It all started when my first son, Kane, was born eight weeks premature and with a number of medical complications including congenital heart defects and congenital scoliosis. At that point, I had taken a couple of photography courses and had my trusty Nikon D90 with me at the hospital. Photography was one of the ways I managed the stress of being in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for 54 days and the grief of not having a “normal” mom life.
Fast forward six years…I have continued to photograph and share our family’s Stollery Story, as well as stories for many other medically complex families. My hope has always been that by photographing, writing, and speaking about our family’s experience at the Stollery Children’s Hospital, other families will see connections to their own story and recognize their own strength and resilience.
Life in hospital is normal for so many families and I think documenting hospital stories is incredibly important for three reasons.
Firstly, because we need to be able to look back on what has happened and show our kids just how amazing they are. In our family, we print annual family albums and they are accessible for our kids to look at. Included in these albums are all the good times, images from vacations, school concerts, and birthday parties, but also the not so good times, tantrums, appointments, surgeries… The most powerful album, the one that showcases just how amazing our heart warrior is, is the album with images and words about Kane’s first heart surgery. That album contains all the Facebook updates we shared with family and friends about what was going on, as well as the positive comments that people wrote to us about how strong Kane is.
The second reason I think it is important to document our hospital story, whether through writing, photography, or a combination of both, is to work through my own feelings about successes and challenges we have faced as a family. There are so many emotions and, at times, trauma that we have experienced due to our medical journey. We have gained so much, but also have had to process so much. Each family I work with has to find their own way to do this.
Finally, documenting hospital stories allows families to share their experience with others in order to raise awareness. But also by sharing these stories it is offering hope and encouragement to families facing similar journeys. Actually, when I look back we have connected with so many families, both with similar diagnosis as well as very different diagnosis. As a photographer who works with families in hospital I can draw attention to the details that make them resilient, the things they don’t necessarily see in their own lives, the details that tell their story.
Throughout Kane’s life I have photographed his medical journey and written from my perspective, but as he has gotten older I have struggled with the fact that I am telling Kane’s story. In the rational side of my brain I know I am telling my parenting story, but it doesn’t feel quite right. When I talked about this with other photographers at the Storytellers Photo Conference, I was presented with the idea of doing a diptych project involving my perspective and Kane’s perspective. Brilliant! How have I never thought of that?!
Together is a photography project in collaboration with Kane. I think it is even more necessary now that he is scheduled for his next open heart surgery in September. I want this project to show Kane how amazing he is, to help us talk through what is happening and to raise awareness of what this experience is like for the kids not just the parents.
My hope is Together will highlight all the positive impacts the Stollery Children’s Hospital has had on our lives. Our hospital experiences have taught us about strength, resilience, and hope.
Together we learn.
Together we heal.
Kristy Wolfe is a storytelling photographer who is passionate about telling visual stories for families at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, Canada. She is currently in the middle of moving her family to Canmore, Alberta and preparing for her son’s upcoming heart surgery. For more posts related to Kane and his medical journey check out Our Stollery Story. For more information on Kristy Wolfe’s collaborative project with her 6 year old son, Kane check out Together.