© Remember My Baby
Mark Shepherd, Remember My Baby Photographer
I have been a volunteer photographer with Remember My Baby for just under a year and it is without doubt the most significant work that I do. I am an architectural surveyor, not a professional photographer, but have been a serious hobbyist for about 30 years.
I am a bereaved parent, my wife and I have lost two boys, Christian and James. The first loss was 17 years ago and up till recently I was still struggling with the grief. At the time I couldn’t find any help and struggled with having to go back to work almost straight after the loss. As a result, a few years ago I decided to become involved in helping bereaved parents, especially dads, and that led to me becoming a volunteer with the neonatal charity, SANDS. That led to a suggestion that I apply to volunteer with Remember My Baby and it has been life changing.
My wife and I have a couple of polaroid photos of our first son which were taken by a midwife. In those days we didn’t have cameras on phones and so we didn’t take any photos of our own. The midwife had made an effort to try and make the photos special but unfortunately, they are poorly exposed snapshots which, even now are difficult to enjoy because they look so grim. As for our second son, James, we were promised photos by the midwife but were then informed that they hadn’t been taken after he had been taken away from us. The only memory we have of James is him being in a basket on the bed with us for about an hour. In both situations we were so confused anyway that we weren’t in a position to make any sensible decisions about something like photographs.
These personal experiences will always be a driver for me in doing everything I can to capture images for parents and to lock in memories of the babies that they have had such a short time with. It’s sometimes said of stillborn babies that we meet them but never know them, my experiences of dealing with bereaved parents is that so often the parents do instinctively know their children who they have only met for a moment. It’s an instinct that seems to go beyond simply imposing an imagined life on a child and I believe that photos that our photographers take help hugely in allowing parents to connect with their children for a lifetime.
A person who loses a spouse is called a widow or widower, a child who loses a parent is an orphan; these are words which we use to describe people who have suffered unusual and life-changing bereavement. But we have no word in our language which describes a parent who loses a child and for the rest of their life carries the burden of that loss. Our photos that we gift to these parents are a recognition of them and of their babies in a world that might never understand the breadth of extraordinary grief that they have had to endure.
As a photographer, I have the privilege of meeting their baby, something that only a few other people will ever do. Often family members will refuse to see a still born baby, and as a result, I feel bonded to every set of parents that I meet having shared the experience with them.
Being a volunteer photographer has helped with my own healing more than I could have imagined. For the first time in 17 years I went back to the maternity ward where my Christian was born, something I hadn’t even thought about until I walked through the doors and recognised where I was. I would cry in the corridor after every photo session, but it felt positive. Now the tears are less frequent, not because I care less, but because a healing process is slowly underway. Every time I walk through the doors of a hospital on the way to a session, I feel the gravity of the situation and realise the responsibility of capturing the precious memories. Photography of any kind leaves a legacy which will endure longer than the life of the photographer, with remembrance photography that sense seems so much greater.