Group helps family cope with infant’s death

Mikayla in Daddy's Hands, by Danielle Bradley

Professional Photographers Volunteer With Nonprofit Group
Updated: 1:57 pm CDT May 5, 2011

MADISON, Wis. — A local couple is celebrating their daughter’s life with them, no matter how short that life was.

Melissa and Mike Terrill found comfort working with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an organization made up of volunteer professional photographers who capture a fleeting moment between parent and child, helping families heal after the death of a child.

“The love that a child gives and shares is just something that you don’t know until you have it,” Melissa Terrill said. “We’ve never really had much loss in our lives. Even though you know these things happen to other people, you sort of think this is never going to happen to you.”

During a normal summer day last June, the Terrills were out strawberry picking when Melissa started having contractions. She was only 24 weeks pregnant.

“When the doctor said you’re 5 centimeters dilated, we need to go in for an emergency c-section. At that point I didn’t know if a baby could survive at that age,” Melissa Terrill said.

Their daughter, Mikayla, was born at St. Mary’s Hospital weighing less than 1.5 pounds, and more than three months premature. She lived for 36 hours.

“People try and equate the amount of time they were with you with how much you grieve or how much intensity the loss is, and it’s just not that way,” Mike Terrill said.

The Terrills found comfort in an unexpected source — photos of their daughter.

“It did feel a little strange to be taking pictures of Mikayla because she’d actually passed away at that point,” Melissa Terrill said. “We knew right away these were the only moments with Mikayla, or at least with her body, and we wanted to have those pictures as memories.”

That’s where Danielle Bradley comes in. She is one of more than 2,000 professional photographers nationwide who volunteer for the nonprofit group Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.

“I actually go to the baby, wherever the baby’s at with the mom, and I immediately ask what the name is and is he or she named after anybody,” Bradley said.

“One of the things I have a distinct memory of is (Bradley) making us feel like Mikayla was the most beautiful baby she had ever seen,” Melissa Terrill said.

Bradley’s business is called First Moments, but she said these “only moments” are truly irreplaceable.

“They are still people. It doesn’t matter what age they are, what gestational age, they’re someone’s child and embracing that and I think making it more of a positive experience for a mom is important,” Bradley said.

It’s an experience that Melissa Terrill said she holds on to with all her heart.

“These are pictures I’m just as proud to show off as I am pictures of my son Jonathan,” Melissa Terrill said. “I find the photos very therapeutic to have. I’ve made an entire scrapbook for her with those photos and I use them on my blog, and we have them hung around our house. Those dreams that we have for our family and for Mikayla do not go away just because she’s not here anymore.”

The Terrills are still thinking about Mikayla, and they’re not alone in their grief. More than 100 infants die every year at St. Mary’s and Meriter hospitals.

The nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital who handles these losses encourages families to take part.

“That’s what we’re giving them, the opportunity to actually parent their child by taking pictures, by bathing, dressing, all those things,” said Chantel Schneeberg, St. Mary’s Hospital perinatal loss coordinator.

The Terrills have a website in honor of Mikayla at, and the funds they raise through donations are for other parents who end up leaving the hospital without a baby in their arms.

Twenty-four weeks gestation, when Mikayla was born, is typically the earliest babies can survive, stand a chance of surviving, according to experts, and it’s thanks to research and fundraising through organizations like the March of Dimes.

The March For Babies Walk is one of those efforts, and it’s being held Saturday. It will start at 9 a.m. on the Martin Luther King side of the Capitol square.