It’s not what I did. It’s what I didn’t do.
The first time I saw my son, it was in a photo texted to me by his grandmother. Taken moments after he was born, ten weeks before his due date, he looked more like a bird than a baby. When I finally saw him in person, it was inside a dimly-lit Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where we spent the next 29 days.
Before he was born, I envisioned hiring a photographer to capture the moment we met and to document our time in the hospital with his birth family. But NICUs are not photogenic settings, and we were warned he had a 20% chance of never leaving the hospital. My goal shifted from documenting our time there to simply surviving it.
I have hundreds of cellphone snaps from the twice daily, half-hour sessions when I was allowed hold him. A handful of the photos include me — my first ever selfies, and a few that were taken by visitors, but none of them are worthy of display.
Toward the end of our stay, I floated the idea of hiring a photographer to come to the hospital, but my husband bristled. “Let’s at least wait until his feeding tube is out so he doesn’t have tape covering his face.” I agreed. While I wanted newborn photos in theory, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting a 5×7 framed reminder of our time in the NICU.
Seven years later, I regret it. When I look back at photos of my baby weighing just two pounds, I see past the cords and tubes coming out of his body. I only see him. His strength. His heart. Glimpses of his personality to come. Those days deserved to be documented.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.