A baby’s hour on Earth forges friendship
by Karina Bland – Sept. 6, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Jody Michael Terian lived for just an hour after he was born in April.
The 7-pound, 1-ounce baby looked perfect on the outside, with dark hair and his mom’s nose, but a rare condition was killing him. His parents, Joe and Carla, held him close.
His short life and death are documented by hundreds of pictures. They were taken by Angelina Dominguez, someone Jody’s parents barely knew then but now consider among their closest friends. She’s a volunteer photographer, helping parents by capturing one of their most difficult and intimate moments – when their baby is stillborn or dies unexpectedly.
Dominguez takes the photos and gives a CD set to music to the parents, and most often – and understandably – never hears from them again. This time was different.
In a short time, Carla and Angelina became close friends, almost as if they had spent a lifetime together. And really, they had – Jody’s lifetime.
The alarming ultrasound
Jody wasn’t supposed to be born alive. He had Potter’s sequence, a disorder in which a baby’s kidneys do not develop normally in the womb. In Jody’s case, they were oversize – almost as big as an adult’s – but they didn’t function. And kidneys are essential to produce amniotic fluid. With little or no amniotic fluid to expand the womb, the baby can’t grow, and the baby’s lungs can’t develop properly, either.
Carla was about 18 weeks along when an ultrasound showed that something was wrong. The Terians would pounce on any good news – his heartbeat was strong, he was getting bigger – but doctors would shake their heads. Their baby would not survive. They couldn’t offer any hope.
“We were told over and over that our child wouldn’t be born alive,” Carla says.
Her doctor told them about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a non-profit organization of photographers who take pictures of babies who pass away.
Ideas about how to handle the death of a baby have changed over the years. It used to be that babies were whisked away, leaving parents with empty arms. Now, grieving moms and dads are encouraged to spend time with their babies, take pictures and say goodbye.
At the same time, Joe’s mother had discovered the organization and contacted Angelina.
And for the first time, someone gave the parents hope, not that Jody would survive, but that their child’s life would be documented. No matter what happened, Angelina promised, they would have proof he was here.
Most babies with Jody’s disorder are stillborn, but Jody was delivered alive at 36 weeks, his soft cries like those of a kitten.
Lying against his mother’s chest, Jody opened his eyes and looked at his dad. From behind her camera, Angelina said, “Joe! Your son saw you.” She told Carla, “He has your nose.”
The Terians’ other children, 10-year-old Jennifer and 4-year-old Joey, came to meet their little brother, along with their grandparents. Then came other family and friends, and Jody was passed from one set of arms to the next. He was kissed and told how much he was loved.
“He was hammered with love in that hour,” Joe says.
Angelina captured it all with her camera: the Terian family wrapped tightly around the tiny baby, a close-up of his sweet face with the nose like his mom’s, his father sprinkling his head with holy water. And then Angelina got to take him into her arms.
Jody died of respiratory failure an hour later. Even if his lungs had been more developed, he could not have survived without kidneys. After Jody passed away, Angelina took more pictures of him. He looks peaceful, as if he’s sleeping.
Editing a life
At home, Angelina sorts through the images of Jody. As a mother of four, she understands how important this is. Her daughter Avelina, who’s now 13, was born three months early and weighed just 3 pounds. The girl was taken to intensive care before Angelina could get a good look at her. Later, the nurse brought a few Polaroids to Angelina, but her face was hidden by tubes and bandages. If Avelina had died, the blurry images would have been all she had to remember her.
Usually Angelina takes pictures of happy people and happy moments – families, dance recitals and weddings. Her portraits are beautiful. Taking pictures of these babies is overwhelmingly sad, but these portraits are beautiful, too. They’re softly lit, usually black and white.
In the last year, she has photographed almost a dozen babies. It doesn’t get any easier. Some photographers in the volunteer program go once and can’t do it anymore.
Angelina doesn’t know what she will face until she arrives at the hospital. Sometimes, she finds family and friends mourning together. Other times, she finds a mom alone, her arms empty and the baby still in a bassinette. She asks the baby’s name and kisses the tiny head.
“It’s a way of validating a life,” Angelina says. “When you carry a child, that’s a life that you felt. You want nothing more to celebrate the life that you carried and acknowledge that, yes, you had a baby and your baby’s life mattered.”
Angelina takes close-ups of their little faces and perfect tiny feet. She wraps the little fingers around Mom’s and lays the baby in Dad’s arms. Later, she’ll touch up the photos to hide blue lips and blood pooling under the translucent skin.
Angelina’s husband, Manny, goes with her on the pretense of holding lights. But really he’s there to keep her strong.
“It just so nice to look up and see him there,” Angelina says. “I need his support to keep from breaking down. The last thing the family needs is for me to start crying.”
She cries the whole way home.
A friendship forged
With Jody gone, Carla looks at Angelina’s pictures and remembers his soft feet, tiny fingernails and the swirl of dark hair at the crown of his head.
“It’s validation that he was here,” she says, like the other items she saved – a soft white blanket, a stuffed brown bear. “These pictures are what we have.”
The Terians were the first parents Angelina met through the foundation before their child died. She shot pictures of a pregnant Carla with Joe stretched out beside her and admired their courage.
“They were just so completely easy to fall in love with,” Angelina says. She left thinking, “I could totally be friends with these people.”
For the Terians, Angelina and her husband were there through the toughest time of their lives.
“We had shared with her so much in such a short time,” Joe says. “You just end up with a certain bond.”
Now the two families, who live a few miles apart in Gilbert, gather for barbecues and to watch their children swim. Their daughters clicked instantly. That helped. The women get pedicures together and play bunco. And the two couples play poker with a group of friends.
“Jody brought our two families together,” Joe says.
Carla and Joe have other friends who have been supportive. But this new friendship with Angelina and Manny has helped so much. Even without Carla saying a word, Angelina pulls her into her arms for a hug. Women just know. And Manny doesn’t flinch if Joe tears up when talking about his son. He understands.
“The loss of our child has been devastating. Still, our life is full,” Carla says. “We can’t dwell on our loss. We can only celebrate what we have.”
Like family and good friends.