Since 2011, Kansas City photographer Jessica Strom has made it her mission to capture tender portraits of premature babies in the NICU. During her free portrait sessions, Strom captures photos that will later remind parents of the fight their tiny newborns waged to get well and go home. In addition to photographing the babies, she takes shots of the room, the monitors, and other small details to depict the babies' journeys from beginning to end.
Strom calls these tiny patients "warriors" and says it's "awe-inspiring" to see what they go through. By the time Storm sees the babies, they're stable. She says her portraits allow weary moms and dads to show off their baby pictures while the babies are still in the hospital, rather than waiting until their babies come home.
Because the babies are so tiny and vulnerable to infections and are often attached to machines, Strom doesn't handle them at all, nor does she use props or flash photography (preemies can't tolerate bright light). Instead, the parents often hold their babies; if the infants are still in incubators, she has the parents put gentle hands on their babies' little bodies.
Strom also has personal reasons for photographing NICU babies. She and her husband have been dealing with infertility for eight years. Strom says working with these special babies has given her a greater appreciation for life and inspired her to "never give up" her dreams of becoming a mom.
Various organizations like Preemie Prints and Capturing Hope Photography have started similar efforts in recent years in more than a dozen states. It's a service that can touch many lives: according to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of every eight babies born in the U.S. is premature.