I surprised myself last week by reading and sharing an article from the Daily Mail.
A friend had posted this article about a couple in the US whose baby girl, Monroe, was stillborn. A professional photographer visited them at the hospital to take photos of their beautiful baby, and helped create precious memories for the family. The images are bittersweet. You can see the love and pride in the bereaved mother’s face, despite her sorrow.
Usually I wouldn’t touch anything from the Daily Mail with a very long barge pole but the article was balanced in its representation of baby death, and of the need for parents to have such memories of their baby. The article’s comments are a mixed bag: many express their condolences to the family and commend the parents for bringing the topic out in to the open.
Others said that the photos were inappropriate, and that they should have been kept private.
It was the responses to these negative comments that I found most heartening.These are my favourites:
“Why should the loss of a child, or the subsequent pictures be private? Childloss is a taboo subject that needs to be spoken about more. It’s because of people like you, that people like me are too afraid to share pictures of their little Angels.”
“Sharing life’s experiences, good and bad, sometimes helps others. Those who previously lost children but didn’t have the opportunity for photos to remember will recall and feel glad for this couple. Those that unfortunately lose babies in the future will realise this is something they can do. Those close to couples that lose a baby will hopefully feel better able to support them and grieve with them. Others will realise that the loss of a baby at any stage of the pregnancy is the loss of a life and the dreams for that baby. The rest of us will value our children just that little bit more.”
I nodded along with these comments. I have never suffered a stillbirth. Amongst my heartbreak, I try to count my blessings and I reflect how fortunate I am to have had 35 precious days with Hugo. I took many photos and videos of Hugo during those days, and each one is cherished.
My one regret is not having a photo of Hugo’s beautiful face without the ventilator tube and the naso-gastric tube attached to it. Because these pieces of equipment helped sustain his life, the only opportunity I had to get such a photo was after he had died.
At the time, taking a photo of Hugo when he was dead felt macabre. I know and feel differently about that now. As far as regrets go, it is not the worst one to have, especially considering I have so many other photos of Hugo.
But having read the article and those comments, I could not help thinking that if we shared these stories more openly, bereaved parents need not have these sorts of regrets.
Losing a baby, whether they are born sleeping or die as an infant is an equal tragedy. It means every single memory and every single photo takes on an added significance, because they are limited and finite.
Bereaved parents are all-too aware that there will never be photos of the baby’s first Christmas, their first ice-cream, their first go on the swings or their first day at school – or any number of other firsts that parents celebrate.
The parents in the Daily Mail article are not the only ones to have been at the receiving end of these negative comments, as I’ve read on baby loss forums and message boards. These parents have expressed their hurt that people have not been interested in seeing the photos of their babies – or that people have shown active disgust.
Most of us love looking at photos of newborn babies with their beaming, proud parents. We coo over the new arrival and say how gorgeous they are.
Bereaved parents need to hear that their babies are gorgeous, too. Bereaved parents have shared photos of their babies on SANDS forums and, most recently, on a thread on Now I Lay Myself Down to Sleep’s Facebook page. Some were born sleeping, others died after birth. Each one of those babies is beautiful.
I am fortunate that so many people have admired the photos of my beautiful Hugo. It makes me feel like a ‘normal’, proud mummy, for a few moments.
Our society doesn’t know how to deal with death. In Victorian times, memento mori photography was a common practice – mortality rates, especially infant mortality, were higher and death was less of a taboo subject.
We like to think that death, and especially losing a baby, will never happen to us. I know that before losing Hugo baby loss was something that happened to ‘other people’.
Thankfully infant mortality is a lot lower these days. However as I have discovered, death does not discriminate.
I was able to spend time with and cuddle Hugo at the funeral home, and we took some photos. This was some two weeks after he had died, and of course he had changed by then. Despite that, he was still beautiful with his defined little nose and head of dark hair. He just looked like he was asleep. I knew it was the last time I would ever see Hugo, and I was determined to make the most of every moment.
I have never shared the photo below before, but wanted to share it in solidarity with other parents who have lost their babies.
Grief is of course very personal. Bereaved parents should certainly have the opportunity to take any photos of their baby that they would like – this is especially important for parents of babies born sleeping because these photos are the only ones that they will have.
Bereaved parents should feel able to do whatever is right for them, whether or not they take photos of their baby, and whether or not they share them, either publicly or privately.
If they do choose to share the photos, they should be able to do so without fear of revulsion. If you have a shred of compassion or empathy such photos will undoubtedly make you feel sad. Baby loss is against the natural course of events. But that sadness does not mean you should not look, if the parent chooses to share the photos with you.
As I wrote in this post, some people just do not know how to react or what to say to someone who has lost a baby.
The message for looking at photos is just the same: remember, your discomfort will last just a few minutes, but the bereaved parents’ heartbreak will last a lifetime.