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Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Christian and Rya Cumback were days away from welcoming their second daughter into the world. They had everything ready for her arrival and couldn’t wait to give 3-year-old Ellie a little sister.
Eight days before her due date, Rya was enjoying a quiet morning at home when she realized it had been a while since she felt the baby move.
As is often recommended, Rya had a cup of coffee to see if it would get her little girl moving. But after another 30 minutes or so with no sign of activity, Rya called her husband and they immediately went to their doctor.
“They took Rya in and did an initial check for the heartbeat and didn’t find it,” Christian recalled. “Then we went into the ultrasound room for another check.”
Rya remembers lying there, seeing her fully grown baby on the screen but wondering why the doctor had forgotten to turn up the volume on the ultrasound machine so she could hear the heartbeat.
“You are in shock. You don’t want to believe it,” Rya said. “You spend the first four or five months worrying all the time. But this, it’s almost too far along to think something could happen.”
The news was devastating. Their little baby had been so active up to that point that she entangled herself in the umbilical cord. The cord was wrapped around one of the infant’s arms and a leg, cutting off circulation and ultimately killing her.
Hours after learning of their loss, the couple headed to the hospital to deliver the baby they already knew was gone.
“I don’t know what was harder — actually finding out the baby was not alive or having to deliver the child, a fully mature infant,” Christian said.
At 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 4, 2011 — one week before she was due to be born — Emma Cumback arrived. It wasn’t the happy day her parents had been expecting for nearly 40 weeks.
Instead, the couple spent the day at the hospital, saying goodbye to the little girl they would never get to see grow up.
While at the hospital waiting for Emma to arrive, the Cumbacks learned about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an organization that offers free photography services to parents who lose their infant children.
“Having photographs taken is the last thing really on your mind. You’re not in the state of mind to think about that,” Christian said. “But when the nurse told us about this organization, it did not take us long to decide that would be good for us.”
Melanie Moss, a volunteer photographer with the organization, came to the hospital and inconspicuously captured the only remaining moments the Cumbacks would have with their daughter.
“It means a great deal to us to have these photos now,” Christian said. “What we are left with, without the photographs, is just our memory of her. Now we have both.”
Khristina Bowen, another local photographer who volunteers with NILMDTS, understands all too well just how important those photographs can be to a family.
“I lost four children — a son and then triplets,” Bowen explained. “I literally have nothing to remember my son by. With the triplets, all I have is a Polaroid.”
While the Polaroid is precious to Bowen, she wishes she had more photos of her children. That’s why she now works to help families in similar situations get those photos.
“So many people want to pretend it didn’t happen. They don’t know what to do or say to you,” Bowen said. “I’m just really trying to help them and give them images they can share to show that their angels were really here.”
The remembrance photography, as it is called, captures everything from the tiniest baby toes to family portraits with the child.
Karen Jenkins, the local NILMDTS parent coordinator, got involved with the organization last year when she had three long-distance friends lose babies within 14 months.
“All of them had utilized bereavement photography,” Jenkins said. “It really impressed me how proud they were to show those photos.”
At the time, Jenkins said there were no photographers within 50 miles of the Tri-Cities working with NILMDTS.
“Now we have eight photographers,” Jenkins said. “And in the past year, we have provided services for more than 15 families.”
Jenkins said the workload is getting heavier for the local volunteers as more health facilities and people in the region learn of the organization and its purpose.
“We hope this helps with the grieving process. If you talk to most parents who have lost children, they want to talk about it sometimes. They certainly don’t want to forget them,” Jenkins said. “Those babies, their lives meant something. And that is what we want to remember.”
For the Cumbacks, the photos they now have of Emma will help them do just that.
“It means a great deal to have these photos to go back and look at,” Christian said. “This was incredibly difficult for us. But God and his peace have gotten us through it. We know she is happy and we will see her again. That’s the great part.”
For more about the services of NILMDTS, or to get involved as a volunteer, call Jenkins at 202-1623.