Six years after the death of her baby daughter Daisy, Helen Grimshaw’s memories of holding her girl are starting to fade.
“I really regret not having taken pictures of her at the time,” she said. “I have one photo which I treasure but don’t like, because it is not a good picture.”
The bereaved mother today tells her story as medical staff at Blackpool Victoria Hospital undertake a more unusual training course – in taking meaningful but unobtrusive pictures of babies who have died before or shortly after birth.
This practice is being used more and more to ensure grieving families have access to lasting memories of their child.
Helen, who is now the chairman of Blackpool and Preston SANDS, the stillbirth and neonatal deaths charity, added: “Had a midwife encouraged me to take pictures and have them stored at the hospital, I would have been back for them, I would have had photo memories to keep.”
Now SANDS, along with Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is training staff to offer a photographic opportunity to all bereaved families. They have organised for Gifts of Remembrance, baby bereavement photographic specialists, to train midwives and neonatal nurses to take meaningful pictures which families can treasure.
The hospital’s bereavement specialist nurse, Megan Murray, said: “It is important the work that bereavement nurses do does not stand still.
“We need to look at how we can continually improve the service we supply to our patients.
“At the time of bereavement some parents understandably don’t want to take photos of their baby, but we try to encourage them to do so because they will not get a second chance.
“If parents do not want to take the pictures home we will store them until such time as they would like to collect them.
“SANDS give us an SD memory card for each family so parents can use this and keep it in a memory box.
“It is about acknowledging that this has happened.
“Everyone has photographs of their babies, but these parents only have one chance to get these images and it’s important to get the best pictures possible.”
The course, funded from donations raised by bereaved families, is now fully booked with midwives and neonatal nurses from Blackpool, Preston, Burnley and Lancaster enrolling.
And there is already a waiting list for future courses.
These are run by Rachel Hayden, a mother who started Gifts of Remembrance after losing one of her triplets.
“Bereaved parents have such a short time with their babies that that time is incredibly precious,” she said.
“But photographs can capture those precious moments and, in time, can help families through the healing process.”
Gifts of Remembrance provides training, information and support for bereavement photography with an emphasis of empowering parents and supporting them to be engaged in the process.
“I lost my son Rowan who was one of triplets,” said Rachel. “The two girls were on the neonatal unit for some time and I got to know the staff very well.
“The care I and the girls received was excellent but I wanted them to improve the bereavement photography.
“I wanted to use the prayer which starts ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ at Rowan’s memorial service and I Googled the words to find the verse.
“That is when I came across an American photographic charity that led me to the incredible work of American documentary photographer Todd Hochberg who specialised in taking pictures for bereaved families.
“I funded Todd to train midwife and neonatal staff in Leicester where I lived and Todd also trained me six years ago so I could be a volunteer bereavement photographer at the hospital.”
After the success of Rachel’s work in Leicester she decided to roll it out nationally.
The cameras used have no flash and make no noise so the pictures are as unobtrusive as possible.
“I set up Gifts of Remembrance as a non-profit organisation, funded by SANDS,” Rachel added.
“It is important for midwives and neonatal nurses to know how to take the photos as they are the ones that are there and they have the relationship with the family.
“It is about empowering parents and staff – we tackle all the ‘yes, but’ questions.”