When I started my journey as a blogger for women’s empowerment, mental health awareness and fashion, I had a preconceived notion of the outcome. These three topics mattered a lot to me personally, but I also knew I needed to learn how to use social media in a way that would benefit a wide range of people, especially my small business clients at the time. One of the people I met through social media was Kelsey Zamudio, the owner of Kel-Z Photography in Ogden, Utah. We connected on Instagram and I inquired about her taking professional photos of me for my blog. It seemed to be a simple connection for a service that I needed to improve my blog content, but it ended up being so much more.
During our first photo shoot, Kelsey shared that she had recently lost her first born, a son named Dominic, when he was 25 days old. We quickly became more friends and confidants than business associates and she started to share more of her story with me over the course of a year. I am both humbled and honored to share her story with you in hopes that it will bring sunshine to someone who may be in the midst of the storm of mourning the loss of a child.
Tell me about your experience with Dominic’s birth, the days spent in the NICU and his passing.
“Our son Dominic was born at 25 weeks, 2 days gestation. He weighed 1 pound 10 oz and was 18 inches long. I was told he was big for his age. He didn’t cry at birth but was whisked away to the NICU team. The NICU is a very special place with the most kind, loving doctors and nurses. They really are there rooting for you, your baby and your family. Dominic was in the NICU for 25 days. We celebrated lots of firsts while we were there. First holding, first skin-to-skin, first binkie & first little mohawk. Late one night he developed a life-threatening infection called Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) It’s where bacteria grows in the intestines and gets infected. This results in total perforation of the bowels and the intestines dissolving. They called for the helicopter to take us to Primary Children’s Hospital. From working at the hospital I knew only the worst cases need the helicopter and I began to pray. We made it there and he had emergency surgery to remove the infected and dead parts of the bowel. 12 hours after the surgery they told us that his body was shutting down and that we had to say goodbye.”
How did you process the inevitable outcome and what are some tips that you’d give to other parents who have experienced infant or child loss?
“For me I wanted to immediately bathe him and put him in clothes. He always had so many tubes in him; it was the only things that made me feel like I was doing my motherly duty for him. To any parents out there: do the things you want to with your baby and take as much time as you want. I helped with photos and the casting of his feet and hands for molds that the hospital gave us. But I know moms that sang to their baby and read books aloud to them or had special blankets to wrap them in. My husband processed things very differently than I did and he just wanted to be with his family. It’s so important to remember that not everyone grieves the same. I am so lucky that my husband and I clung to each other during that time. I felt like I didn’t even want him in another room. I needed people close to me around the clock. We went back to our NICU and had to tell our doctors and nurses about our little buddy. They truly mourned with us. It was amazing the outpouring of love for us and our boy.”
What can you share about the raw realities of mourning following Dominic’s passing?
“I had become very bitter in the beginning. Whenever I saw a pregnant lady I was so jealous and heartbroken that it wasn’t me! Then I found out about the rainbow baby. A “rainbow baby” is a baby that is born following a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. In the real world, a beautiful and bright rainbow follows a storm and gives hope of things getting better. A rainbow baby brings light but by no means replaces the angel baby. I looked for rainbows every time it rained. I made cards when I was crafting that had rainbow colors on them. The rainbow gave me hope. I again turned to social media and the hashtag #rainbowbaby. I saw other women’s journeys to having their rainbow baby. It made me think and visually see that not only bad things were going to happen in my life!”
What went through your mind when you decided to try to have a rainbow baby?
“I knew that this whole first pregnancy, delivery and loss was statistically not going to happen to us again. I just knew in my heart that we would have a child. From working at the hospital, I had seen literally thousands of women give birth and go home with their baby and I knew that would be me too. But anxiety has a way of rearing its head and I had so many fears. My OB came up with a plan so that preterm labor and delivery wouldn’t be happening again. Working in the hospital with the babies brought a whole new perspective on my wants to be a mother and those tiny babies helped heal my heart.”
How was your pregnancy with Zoey different because of Dominic’s passing?
“My pregnancy with Zoey was the exact same as far as pregnancy symptoms. But my anxiety and worry were through the roof. I knew that no time during pregnancy is considered a safe time, that each and every day is a celebration. I was on weekly progesterone shots to help me stay pregnant and avoid preterm labor and delivery. I had lots and lots of ultrasounds to make sure my cervix was staying shut and baby was staying happy. Lots of praying daily. Every week with each shot my husband gave me I knew we were inching closer to bringing a baby home from the hospital.”
What did you do to keep the faith that Zoey would go home with you?
“HOPE was my motto. It was written on my mirror where I could always see it. It was an acronym Have Only Positive Expectations. Staying positive was NOT EASY! So many days horrible thoughts ran through my mind. But I knew that this baby deserved the chance to be loved, to learn and be nurtured and grow in our family. I saw photos in my mind of what I wanted and what I knew would be ours someday. I knew if I could make it to 36 weeks that I would be going home with a baby! I had seen it happen on many accounts working at the hospital. My husband always would tell me about our baby that we would have and the things that we would do as a family and that brought the hope back on my hard days.”
Tell me about Zoey, your rainbow baby.
“Zoey is truly a ray of sunshine. Everyone she meets always says how cute and happy she is and it makes them smile too! She was a very good baby, even when I would have a panic attack in the night because I had this looming fear that something would happen to her on my watch. The days turned into weeks and months and I slowly started feeling like my old self. My old self before the loss. My heart was healing. She was healing me. I am finally a mother to a baby that I can take to the grocery store! Everything has a whole new level of gratitude and I hope to teach her that as she gets older. We just relish in her silly personality and literally smother her in kisses every single day.”
How has photography and social media helped you heal?
“I first looked to social media as a diary of my grieving. I was on Instagram and searched the hashtag #infantloss and #angelmom. There are SO many people that have lost babies and children! It really breaks my heart that so many have felt what we have gone through. But, in this community I found a woman who had a eerily similar situation to ours. We became fast friends and both have rainbow daughters now. I connected with so many other women who I knew I could message day or night about how I was feeling.
Photography is my profession, my hobby and my therapy. When I look through the lens all my other problems go away. I have laser focus on the task at hand. So to plan and take photos was a great way to work through so many issues I had from losing Dominic. Taking photos of other babies to friends who would model for me just to get me out of the house helped me heal. Every little bit helped. It helped pull me up when I was drowning with anxiety, depression and PTSD.”
How do you continue to heal and pay it forward in honor of Dominic?
“After the loss of Dominic I had a friend who took the milk I had pumped for him (over 400 oz.) She always sent me photos of her daughter having her bottles of my milk and it made me feel like some good came out of such a hard situation. Every year to celebrate Dominic’s Birthday we like to donate something to the NICU where he spent his life. I always told myself that I was far too young to give up on my life. That I truly wanted to live because my son could not. I would carry him and his life with me through mine.”
It is such a blessing to know a woman with the faith, hope and courage that Kelsey possesses and I’m grateful we found each other through social media. We needed to know each other for far more reasons than business purposes.
The moral of the story: There will be times when we feel hopelessness as we are tossed through the storms of life, but with the ability to have only positive expectations, we can face anything and experience the rainbow after the storm.
Until next time, my lovelies!
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