As a labor and delivery nurse who gave birth to her own daughter at just 25 weeks, Kayla McMillan understands the fears and emotions felt by her patients who are hospitalized and on bed rest.
McMillan, who works at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, suffered a seizure during her pregnancy, and delivered her daughter the same day. Today, McMillan's daughter, Emma, is 21 months old and healthy, but McMillan vividly remembers the experience.
"I had already planned my maternity photos, I had already bought the dress I was going to wear, and my baby shower was already planned," McMillan told TODAY. "And that all got canceled when Emma was delivered in November instead of February."
McMillan, an amateur photographer in her spare time, says she often hears similar comments from patients who are hospitalized for the duration of their pregnancies.
"Since I missed out, I don't want them to have to miss out, too," said McMillan. "I can help them have that little piece of a normal pregnancy."
McMillan and a co-worker, who does hair and makeup for the pregnant women, began offering maternity shoots to patients on bed rest in April 2017. Since their first session, they have photographed six women who otherwise would have missed out on the chance.
When Erin Fink was hospitalized 33 weeks into her pregnancy, she had to cancel a maternity photo shoot she and her husband, Joshua, had planned at the beach. When she heard about McMillan's photo shoots, the first-time mom was thrilled.
"I was floored that there was a nurse that was willing to come in on her day off to take maternity pictures for me — a complete stranger," said Fink. "Kayla not only took amazing photos, but she got me out of that hospital room. It felt great to put on a dress, walk around outside and enjoy some sunshine."
McMillan says the mothers she photographs are typically those with the status of "on bedrest with bathroom privileges," meaning they have the ability to move around just enough to facilitate a shoot.
"Basically, we're wheeling them around," McMillan explained. "They get up to take photos, but in between photos they're back in the wheelchair."
Megan Muse was hospitalized for seven weeks before giving birth to her twin daughters, and struck up a close relationship with McMillan during her stay. Muse says she often talked to McMillan about her fear of losing her babies, and was comforted by McMillan's experience with preterm labor.
"One day, Kayla called and asked if I would be willing to allow her to take some maternity photos of me since I had missed out on that experience," said Muse. "I felt absolutely beautiful in a devastating time. Kayla is beautiful inside and out — she showed so much love in a time that it was needed."
McMillan has also thrown baby showers for a few of the moms who have not had family close by. One of these moms, Hollie Hawks, says she credits McMillan's photos and support with getting her through a difficult time.
"When Kayla approached me about the photos, I was hesitant — I wasn't sure I wanted to remember the pregnancy if my baby didn't make it," said Hawks. "I agreed to it, and I am so glad I did. For one day, I got to forget I was in the hospital. For one day, I got to pretend I was like a normal pregnant lady. For one day, I got to enjoy my pregnancy."
Hawks' son arrived three days after her photo shoot, and today is thriving.
McMillan plans to continue offering her services to moms who are hospitalized at her facility.
"They are going through such a hard thing and time in their lives," said McMillan. "This doesn't cost me anything, and it can help them so much."