selfish venture– my own type of insurance policy that maybe if I help others grieve, maybe if I swallow tiny fragments of others aching, I will never have to taste the white hot agony of burying my own children.

Please Lord, bless us all.

March 9, 2009



  1. Azúcar

    March 5, 2009

    I guess I’m taking away pain right now.

  2. m_and_m

    March 5, 2009

    Whoa, friend. You are brave. What a beautiful service to offer.

    But whoa. Heavy stuff.

  3. Brooke and Dustin Jackson

    March 5, 2009

    I have been wanting to donate my talent to NILMDTS for over a year now. It’s something I really want to do! Something I just need to do.

    My question, is how do I get started up? Is it too late??? I would love any information you might have.

    I have half started on the application process online, and have been approved, but then I get a little lost from there… I don’t know.. I need help!

    I am a friend of Andrea Reid by the way.. I love to blurke your blog!!

  4. Annie

    March 5, 2009

    You are so well suited to this Michelle, with your good heart and great talent. Bless you, bless those you’ll see.

  5. dalene

    March 5, 2009

    Two of the most hearwrenching moments I have seared in my memory are holding grief-stricken friends after the deaths of their children. There are no words.

    Good luck today–I’ll be thinking of you.

  6. Linn

    March 5, 2009

    I need to learn that nine times out of ten, when I read your blog, I am going to cry. I can’t think of anyone that will do a more amazing job. What an incredible gift to these parents. You are amazing my friend. I’ll be thinking of you…

  7. Michelle

    March 5, 2009

    I love my blog friends– Brooke, call your area coordinator, they’ll have you shadow someone the first few times and I really recommend the training– there were so many issues I’d never thought of.

  8. tjhirst

    March 5, 2009

    I had never heard of this and I admire your finding and using your creative talents to bless someone else in such a way. I can imagine it take a lot from you to serve like this. May you always have the spiritual reserves to give.

  9. Carrigan Clan

    March 5, 2009

    My cousin’s baby died of SIDS. I can’t tell you how much they cherish the precious photos of their son. What an incredible thing! You are such a fantastic photographer and will offer peace to so many parents.

    It was so fun to see you and your adorable kids yesterday. MMMM chocolate. 🙂

  10. martha corinna

    March 5, 2009

    You are beautiful Michelle.

  11. Christie

    March 5, 2009

    If ever there was a photographer capable of capturing the beauty of a tiny, frail life, it is you, my friend. Good luck on the work ahead.

  12. Michelle Tall-Vilensky

    March 5, 2009

    Just the other day I saw or read something about NILMDTS. It brought me to tears as did your post, Michelle.
    My son is turning 1 this Sunday, March 8th.
    I can’t even bear the thought of what if…
    I admire your huge heart and the way you choose to share your talents. I look forward to hearing how this goes for you.

  13. Jeanelle

    March 5, 2009

    What a wonderful way to give — you amaze me!!!

  14. m_and_m

    March 5, 2009

    btw, you will be great because of your sensitive heart.

  15. jennie w.

    March 5, 2009

    Good for you Michelle. I wish I’d had pictures of my baby boy. All I have are little hand prints and foot prints. Better than nothing, but still.

    He was purple and probably looked awful now that I think back. But to me he was the most beautiful baby in the world.

  16. duchess

    March 6, 2009

    How sweet of you to do this. I’m sure it’s going to be difficult but I’ve heard that it helps the families out tremendously.


    March 6, 2009

    Hi Michelle,

    I’m so happy for the families you’ll be helping! Please remember to take good care of you, too. =)

    Love ya!

  18. Crystal

    March 6, 2009

    Hey Michelle when you have 43 minutes and 16 seconds to spare you should check this out….

  19. Crystal

    March 6, 2009

    Oh sorry I forgot to tell you it’s episode 16 “The Augustin Family”

  20. Kelly

    March 8, 2009

    Michelle…I’m going for my class on the 26th! I’ve gotten two calls from the local hospitals and have not been able to make it to either due to family issues on my end.

    I will tell you this, when the call comes, your heart stops, your palms get sweaty and your emotions begin! I haven’t even done a session yet….but I’m ready to help the moms and dads who need this from me!


  21. Dave's World

    March 8, 2009

    This is one of the neatest things I have ever heard of. Every child is beautiful and for you to have the opportunity to capture that has got to be a life changing experience. Good luck

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