Kayla McMillan has been a labor and delivery nurse at the Duke Birthing Center in Durham, North Carolina, for five-and-a-half years, so when she had a seizure and went into labor when she was just 25 weeks pregnant, she knew exactly what that meant.
“I know too much for my own good,” McMillan, 28, tells PEOPLE. “It was very scary and very intimidating being a mother and a nurse knowing so many things.”
She’d been forced into the hospital when she was 22 weeks along, because doctors worried giving birth could be deadly for both her and her baby.
Incredibly, her daughter is now 19 months old and healthy.
McMillan says her faith got her through the difficult journey and after having time to really think about her experience, McMillan realized she’d missed out on a lot of the fun things she’d been looking forward to that usually goes along with a normal pregnancy. She had to cancel her baby shower and the maternity photo shoot that she’d arranged.
“Everything just happened so fast for me,” she says.
That’s why she started helping other moms-to-be that she works with in the hospital. For moms that are hospitalized and on bed rest during their pregnancy, McMillan, an amateur photographer, arranges special maternity photo shoots — and even baby showers.
“They’re here for a long stay, I hate that they miss out because they’re stuck in the hospital,” she says. “That’s something I can do for them. I think it heals my soul a little bit, too. Each time I do it, it heals a little part of me that was a little bit broken. I wish I had a picture of myself pregnant.”
Hollie Hawks, 29, was 16 weeks pregnant with her first child when her water broke. Doctors worried the Whitsett, North Carolina, mom and her baby were both in danger and kept her in the hospital for weeks until she could safely deliver. Hawks jumped at the chance when McMillan suggested the idea of the hospital photo shoot.
“I thought it was so cool, they truly invest in a patient. It gave me a sense of normalcy in the pregnancy that I never had,” Hawks tells PEOPLE. “I have the pictures on my phone and I look at them often.”
Another nurse did her hair and makeup and McMillan took the special photos.
“It really just warms my heart because seeing how happy she was — for just a moment she was not thinking about being in the hospital and worrying about her baby,” McMillan says. “She was just taking time to be a normal human being.”
She adds: “Seeing the genuine smile on her face — still gives me goosebumps.”