Interview with Sandy Puc, Founder of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS)

June 17, 2016

On Tuesday morning, I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with one of the Founders of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, Sandy Puc. I was humbled that she would take the time for us, but I’m so glad she did. There is some hearty advice, touching stories and ways to get involved in her interview. I hope you have a moment to read her responses.

The story of how this organization began is absolutely breathtaking.

I would love to know when and how Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep got started?

In 2005 we received a call at my studio. We have portrait displays in most of the area hospitals that show traditional mothers/fathers and babies. We received a phone call from a distraught father whose baby had a condition that was terminal, and was going to be removed from life support. (Parents are Cheryl and Mike Haggard)

We said yes to this, although we didn’t normally do sessions like this, but he obviously really wanted this to happen so we set up an appointment that evening to come in and do the session. When we got there the son was covered in tubes and wires. The father requested that we take pictures of him with the tubes and wires, while he was alive, but also asked if we consider waiting until their son passed away. Cheryl, the baby’s mother really wanted to get some pictures of her holding him, touching him without all the tubes and wires. Of course, I was a little overwhelmed. I would have never imagined doing something like that, but I knew that this was something very important to her and that it would help her in her healing process. We did in fact do a session with Baby Maddox for about 45 minutes while he was alive, photographing his hands, his fingers his toes and everything we could show. We stepped out of the room, and they removed him off life support. About 45 minutes later we were able to come back and photograph him after he passed away. Really those were the images that were the most beautiful, in the sense that he looked just like a beautiful little naked baby. Cheryl really had the chance to touch him kiss him, hold him and be close to him.

After we left the hospital, Cheryl contacted me very quickly – within hours, asking when she could get the portraits. I could sense this sense of desperation, that having lost a child she really just wanted to have something, anything to hold on to. We got together and created a beautiful slideshow. When she saw the slideshow she was overwhelmed. It was an incredible experience to know that we were able to provide her with these images that were of professional quality, that she could be proud to show people. She and I started talking and from my perspective I felt like it was so sad that so many people did not get this opportunity, and she felt the same way. She knew that while she was in the hospital there were other babies that were passing away and not getting this type of opportunity.

It was one of those imagine if” situations, and we decided to follow through.

After deciding on the name, we started a grassroots effort right there in Colorado, with myself, Cheryl and two other employees – creating brochures and pamphlets, and dropping them off at hospitals. Right there in Denver is where we started the creation of the organization.

How did you and Cheryl decide on the name “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep”?

We named the organization after the childrens’ verse, a verse Cheryl had used on the passing announcement the she sent out when her son was born. The moment Cheryl shared her idea for the name, I knew that was definitely it.

Photo permission given by Tara Finney / Photo credit – NILMDTS Photographer, Lisa Mac

Were your friends and family supportive of your idea?

One of the first reactions that we really sense was “Oh my gosh, why would people want that?” or “That’s morbid.”

Their reactions were very mixed. We would even have nurses and professionals saying these things, while some people would completely and totally understand. We learned very quickly that unless you’ve been through the experience, you’ll never understand how powerful those images are. When you have a child for only a few minutes or a few hours you just can’t imagine a single image, let alone series of beautiful, professional images. At first we were hit with a lot of distaste, which was very disheartening, especially for Cheryl. It was interesting though, because as soon as we started providing the work, the nurses were a little protective, thinking we were trying to take advantage of grieving families. Once they realized this was a gift, and that these were all volunteers, we went from being questioned to being called angels.

We hear things now all the time from nurses like ,”You have no idea how much you help these families”.

Once the word got out that this was a gift, it became a powerful tool. In fact, I don’t really ever hear the things I used to about it being morbid. I think people have become more accepting of the concept and I think we’ve really helped educate people on the loss of a child, especially an infant.

Photo permission given by Tara Finney / Photo credit – NILMDTS Photographer, Lisa Mac

Do you feel like the exposure you received with the Duggar family helped people warm up to the work you are doing even more?

With the Duggar family, it was a little bit touchy because the baby was so young. Personally, I believe a baby is a baby from conception, but some people felt like the baby was too young, but to the Duggars’ it was their child. Regardless of how other people feel, they were celebrating their child, and the loss of the child, and whether they were wanting to share that with their family and their fan base I think every family has to decide what is appropriate for them. I do appreciate that they helped create an awareness. For some people it was a negative, for some people it was an incredibly positive thing. And either way, I feel like any exposure – if you open peoples’ minds, even if they don’t react the way you want them to – at least they know it exists.

What has been your professional experience before NILMDTS, and how has it affected the rapid growth you’ve seen in seven years?

I am a professional photographer and own a studio in Colorado. We also have a very large touring company to teach photography. I do to major tours in the United States, and travel to about a hundred cities a year in the United States via tour bus, I also do Asia and Europe as well. We travel all over the world and teach all types and different aspects of photography. I have a studio that I work at for six months out of the year, and I travel about six months out of the year. So it’s really the combination of being a professional photographer, so that I have that respect in the community, as well as being an instructor that I’m able to get the message out there on a very broad scope. I had been teaching for eight or nine years before this happened and I feel like by the time this happened, I had this incredibly huge audience, and that because I had that huge audience we were able to make it go worldwide.

Did you ever dream NILMDTS would be where it is today?

You know, actually the funny thing is, we did – right out of the gate. I didn’t realize how fast it would grow, but I knew in my heart that this was something that had to happen and I felt very convicted once I started working with a few other families, and realizing we were changing peoples’ lives.

People will often tell us those pictures are their most prized possessions that they have, and that they would run into a burning building for them.

From the first few families whom we served, I felt so empowered every time we got a new photographer. I didn’t expect to be a part of something so big.

Photo permission given by Lori Ennis / Photo credit – NILMDTS Photographer, Maureen Porto 

What are you in need of right now? Volunteers? Donations? What would you say you needed at the moment, if anything.

A combination of both. We need tens of thousands of volunteers. We sadly turn away more families than I would ever imagine because we are worldwide, that so many people know of our services, and often when they call we just don’t have the volunteers. Another side is helping spread the word. We realize there are photographers out there who might feel like this might be out of their comfort zone, but they could help by spreading the word, or even fundraising. We’ve had volunteers do car washes, bake sales. These things trickle in $500-$1000 a year, but every penny helps. The money that we use for the foundation is truly used to help spread the word, educate, provide literature, training and more. That money is our lifeline.

How much time in advance should the family contact NILMDTS?

We deal on an emergency level. Some parents know their child is going to pass away and they have months to prepare, but most we receive a phone call within a few hours of the loss. A lot of times they are about to lose a child and we can’t get someone to respond as quickly as they need, we let the parents know that we are willing to come down after the baby passes away. Many times this is better for the families, because they can hold their child and be with their child.

You mentioned that there are people who might not be comfortable in this situation, but what would you say or advise someone who really wants to volunteer as a photographer but has a natural sense of fear and hesitation?

To me, honestly, I feel like people need to follow their hearts. I find that when I’m teaching I have to really introduce it to people two or three times before they feel like they can do it. I think the fear is that they are not going to be able to emotionally handle it. Photographers usually know they can handle the work, it’s just that emotion. We really let them know that it’s okay to cry. It’s an emotional thing to watch a family say goodbye to their baby. I get parents telling me all the time “The one thing I remembered – even though it was the most horrible experience – is that you were crying too.” They appreciate our tears. They felt like even though we were the photographers, we cared and we were really a part of that special moment.

Once we tell photographers that it’s okay to be emotional – in fact we’d be worried about you if you weren’t, they seem to go “Okay, I think I can do this.”

Photo permission given by Tara Finney / Photo credit – NILMDTS Photographer, Lisa Mac

So many of our readers are parents who have lost a child and are in the process of starting an organization or cause in their child’s name, or have been running one for some time. What would be your advice to them in making their dreams to help others in similar situations a success?

I think that starting a foundation, people don’t realize how overwhelming it can be, and I think there are different stages of grieving. I know for Cheryl, when we first started this she was really gung ho, and really was 100% committed. But after a little while she had to step back a little bit because she was in a different stage of grieving. You need to have a good support system because right now you feel empowered, you want to change the world and you want to do something, but there will be times where you want to step away from it. You need to make sure you have a support, so that when you step away, you’re not letting people down. That to me, is the critical piece.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

We have a free day of training online coming soon. This will be helpful both to parents who want to support, as well as photographers. We do not have a date set yet, but if you follow us on Facebook, we will be announcing the date for this training there soon. It’s a very big event, there will be tens of thousands of people watching it all over the world, and we would LOVE to have your readers be a part of it.

Find NILMDTS on Facebook, Twitter and their website

For information on how to become a volunteer click here.

  • Franchesca Cox

    Franchesca Cox is the founder and Editor of Still Standing Magazine. She is currently seeking her Master's in Occupational Therapy, a yogi and author of Celebrating Pregnancy Again and Facets of Grief, a creative workbook for grieving mothers. Learn more about her heartwork on her website.

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