I'm excited to announce the launch of the Cammie Jane's Gift program here in Atlanta for NICU families. I don't want any babies to be born early, but when they are, I want to help in some small way - by providing free NICU sessions for them.
For a while now, I have been thinking about ways to give back using my time and talents, and the idea came to me to offer free sessions to families with babies in the NICU. I was inspired by other photographers in the midwest offering this service in their communities (Morgan Lang & Jessica Strom). My dear friend, Kayla Smith of Pure Light Photography donated her time and talent to create the logo for the program.
I belong to some amazing online communities, one of which is my December 2011 Mom's Group. All of us have become close over the past couple of years and we have seen each other through both happy and tough times. All of the members had babies due in December of 2011, and one of these babies came very, very early. I asked her mom for insight on photography in the NICU and whether it would be something NICU families would even be interested in. Then I asked her if I could name this program in honor of her amazing little girl: and that's how Cammie Jane's Gift was born. Megan was kind enough to write her story and share her photos, so without further ado, here she is!
My name is Megan Brunner, and I am the very proud mom of my amazing micro-preemie, Cameron. Cammie Jane, as we like to call her, was born over 3 months before my due date. Here is our story.
In April of 2011, my husband, Josh, and I found out we were expecting our first child. I started meticulously planning out every detail of my pregnancy and my future life with my baby. Over the summer we found out we were having a girl, and I started putting together her nursery and her future wardrobe and I even booked maternity and newborn photography sessions. Everything was going well and the baby was perfectly healthy, but unfortunately in mid-August, when I was only 21 weeks pregnant, things took a major turn for the worse. I started having regular contractions and although my cervix was still closed at the time, it had shortened down to almost nothing, past the point of any possible intervention. Dilation and true labor were on the horizon and we found ourselves in an agonizing waiting game. I was 21 weeks pregnant, and fetal viability would not come until 24 weeks, 23 weeks at best.
I was placed on hospital bed rest for the duration of my pregnancy and both the baby and I were under constant monitoring. We had heartbreaking conversations with her future neonatologists about what we would do if I gave birth before 24 weeks. Fortunately, the next few weeks marched on quietly, and I found my little girl reaching the ever-comforting age of viability. However, at 24 weeks on the dot, we discovered that I was now 2 centimeters dilated. I was given two doses of intramuscular betamethasone, or what most people know as steroid shots. Research shows these shots help develop the baby’s lungs, among other fetal benefits. Labor seemed imminent and we were doing everything possible to increase Cameron’s chances of survival. Another two weeks passed before, finally, on the night of Friday, September 23rd, right after I hit 26 weeks, the constant contractions that I had been experiencing for five weeks turned into active labor. I labored throughout the night and into the morning, heavily medicated with tocolytic (anti-contraction and labor represesant) drugs, Procardia and IV magnesium sulfate. Labor intensified despite every effort, and by the afternoon my doctor announced after a final cervical check that we had reached the point of no return. She brought in an ultrasound machine to determine the baby’s position and due to breech presentation called for an emergency c-section.
Cameron Jane was born at 1:46 PM on Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 26 weeks, 2 days gestation. She was 2 pounds, 2 ounces, measuring 13.5 inches long. Unfortunately she did not come out crying or even attempting to take any breaths, so resuscitation started immediately in the delivery room. After they finished all of the necessary interventions and she stabilized they rolled her isolette over to me while the surgeons were finishing my procedure. She was tiny but oh so incredibly beautiful. As with any mother meeting their new baby, time seemed to stop when I laid eyes on her. I truly and honestly didn’t see that she was intubated, I didn’t see her umbilical lines, or all the tubes and probes, I literally saw two pounds of perfection. In the face of all the fear and trauma surrounding Cameron’s birth, that moment will never lose its beauty.
But it was just the beginning of a long and difficult journey. For months I was overwhelmed with grief and heartache. Many days I walked out of the NICU in tears, crying the whole drive home and crying myself to sleep that night, only to wake up in the same nightmare to do it all over again the next day. Sometimes I thought I couldn’t bear another second, but there were no other options. Mentally and emotionally I was so far past my limit but I had to stay strong while Cameron soldiered on. And she did just that with unbelievable ease. She spent her days fighting for life, and I spent mine pumping the milk that I wanted so badly to give her. The hurdles felt never-ending, and there are too many to really count, but after enduring the trials of respiratory distress syndrome, pulmonary edema, congestive heart failure, retinopathy, and chronic apnea, to name a few, Cameron beat it all and came home, turning our darkest days bright. She spent 82 of the longest days in the NICU, and the day we took her home was hands down the best day of my life. Due December 29th, and born on September 24th, she left the NICU on December 14, 2011, just in time for Christmas. Definitely the best Christmas gift I'll ever receive!
Two and a half years later, she is the picture of health. She assimilated into her new world very well and really became a perfectly developmentally normal child. Every doctor and other medical professional that has followed her since the early days is in awe. She is my own little miracle and my very own hero. Today she loves coloring, talking your ear off, anything Disney, and spending time with friends and family. She has a wonderfully spunky, bossy, but shy, and laid back personality that I just adore. I can honestly say that this journey, in spite of all the hurt surrounding it, has been one of the most incredible journeys I could have ever dreamed up. Cameron has been an inspiration to so many and has given people strength and hope, and without even knowing that she has done anything spectacular at all.
Ever since her homecoming, I have loved to photograph and document her days through personal blogging, social media outlets, and photobooks. It is always a joy to me to look back on the past months and years of her life. When she was in the NICU, however, the massive emotional and financial burden that I was experiencing forced the idea of photography into the far back of my mind, professional or otherwise. The door was clearly shut for the maternity session I had booked, and I cancelled the newborn session as well. In my constant state of heartache, I had no idea that in the future I would fondly look back on so much of that experience. In the thick of things it is almost impossible to predict how one day you will see such joy and beauty in the journey. Your days become consumed with thoughts and questions about whether or not today will be the day that you say goodbye to your child. And of course, there is seldom money to be found for photography when you are up to your eyeballs in medical bills. The limited photography I do have was all done with my phone, so needless to say the quality is poor and it just does not do the experience justice. Now I sometimes think about the unique opportunities I had to have someone photograph kangaroo care with Cameron, nursing her for the first time, or even the day of her homecoming. I often feel like I’m forgetting how tiny she was, how fragile her skin was, or how soft her hair looked, and in hindsight I am sorely missing those photographs. I was very happy to hear about Lauren's desire to create this program, named after my daughter, and my hope is that Cammie Jane’s Gift is able to benefit NICU families in the future.
Lily Sophia Photography specializes in newborn, baby, maternity, and birth photography in Atlanta, Georgia and surrounding areas.