Capturing The Brief Life And Death Of An Infant Joanna Blum and Ashley Hutcheson talk about their extraordinary meeting to record the life and passing of Baruch Levi Blum. On Dec. 1, Blum gave birth to Baruch Levi. He weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces. He lived about 10 minutes. Hutcheson, a photographer, was there to document his birth.
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Capturing The Brief Life And Death Of An Infant

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Capturing The Brief Life And Death Of An Infant

Capturing The Brief Life And Death Of An Infant

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

This week, we are paying tribute to some of those who died this past year. And today's story honors the briefest of lives: infants who die at birth or shortly after. Baruch Levi Blum was born earlier this month in Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital. He lived for 10 minutes. And thought it was too short a life for an obituary, his mother found a way to memorialize him.

Mary Beth Kirchner brings us their story.

MARY BETH KIRCHNER: Joanna Blum had known for months that she wanted a photographer to be there at the birth of her baby son. Doctors did not expect him to live. On December 1st, Joanna had an emergency C-section. Her husband was sitting at her side, holding her hand.

(Soundbite of beep)

KIRCHNER: There was a blur of activity in the operating room.

Ms. JOANNA BLUM: And I looked towards the wall, and I saw this really unassuming figure dressed up in a gown, her face covered, and she was holding the camera in her hand.

KIRCHNER: Doctors whisked Joanna's 2-pound, 11-ounce baby away, and they struggled to keep Baruch Levi Blum alive for 10 long minutes. He had a birth defect of the brain, and his heart had failed. His tiny body was brought to Joanna in the recovery room. Ashley Hutcheson was there, too.

Ms. ASHLEY HUTCHESON (Photo Journalist): When I walked into the room where Joanna was with her son�

(Soundbite of bell)

Ms. HUTCHESON: �she looked up at me, and we locked eyes and kind of looked at each other, and there was a small smile from both of us. And said to her, wow, he looks beautiful. Pretty beautiful.

(Soundbite of crying)

Ms. HUTCHESON: When I start taking pictures, it's like I'm not there. So, Joanna looked down at her son, and that was that. They were having their moment, and I was in the background. And it's that simple.

(Soundbite of crying)

KIRCHNER: Ashley Hutcheson is a photo journalist in Toronto. Joanna found Ashley through the nonprofit organization Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, which connects volunteer photographers with parents who want their babies memorialized. During the past year, Ashley has photographed 15 stillborn infants and their families.

Ms. HUTCHESON: I do have a sense and an understanding of how important these pictures will be to the family. But that's something I do try to keep out of my mind when I'm there because it is a very stressful thought. If it doesn't work out or if the lighting is not right, or all of these things that you might think about as a photographer, are not important. And I guess what it comes down to is that even if one picture works out, that's all they need.

Great, if you can move that, I can see his beautiful little face. Oh, great.

KIRCHNER: Joanna Blum was born in Poland. She has five children at home, ranging in age from 16 years to 15 months. Joanna says baby Baruch has the same curly hair and nose of her other kids. Ashley captured Joanna gazing at every detail.

(Soundbite of camera shutter)

Ms. BLUM: He's so perfect.

KIRCHNER: Joanna's favorite photo was taken minutes later.

Ms. BLUM: When I undress the baby, and I just put him on my bare chest�

(Soundbite of sobbing)

Ms. BLUM: �but I could still feel the warmth of his body and the softness of his skin, welcome him - and I suppose say goodbye to him at the same time. Oh, my God. I was absolutely stunned by the beauty of his whole being. I don't even know if there's any words to describe. No matter what your background or, you know, what your beliefs or your religion, there was something so divine and so much bigger than all of us. It's so hard to believe this. It almost felt as though we were not holding a baby, but as though we were holding an angel.

(Soundbite of camera shutter)

Ms. BLUM: You know, in years to come, this is not going to become some fuzzy memory - but that this, indeed, was a very, very real moment.

(Soundbite of crying)

KIRCHNER: Joanna and Ashley have spent no more than 20 minutes together when Ashley sensed it was time to leave Joanna alone with her son.

Ms. HUTCHESON: We can go and give you guys a minute, OK?


Ms. HUTCHESON: You're doing great.

KIRCHNER: Two days later, while recuperating in the hospital from her surgery, Joanna's thoughts drifted to the photographer she barely knew. And she sent Ashley an email.

Ms. BLUM: I thanked her so much. We don't like to think of, you know, dying especially, you know, babies dying - the cruel and ugly face of life to, you know, open your arms and say, I'm going to be there for you whenever you call me. I don't know you. I don't know who you are but yet, I'm going to give my time so you have something in years to come that will help you in the healing process. I don't think I've ever experienced anything like that.

Ms. HUTCHESON: And I wrote her back, and I said thank you. You've taught me a lot about strength and courage, as did your son. She told me that I've become part of her family in such a profound way that I'll never know. And I only met her for 20 minutes.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Our story was produced by independent producer Mary Beth Kirchner, with help from Tina Pedaway(ph) in Toronto.

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