Like most parents, I fell in love with Lila the moment the doctor placed her on my chest. It was like the world had shifted and I finally understood that every moment in my life was preparation for this incredible honor to be a mother. As a newborn, Lila had white hair and the prettiest blue eyes, one of which would eventually turn green. She had the smallest cry and I remember thinking that she must be such a sweetheart. I had no idea that weak cry was actually an indicator of something terribly wrong. For a few blissful hours my little girl had safely entered the world and was nothing short of perfection. In the days to come I would think of this snippet of time often and wish that I could bottle it up somehow, drink it in, and forget the reality of what would become our situation.
It took over a year and a lot of research and perseverance before we knew what was happening inside her little body. After countless tests and even more tears, she was diagnosed with Vici Syndrome, which is a rare and fatal disease. My. Heart. Broke.
During the session Heather also talked to me about how she would be willing to photograph Lila when she had passed while we were dressing her for the funeral. At the time I could not imagine ever wanting to see photos of that day. Eight short months later our sweet, almost four year old, Lila passed away peacefully at home. I found myself calling Heather.
When my second IVG miracle and third child was born, we, again, turned to Heather. It broke my heart to have a family session without Lila and a small part of me wanted to never take another incomplete family photograph again. How could I ever look at them when they were missing my baby? Heather had thought of so many ways to incorporate Lila; she had tulips, a flower that came to represent Lila to us; and a large, stuffed giraffe, which was her favorite animal. It was perfect in so many ways.
A few years later, our final IVF baby was born. We had so many complications and almost lost her as well. The experience brought back so many of the emotions that we had with the passing of Lila. Thankfully, she pulled through and Heather added her into our complete family portrait.
Heather came to the funeral home and captured the last moments of my time with my first-born; brushing and braiding her hair, painting her fingernails and toenails, kissing her sweet little cheeks and lips, and holding her for one last time. The images are of one of the most amazing moments of my life. They have brought nothing but comfort and peace to me and my family.
We didn't know how long we would have her. Research and information was scarce, but we knew that we wanted to make the most of her short life. We did as many activities with her as we could: She hiked in the mountains, had sleepovers with cousins, dipped her toes in the ocean, and dressed up as a princess. We tried to do anything a normal, healthy little girl would do.
One thing that we desperately wanted for her was to have the experience of having a sibling. Unfortunately, we discovered that we would struggle with infertility. Those were the darkest, most hopeless days of my life. Facing our daughter's death and the possibility of the loss of future children was almost more than I could take.
Thankfully, the miracle of IVF worked for our family and we welcomed Ruby into our lives. Soon after I found out that I was pregnant, Heather reached out to me. We had gone to school together and she had heard of our story. She asked if she could take Ruby's newborn photos. I was so touched. Family photographs were, and continue to be, more precious to me than anything. During the session with Ruby she caught the sweetest moments between the two sisters. Several of them have Lila cradling Ruby in her arms in the most tender embrace. She looks every bit the loving big sister that she was.
I eventually had the courage to ask Heather if there was any way we could photoshop Lila in to one of the family photos. I was nervous to even ask. I knew that some people would find the idea silly. But Heather was amazing and said she would do her best. When I got the pictures back, I just sobbed. There was a picture of my whole family. It was so seamless; you would never know Lila wasn't actually in the picture. To see our complete family was the one thing that my heart truly needed. I needed a firm reminder every day that, even though Lila had passed, she was still a large part of our family and she would always be a significant part of it. Having that photo has been the biggest balm to my grief.
We are finally done with our journey of getting our family here to us. It has been devastating at times, but we have come to see the beauty in the struggle. Looking at our final and complete family portrait, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I can see my complete family and that means everything to me. I never thought it would have been possible, but having that brief glimpse of our entire family has helped me on the hard days. It is like peeking into heaven.