Little Love Sessions
Babies born into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are fighters. Fighting to live, to grow, to thrive. Their parents stand by them day in and day out, hoping, praying, and waiting for the day they can take their newest family members home.
Emotionally drained and physically exhausted, they know they will never forget these long days and nights in the NICU. But, over time, as their fighters go home and grow bigger and stronger and the NICU becomes a distant memory, the details begin to fade. Stepping up to help preserve those memories for eternity is Ashley Walthart of AE Photography.
Ashley has a bachelor’s degree in photography from Coe College. Her husband, Travis, is also a photographer. Together, they make up AE Photography in Cedar Rapids. They, like most photographers, spend their days creating beautiful portraits of happy families and smiling couples on their wedding day. But, after years of offering her services to friends and family who had children in the NICU, Ashley wanted to share her talent and passion beyond just shooting family portraits and weddings.
A couple years ago, she started Little Loves, a free service available to families with children in the NICU, to help them remember all the little details of their babies’ first weeks or months.
When asked why she started, Ashley said, “I’ve been shooting in the NICU for friends and family here and there for over five years but didn’t create and name the program until about two years ago. We had a lot of friends go through extended NICU stays. No family is fully prepared for an event like this. When you are pregnant and preparing for baby, you don’t typically think of ‘what if’ scenarios of needing to spend weeks or even months in the NICU.”
During their stays, parents don’t think they will ever forget the details, like their room number or just how tiny their son or daughter’s hand is compared to theirs because they are there with their babies daily. However, as time passes, the memories begin to fade.
A Little Loves session aims to document those details so that they last forever. All sessions are done free of charge because, as parents themselves, Ashley and Travis understand that medical bills and parental leave can leave some parents struggling financially.
Currently, AE Photography does four to five Little Love sessions a month but would love to do more and are working to spread the word. They love meeting the families and hearing their stories. Ashley says, “I also love to hear about what they do with the images. Some created books for their 'littles' to have when they get older. LOVE THAT!”
Each family gets the digital pictures for free and can do whatever they like with them. AE Photography does offer products if the families want to go through them, but there is absolutely no obligation to do so.
Services are offered to any families in the NICU at St. Luke’s, Mercy Cedar Rapids, Mercy Iowa City, and the University of Iowa hospitals.