Emily McClearen and Richard Staley with their daughter Monroe. Photo: Love Song Events & Photography
Images in this article may upset some readers.
Emily McClearen and Richard Staley were excited about the impending arrival of their second child. Like any pregnant woman, Emily was keen to meet her unborn baby, and the couple's five-year-old son was counting down the days until his little sister arrived.
Then the unthinkable happened.
After noticing her baby had not been as active as usual when she had her morning coffee on Friday July 25, Emily went to the hospital. Tragically, doctors were unable to find her baby's heartbeat, and an ultrasound confirmed that the little girl had died after the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.
A devastated Emily was told to return to the hospital the next morning when her husband, who was working two and a half hours away, could be with her for the caesarean delivery of their stillborn daughter Monroe Faith Staley.
The Californian couple also chose to have a professional photographer capture their baby girl's arrival.The result is series of tragic yet beautiful images which have been seen around the world after photographer Lindsey Natzic-Villatoro shared them on her Facebook page.
The photographer's account of the day she took the photos is heart-breaking.
"I met the family at 6:30am Saturday morning. I am a professional but human," Lindsey wrote.
"I walked into a cold hospital room, room 230 - full of tears and family, everyone was in disbelief. I grabbed [Emily's] hand and I told her this was quite literally the worst thing that could ever happen to a mother but together we were going to get through this. I smiled at their nurse, sweet Ronda, looked at [Richard] and told him I was here to help them both. I also told them that there was NO right way to handle this. If they wanted to freak out on me, throw something, cry, yell ... whatever, it was absolutely OK.
"[The nurses] gave Emily the option of having me in the OR during the c-section. Mom and Dad decided that was right where I needed to be, although both were very scared and nervous. I went into the bathroom before we walked into the OR, said a prayer for the surgery and for everything that was about to transpire.
"I looked at [Emily] on the operating table, she knew my heart was breaking for her. Mom and Dad both knew I was doing everything I could to be supportive and hold it together for them. I needed to be strong; I needed to do my job.
"At 7:52am I looked at that clock and sweet baby Monroe Faith Staley was born. I was the first to see her. My eyes quickly filled with tears as I pulled my mask down, looked over to mom and dad and said, 'SHE IS PERFECT'. Together we all cried.
"I stood next to the baby and watched the nurses give Monroe her first sponge bath, I touched her hands, put the hat I brought her on and took a few pictures. The nurse Miguel, who we all adore, then handed Emily her baby girl as the doctor finished her surgery.
"It was a dream, this family was living a total nightmare. I can't even begin to describe the pain I knew Mom and Dad were feeling at that moment. As Mom pleaded for her baby to wake up, her sweet husband brushed her hair with his hands crying with her. Cheek to cheek, clinging to their baby girl in disbelief; the two of them were pillars for each other.
"At 8:20am the four of us went across the hall to Mom's room and for almost 9 hours Monroe never left their sight. I was able to capture moments that this family will forever have.
"Baby was full term and ABSOLUTE PERFECTION. Monroe defined perfection. Throughout the morning and afternoon family members came to meet this perfect angel. I took the baby to the infant warmer and snapped away. Any image that came to mind, I shot. I wanted this family to have every possible memory of this child I could physically give them.
"So with that being said, I would like you all to meet this beautiful family. 26-year-old mother Emily, 29-year-old father Richard, and baby girl Monroe Faith Staley weighing 6 pounds 2.5 ounces [2.8kg], 19 inches [48cm] long."
A grieving Emily said she chose to share Monroe's pictures with the world as a way to honour the baby girl's memory.
"I wanted our family to have some way to show how beautiful our daughter was," Emily told Yahoo Health. "I was proud of her, and I wanted to show her off and make sure her memory lives on."
If the supportive messages complete strangers have left for the family on social media are anything to go by, Emily and Richard can rest assured their beautiful daughter has touched hearts around the world.