B.G. photographer captures precious time for grieving families

She takes part in program to get images of stillborn, terminally ill babies

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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For nine months, Chris and Linda LaMunyon prepared for the arrival of their first child, a son they named Joshua Caden.

They painted the walls of the nursery. They bought a brown wooden crib and matching changing table.

They read books for expectant parents. They went to classes to prepare for birth and parenthood.

Joshua was born at 1:19 a.m. May 9. He weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces and was 21½ inches long.

He died 37 minutes later.

Linda and Chris wouldn’t have years or months or even days with their son. Instead, they had minutes.

But those minutes, and several more after his death, were forever captured by a photographer’s camera.

A photo of baby Joshua getting his first bath. A snapshot of Linda and Chris cradling their son. The image of Joshua’s little hand placed on top of his parents’.

“That’s all you have. You only have those moments. We had 37 minutes. That’s it. The pictures are so much of his life,” Chris said.

The pictures came courtesy of Battle Ground photographer Amy Buma and a national program called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Time, talent donated

The program was founded in 2005 by a woman who had to remove her 6-day-old son from life support and the professional photographer who captured images of her child. The program now administers a network of more than 7,000 photographers across the country, including 21 in the Portland/Vancouver area.

Buma is one of those photographers who donates her talent and time free of charge to families who have lost a child. She’s the area coordinator for Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, where Joshua was born, and is on call 24/7.

Buma makes her living taking photographs of pregnancies and births. But through the program she’s photographed stillborn babies and parents removing their child from respirators. She captured images of tiny hands and feet and swaddled babies who died too soon.

“I feel very honored to be able to get their baby’s only pictures,” Buma said.

One of Buma’s framed photos sits on the fireplace in the LaMunyons’ Salmon Creek home. Down the hall in the nursery, Joshua’s memory lives among the images of lions holding soccer balls and monkeys playing basketball.

A photo of Joshua appearing to sleep peacefully rests in his crib. A collage of photos of Joshua, Linda and Chris sits on the changing table that’s never been used. Plaster models of Joshua’s hands and feet are displayed near the framed pictures.

On the days when Linda is feeling sad, she walks into her son’s room and has “baby time.” She looks at the photos and cries over what she lost — a healthy baby boy who had a strong heartbeat but died unexpectedly.

“It justifies my pain,” she said. “That’s why it hurt. He’s beautiful.”

Helping with hurt

The photos also gave the LaMunyons the opportunity to show their friends and family the baby they will never get the chance to meet. They displayed the photos at Joshua’s funeral and printed images of the baby in the service program.

“Had we just shared a story it wouldn’t be the same,” Chris said.

The photos are helping the LaMunyons and their loved ones get through the hurt. And, one day, the photos will allow Linda and Chris’ future children to know their older brother.

While Linda held Joshua at the hospital, Chris said he tried to take photos of his son. As much as he wanted to capture the image of Joshua, he couldn’t bring himself to push the camera’s button.

So Buma came into their hospital room at 3 a.m. and captured the moments for them.

At the time, Buma remains calm and unemotional for the parents. The tears come later when she goes home and hugs her three children.

“When I get a call, before I even leave home, I pray for strength because I can’t screw up this job,” she said.

While the photos captured the LaMunyons in a time of tragedy, they also represent joy, Linda said.

They had the chance to hold their son, kiss him, swoon over him.

And Buma captured all of those tender moments.

“You only have a moment, and then he’s taken away,” Chris said. “But the moments are caught.”

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.