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1/26/2017 9:00:00 AM
Catholic photographer provides precious memories of lost infants
TWINS ZACHARIAH AND ABEL and their parents, James Conklin and Lisa Leiold. (Alice Corey photo)
TWINS ZACHARIAH AND ABEL and their parents, James Conklin and Lisa Leiold. (Alice Corey photo)

Alice Corey is always on call. At any point, if her phone goes off, Mrs. Corey drops what she's doing to head over to a nearby hospital.

Mrs. Corey isn't a doctor or an EMT. She's a photographer.

In addition to her own photography business, Alice Corey Photography, Mrs. Corey is a volunteer photographer with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an organization that provides remembrance portraits for families of infants who die at birth or soon afterward.

Before Mrs. Corey, 41, was married, she worked as a registered nurse. In fact, she has been in the medical field for a long time, volunteering at St. Peter's Hospital in Albany starting at age 14. While living in Florida, she worked in a hospital's neonatal intensive care unit and emergency room, and in cardiology care.

After moving back to the Albany Diocese in 2001, Mrs. Corey worked with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. When she was laid off after 11 years with the company, she saw it as a time to reassess what she wanted with her life.

"I decided to take photography classes," said the parishioner of St. Mary's Church in Ballston Spa.

For families
Now, Mrs. Corey specializes in newborn photography. That, along with her background in the medical field, has helped with her work with NILMDTS. She's been volunteering with the organization for about a year now.

"I remember the first time I was called," Mrs. Corey told The Evangelist. "I was so nervous."

The family in that case knew their daughter would not live long after birth. They had Mrs. Corey on standby in the hospital to try to get pictures of her while she was still living.

"She was beautiful," the photographer said.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep promises families between 25 and 30 photos, but Mrs. Corey ended up handing over almost 500 photos. The baby girl lived for about two weeks.

"When she finally passed away, they invited me to go to the service," Mrs. Corey said, noting that the family expressed appreciation toward her as one of the few people who had been able to meet their infant daughter: "You become part of the story."

Another family who benefited from Mrs. Corey's work said they'll always feel a connection to the photographer.

"She will always be considered part of our family," said James Conklin, whose twin sons passed away when his fiancée went into labor after only 24 weeks of gestation.

The couple lives in Vermont, but happened to be in Glens Falls visiting Mr. Conklin's family when Lisa Leiold, Mr. Conklin's fiancée, began having back pain.

She was rushed to the hospital, where she went into labor, delivering Zachariah and Abel stillborn.

The nurse who was working with the couple helped them get in contact with Mrs. Corey to take pictures of the twins.

When Mrs. Corey goes into a hospital room in this kind of situation, she treats it like any other newborn photo shoot, she told The Evangelist.

'Perfect little people'
"I'm giving them a memory they're going to have forever," she said of the grieving families she meets. "I photograph [the infants] just like they're perfect little people."

Mrs. Corey is usually briefed by a nurse or a social worker before entering the hospital room. When taking pictures, she always asks the parents if it's alright for her to touch the baby.

She often shoots photos in black and white; if the infant has birth defects or trauma, she may use a hat or wrap the child partially in a blanket.

"I try to prepare myself for the grief I'm walking into," she said.

The experience can be overwhelming for the photographer. "It puts things in perspective," she told The Evangelist, saying that she often goes home and hugs her two daughters. Madeline is six and Amelia, four.

NILMDTS photographers provide the photos to families free of charge. But it often takes Mrs. Corey some time to be able to look back at the photos she's taken.

"I know what [the parents] are missing," she explained. "They are leaving the hospital empty-handed."

All they have
She hopes that, through her photographs, she is able to give the parents memories of every inch of their lost child.

"I try to give anything that is printable," she said. "It's the only opportunity that people will ever have to have a picture of their baby."

Mr. Conklin and Ms. Leieold have two older sons, ages 11 and eight. Their younger son had been excited about welcoming the twins, eager to have a chance at being an older brother.

Having photos of Zachariah and Abel to share, the couple said, helps with everyone's grieving process.

"I think my 11-year-old is still trying to cope," said Mr. Conklin, a Catholic. "We pulled together as a family and we're trying to make each day a better day."

Their younger son looks at the twins' photos "and says, 'There are my brothers. They're up there in heaven.'"

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