On the evening of April 5, Justin Allen Wier rushed into this
world earlier than expected, weighing three pounds and 14 ounces.
His mother, who struggled through a lingering labor, felt genuine
joy after giving birth to her first baby.
"I felt euphoria," Jayme Wier recalls.
But within seconds, Wier's jubilation began giving way to the
sorrowful reality of the situation-Justin died in her womb a few
days earlier. An ultrasound revealed no heartbeat from her little
bundle of hopes and dreams.
"That moment was the proudest and saddest of my life," says
Wier, a 26-year-old music teacher.
Still, Jayme and husband Tim dressed Justin in a light green
outfit they picked out months earlier. They wrapped him in a
patchwork quilt. And they cradled, coddled and cuddled him,
whispering in unison, "We love you, Justin. We love you very
The River Forest couple knew this euphoric, yet tragic moment
was coming. They pondered it for weeks beforehand. They even
planned for it by having these precious few hours together as a
first-time family captured forever.
To them, it didn't matter that Justin died before he lived. It
didn't matter that he was conceived with multiple medical problems
or that his skin had already begun to shed. It didn't matter that
his soul prematurely ascended from his lifeless body.
What mattered was that they arranged for a professional
photographer to be in the hospital delivery room for these fleeting
"We wanted to memorialize the most private and intimate time of
our lives," Tim says.
Jayme, a part-time photographer, learned of a nonprofit
organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. The Colorado-based
group coordinates 5,000 volunteer photographers in 20 countries to
take intimate and sensitive portraits of newborn babies who face
The organization was co-founded in 2005 by two women-a mother
whose baby died six days after birth and the photographer who
captured the freeze-frame images of that family together. Other
parents have since told the group that without such
once-in-a-lifetime photos, these memories can fade away like a
cemetery in a rearview mirror.
"It's a topic that parents rarely think of unless they or
someone they know are faced with a need for it," says spokeswoman
In many situations, parents find out their baby has only days or
hours to live and, if they're interested, hospital personnel refer
them to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Unborn infants must be at least
25 weeks gestation, according to the organization's criteria. In
other situations, like with Jayme and Tim Wier, they have more time
to make arrangements.
A few weeks before their baby was born, they met with David
Hails, a 59-year-old photographer from Prospect Heights and a Now I
Lay Me Down to Sleep coordinator for northeastern Illinois. They
explained their rare situation and asked if he could be "on call"
"Sure," he replied. "Just give me as much time as you can to get
there and prepare."
The Wiers were one of the first Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
families for Hails, one of six coordinators and 20 volunteer
photographers in the Chicago metro region. He joined the group as a
way to give back to society, figuring his involvement costs only
"I immediately felt a special connection to Jayme and Tim," says
Hails, who has since photographed more than a dozen babies with
their proud parents. "I rearranged my schedule so I could be ready
for their call."
A death, a birth
Last October, the Wiers celebrated the conception of Justin by
rearranging their lives, announcing their great news and planning
for their future as parents. Three months later, their dreams
tossed and turned into a nightmare when a routine ultrasound
discovered a chromosomal disorder with fatal complications.
Traditional advice tells parents not to bond with such doomed
babies, to avoid getting their hearts broken. But this attitude is
fading, with more parents not only choosing to bond with their
babies, but also to bond with every minute of their shortened
"You can't go back and make up for it later," Jayme says.
This is ultimately why the Wiers decided to contact Now I Lay Me
Down to Sleep and David Hails.
On April 4, after Jayme had the ultrasound revealing Justin died
in her womb, the couple called Hails. They told him that doctors
would soon induce labor and she would be giving birth within the
next 24 hours.
They also called their families, who quickly filled the waiting
room at Rush University Medical Center. The next day, a Saturday,
Justin Allen Wier arrived at 6:25 p.m.
"It was a torpedo birth, with fluid everywhere," recalls Tim,
who first held Justin before placing him in Jayme's arms.
Next, Justin's grandparents held him and then other family
members. Minutes later, Hails entered the room and shot several
intimate photos of Justin with his proud parents. There were
smiles. There were tears. There was love.
Hails caught it all on camera and minutes later he quietly left
the family alone.
That night, the Wiers spent several hours alone with Justin,
cooing into his ears "Mommy and Daddy love you," and "We'll see you
in heaven." Just before midnight, they finally called the nurses to
take Justin away.
'I have a son'
The couple agreed to an autopsy on Justin to determine exactly
what caused his abnormalities and his death, but it proved
inconclusive. Genetic testing also failed to explain God's
decision-making process, they discovered months later.
"We'll never know," Jayme sighs.
The school where Jayme teaches music class allowed an early
dismissal for students to attend Justin's funeral. A children's
choir sang "Children of the Heavenly Father," a song Jayme had
picked for her son's baptism, not his death. And photos of Justin
adorned the ceremony, taken by Hails, who also was in
Hails later presented the Wiers with a CD of digital images and
a DVD slide show, set to music, of the family's brief time
together-at no charge, all compliments of the organization and
"We do whatever we can to help them deal with their grief,"
The Wiers say that the group's gesture helped comfort their pain
during the worst time of their lives. They also keep photos of
Justin in their wallet or purse and when someone asks if they have
any children, they proudly pull out the images.
"I tell them I have a son, and his name is Justin," Jayme says,
wiping tears from her eyes. "He once existed, and I have these
wonderful photos to show it."
The couple has no regrets of allowing Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
into their lives and urges other parents in similar situations to
at least consider it. This is why they allowed the organization to
reveal their story, which is more common than it seems, they
"There's a huge need for this organization, but too many parents
are unaware it exists," Tim says.
Pereira says her group is working on compiling the total number
of families it has photographed the past three years, but she
figures it's in the hundreds and growing quickly.
Four months after Justin's death, the Wiers received surprising
news. Jayme is pregnant again. The couple's baby-their second
child, not their first-is due near Justin's birth date.
For more information on Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, to talk with
a photographer or to become a volunteer photographer, visit
nowilaymedown tosleep.org, or contact David Hails at (847) 541-9051
or [email protected].
Why the name of Justin Allen?
Jayme and Tim Wier named their baby Justin Allen just one day
before his birth, knowing full well his fate-death, and his
"We wanted to find the perfect name, something that proclaimed a
message," says Jayme, a devout believer.
The couple chose Justin, which means "just or righteous," and
Allen, Tim's middle name, which means "precious," they say.
"He is and always will be our precious and righteous son," Tim
Jerry Davich is a Chicago area writer and dad of
Let us plan your weekend with the best family events and activities in Chicagoland.
Start the week right with deals, prizes, parent life hacks and more delivered straight to your inbox.
Need last-minute ideas for a weekend of family fun? No worries. We've got you.
Get the inside scoop on the people, places and things we are loving right now.
Resources, tips, inspiration and more for parents of children with special needs.
Score exclusive offers from our fabulous advertisers.