It’s a typical Thursday evening, as Megan Wilkinson begins to prepare dinner for her family of four: grilled cheese and pesto sandwiches. Then she receives the call from the hospital. Dinner plans change. (Dad takes over: tomato soup from the can.) Megan loads up her black bag, hops into her seafoam-green minivan, and turns down John Jones Road, on her way to Sutter Davis Hospital. Another baby has died: A stillborn.
In addition to running a successful wedding and portrait photography business in Davis, Wilkinson is also an active volunteer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a non-profit organization that provides bereavement photography for families who experience the loss of a newborn.
“These might be the only photographs the family will have of their child,” says Wilkinson. For parents who have waited nine months for a baby, only to come home from the hospital empty-handed, to an empty crib, the loss can be unbearable. Wilkinson, and the other volunteers at NILMDTS, have found a way to help give the grieving families something tangible to hold on to, despite the absence of a child.
“The gift of infant remembrance photography is so pivotal in the healing process as it helps remind parents of the unbroken bond between parent and child,” says Tiffany Storrs, Media Relations Liaison at NILMDTS. “The portraits prove that their precious baby did exist. The portraits essentially preserve everlasting memories that families can physically hold on to forever.”
As one of several coordinators in the Northern California region, Wilkinson works mostly with families from Sutter Davis and Kaiser Vallejo Hospitals. When a loss occurs, the nurse on duty goes on the NILMDTS website and finds the coordinator in the area.
“The nurse will contact me and I will do the sitting or, if I am unavailable, I will contact another member of the organization to take the photos.” As a volunteer photographer, Wilkinson meets with the family, takes pictures and retouches them, then provides the family with a disk of images, at no cost.
“It’s like taking pictures of a little sleeping newborn,” she explains. “And it helps the families. A lot of times people remember things much worse than they really were. And even if the family never looks at the pictures, if they put them away in an envelope and never look at them again, they will always have the images if they want to see them later. And it may be a comfort to them.”
The work impacts the photographers as much as the grieving families. “The gifts we provide to our families are mutually beneficial,” says Storrs. Our staff and volunteers constantly remark that their work for NIILMDTS reminds them to not take anything for granted; life is fragile and often short. We need to count our blessings every day.”
According to Nina Gatewood, owner of Nina & Tom, a children’s clothing boutique in downtown Davis, Wilkinson channels this same passion into her commercial work. “She is extremely talented, has such an eye, and is so enthusiastic about her work. It comes through in her photos,” says Gatewood. “They are so happy, joyful, and light, just like Megan is. It’s nice to see her personality come out in her photographs.”
Barbara Silver, co-owner of Sweet Potato Pie, a children’s clothing boutique that opened in Woodland last September, agrees.
“Her pictures make you feel like you’re delving into someone’s soul,” says Silver.”You get the whole person.”
Perhaps capturing images that simultaneously celebrate life and revere death, has given Wilkinson the ability to catch a glimpse of what artists have been trying for years to capture: light, love, raw emotion, and the very essence of soul.
“I always liked photography and wanted to try it, but it terrified me somehow,” says Wilkinson, who studied archeology before turning to her present career in photography. Now, four years, and thousands of shutter snaps later, it seems the reality of her talent might be sinking in.
“Hey,” she says between sips of her lukewarm chai tea latte, “I’m actually kind of good at this.”
For information about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, please go to their website: http://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/
For more information about Megan Wilkinson, please visit her website: http://www.meganwilkinsonphotography.com