Poignant NICU Photos Comfort Mothers, Win Awards

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By Megan M. Krischke, contributor

When Cheryl Briggs, RNC, began taking photographs in the NICU, she wasn’t an aspiring photographer. She simply wanted to help new moms form a bond with the babies they couldn’t yet hold.

Briggs snaps a photo of a newborn being fed in the NICU.

"Many of the babies we have in the NICU are delivered by Cesarean section and moms can’t get out of bed to see their babies for 24 hours," she said. "So, the nurses take photos of the baby and give them to the mom to help her start the bonding process. Being able to see and think about their babies also helps get the hormones that establish breast milk production flowing."

When Briggs began working in the NICU at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Maryland, seven years ago, it was already common practice for nurses to take pictures of the NICU babies for their mothers.

"At that time we used Polaroids. The film wasn’t in the hospital budget, so the nurses would buy it with their own funds," Briggs said. "After about a year I started thinking we should go digital. I told my supervisor that the next time we got a monetary donation I wanted to purchase a digital camera with a docking station and printer. Lo and behold, the next week someone donated one."

Triplets pose for a photograph as a keepsake for the parents of the tiny babies.

When the National Association of Neonatal Nursing (NANN) announced that it was sponsoring a "Faces of Neonatal Nursing" photo contest, Briggs, a self-described sucker for contests, could not resist entering.

"I thought they were looking for pictures of nurses in action, so I started snapping photos of the nurses in my unit and submitted a couple of those," stated Briggs. "Then NANN called me to tell me how much they loved my photos. I told them that those weren’t even my favorites and they asked me to submit more."

Briggs won the 2005 contest and when NANN produced a calendar for the following year, seven of the featured photos were hers. By way of the calendar, her photos made it into NICUs across the country, and people began taking notice. Two weeks after the calendars were distributed, she was asked to take photos for a maternal-child nursing textbook.

A mother and her newborn infant in an intimate photo captured by Briggs displays the precious nature of her photography.

Briggs, who has continued to hone her photography skills and recently upgraded to a better quality camera, went on to win NANN’s 2007 photo contest.

A co-worker also nominated Briggs for the Excellence in Nursing Practice Award, offered by the Academy of Neonatal Nursing. She was nominated specifically for the myriad of photos she provided to a mother who suffered a stroke during delivery and was unable to visit her baby in the NICU. Briggs was honored by that award.

Briggs is now enjoying a steady stream of contract work featuring her photography, including a full-page spread in Premie Magazine on kangaroo care, and inclusion in other magazines and pamphlets. She is also assisting in the development of a logo for her hospital’s consortium.

Despite her new-found success, Briggs does not plan to trade her career as a NICU nurse for one as a full-time photographer. She does hope, though, to have the opportunity to speak at one of the professional conferences on the topic of NICU photography’s impact regarding lactation and pumping, or on its value in the bereavement process.

Briggs noted that her photography skills also help maintain memories of her own, "My favorite subject outside of the NICU is my five-year-old grandson."

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