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Monday 20 August 2012

Heartfelt - photographic memories for stillborn and sick babies

This story is not for everyone, but it's one that must be told.

Indeed, when I saw the photos to accompany the piece I broke down. And yet, it's about something the community should know exists - it's a photography service so intimate, so private, so profound, and so heartfelt I knew it should be shared.

When my old work buddy, photographer Erin Byrne mentioned on Facebook that she'd started shooting for the organisation called Heartfelt, I had to know more.

Here is what Heartfelt do:

"Heartfelt is a volunteer organisation of professional photographers from all over Australia dedicated to giving the gift of photographic memories to families that have experienced stillbirths, premature births, or have children with serious and terminal illnesses.  

Heartfelt is dedicated to providing this gift to families in a caring, compassionate manner.

All services are provided free of charge."

And so, Erin put me in touch with photographer for Heartfelt Fiona Lumsdaine, from Lumsdaine Photography. She answered some questions for me on what she does: 

How did you get involved with Heartfelt?
I first learned about Heartfelt in 2008 from another portrait photographer. It was then called the ACOCP (Australian Community of Child Photographers) and, when I initially applied, was not taking new members. I persisted and when they opened their books again, my membership was accepted.

What as the catalyst for you to become involved with Heartfelt?
There was not one single thing that prompted me to join Heartfelt. I have always followed the philosophy that we should “give back”. At times in my life this has meant different things... service, donations, activism. I just knew, when I learned of Heartfelt’s work, that it was something that I could, and therefore should, do. It really wasn’t any more complicated than that. 

How much did you know about Heartfelt before joining them?
I researched Heartfelt (then ACOCP) as much as I could, but there really wasn’t terribly much information available at that point in time. I found out about “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” which provides similar services in North America and Europe and was able to find out a lot more about this type of work through them.

How long have you been with Heartfelt?
I have now been with Heartfelt for just over two years. I have been the NSW Representative for 4 months.

How was the first session?
Before I officially joined Heartfelt, a dear friend of mine asked me to photograph her stillborn son. I can’t even think about that day without crying. I was absolutely devastated. Devastated. I remember worrying terribly that I had not taken enough, or good enough, photographs. I struggled with my own emotions, as her friend, as a mother myself, and found it incredibly difficult to contain them enough to take the photographs objectively. Her older son came into the room and I photographed them as a family and I think my heart broke into a million pieces at the scene of love and loss that was in front of me.

How did you feel after the first shoot?
Afterwards, when I got to my car, I broke down and had to sit there, sobbing, for about 15 minutes before I was able to drive away. I remember thinking that any Heartfelt session, with people that I didn’t already know, would be easier than that.

What did you take from the experience?

The thing that really stayed with me was what a huge gift those photographs were to my friend. She used one of my pictures on the cover of the funeral handout, and it really made everyone feel as though they had met him. His name was Archimedes Nettle.

And since then? How do you feel post-shoot?

How I feel post-shoot with my Heartfelt sessions varies depending upon the situation. I haven’t had a session in which i didn’t quietly cry. I have sobbed in my car many times on the drive home, and i have sobbed while editing the images on my computer later that day or the next.

How do you interact with the families? What is the way that works best for you?

Interacting with the families can be the most difficult aspect of being a Heartfelt photographer. When you turn up to the session, you have absolutely no idea of how they’re going to be feeling, or how they might be dealing with their grief. I find that acknowledging their baby by name, and letting them know immediately that you’re sorry for their loss is important. It’s best to be able to be led by them. I’ve experienced families who wanted to talk, families who were angry, families who were unable to even acknowledge me.

What would you advise a photographer interested in working with Heartfelt to do?
I would advise anyone interested in becoming a Heartfelt photographer to contact the Heartfelt Representative for their state and ask them what it actually entails. I would also advise them to apply as soon as they can, as it’s the singularly most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done.

[This photo below and above are from one of Fiona's Heartfelt session. Full permission has been given by the mother to be reproduced for this blog. Please do not reproduce without permission]:

To contact Heartfelt and to access their services or to chat to your state rep, call 1800 583 768.

For more info, click here: http://www.heartfelt.org.au/

Footnote: my beloved Mum's first child was a stillborn. I wish this service was around way back then. And recently, my friends and I were chatting about a woman who'd had a stillborn baby. I wish I'd known about this tragic event so I could share my knowledge about Heartfelt. This is my motivation behind this post. Please share this link - I know it's hard to do - so as many people as possible know about this service.


  1. That first photo is just heartbreaking :`(

  2. It is SO powerful, isn't it, Nessa. Broke my heart in two pieces... x

  3. Thanks for posting this... so upsetting, but what a bunch of amazing people from Heartfelt... wow x

  4. This has moved me so very much... thanks for posting x

  5. I know some women who have lost their babies either halfway through or at full term. I wish I had known about Heartfelt so I could have given them this gift also. Thanks for posting, Josie x

    Tina, NSW

  6. Hi we used heartfelt photography after the loss of our baby and the photos take pride in our house. They do such a wonderful job.