Brielle Maria Vela
This is a story of my dear friends, Dre and Gilbert. I have known this family for several years now and have been photographing them since their oldest son was 3 months old. And I continued with pictures when their daughter Leelah was born and their family was complete! They decided to take a permanent solution to complete their family and Gilbert got a vasectomy. Not even 3 days after his vasectomy, Dre wasn't feeling great, took a pregnancy test and found out she was pregnant. Surprise! Family of 5 coming right up! When Dre went to her first ultrasound appointment they found out they were not having 1 baby, but they were having twin girls! Double surprise! Time for a minivan.
During one of their routine checkups that found that baby B had some fluid on the brain and possible heart issues. It is hard to tell in utero how severe the issue is so Dre and Gilbert prayed for both their girls. Dre was put on bed rest at 23 weeks. Their twin girls, Ariella (Baby A) and Brielle (Baby B) were born on December 14th by emergency C-Section at 33 weeks. Ariella did great, considering being a premie. Once Brielle was born they were able to get a better idea of the issues that she had. They found that she had Hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), she also had several heart issues that would need corrected. They put a shunt in to help relieve the pressure on her brain and they also put in a G-tube to help her eat. When she was about 2.5 months old she was hospitalized for RSV and overcame that! She was a fighter from day one and went through SO much.
When they got home from the hospital Dre texted me that they were finally all healthy and ready for their first session with me! We scheduled our session for a week later and the night before I texted Dre that we better push it back because I still had a bit of a cold and didn't want to expose either of the twins, especially Brielle, to any illnesses. We scheduled the girls' shoot for the following Saturday. While preparing for their shoot I kept thinking about how Dre called the twins her little Warrior Princesses and I wanted to play off that and make outfits for them to look like little Xena's!
I woke up the next morning to the most heartbreaking news. They had lost Brielle. She had gone into cardiac arrest and after lots of work and effort from the medical professionals, they weren't able to save her. This little girl, at 3 months of age, had been through so much and had fought SO hard, but her little heart just couldn't keep fighting anymore.
Now, instead of photographing Brielle and Ariella together, I would just be photographing Ariella, but we wanted to incorporate Brielle into the photos as well. The Hydrocephalus ribbon is a two tone blue. I wanted to represent Bri in these photos with that color and the shape of the heart for the hard battle she fought. Dre and I wanted Ariella to have these photos when she grew up to remember her twin sister with.
Dre also wanted some last memories with Brielle so I went with her to the funeral home for one of the hardest shoots I have ever done. Dre wanted photos of her holding her baby one last time. It's hard to watch your friend in pain, but it's harder to watch a mother lose her child. That's a pain I can't even imagine.
I was there at the funeral home as some of Dre's family came to visit, and even met their granddaughter for the first time. Because of Brielle's conditions it was very dangerous for her to be around any illnesses so many people weren't able to meet her even if they had the slightest sniffle.
Brielle lived her short life being hooked up to tubes and wires the whole time. She had fought hard and had been through so much already but she still had a long road of surgeries and procedures ahead. When Dre and I were talking at the viewing she told me that as hard as it was to see her daughter like this, it brought her peace knowing that Brielle wasn't suffering anymore. She was no longer hooked up to machines and in pain and she was no longer fighting every day. She was free.
Brielle's funeral was a celebration of her life. Her short, but SO impactful life. Brielle's story changed all of us that knew them. We watched Dre and Gilbert, as small business owners, work SO hard to keep everything afloat while Dre was on bed rest, followed by maternity leave, followed by time off to take care of the twins. While Gilbert ran his business and took care of their older children at home.
We all watched and eagerly awaited updates as this brave little girl at such a young age was going through surgery after surgery to give her a better life. We learned about health, and family, and love, and faith. We watched as this family leaned on each other and leaned on God to get them through this time. We learned to give a little. This money may not mean much to me, but to them it may mean keeping their house, or taking time off to spend time with family.
Brielle's story taught us that life is short. For her it was 95 short days, but in those 95 days this little girl accomplished so much, but most of all, brought so many people together. Life is too short to hold grudges or live in fear of failing. Follow your dreams, say you're sorry, and most of all- Love.
Andrea is hoping to start a foundation in Bri's memory to help families who are in the NICU so they can focus on what they really need to: Family. She also asked us all to make a promise, to ourselves, but also to Brielle. I've been struggling with this promise for a while. And as I sat at her funeral and watched the slideshow and the photos that I took of Brielle for the first time, after she had passed, I made a promise to myself to treat every shoot like it's the last. Like it's the last photos of this family, this person, or this place, because we don't know what comes tomorrow. It breaks my heart when people use photos I have taken of someone as their obituary photo or for a memorial, but it brings me peace knowing that I was able to give that family something to hold on to. Forever. #mypromisetobrielle is to photograph every person through the eyes of their loved ones and as if these were the last photos to be taken, because tomorrow is never promised. This is #briellesimpact