Everyone's baby
September 26, 2008 5:25 PM   Subscribe

If you were a parent, and had lost your child during birth--what would you do? Grieve--yes; mourn, of course; photograph your dead child... ? WHY? [please don't click if you're a soon-to-be-parent]

It has been done in the past, and now Cheryl Haggard and Sandy Puc have been helping families with the grieving process by giving them this one last opportunity to remember their babies for eternity.
posted by hadjiboy (93 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

Yes, indeed.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:35 PM on September 26, 2008

Why? For the same reason anyone who is grieving for a loved one cherishes their picture, to remember them. To have a picture that exclaims that they existed. An image to talk to. To cry over.

If having evidence of that helps in any small way for the person who has lost their child who are we to judge?
posted by gomichild at 5:45 PM on September 26, 2008 [9 favorites]

doesn't this seem like something very much relevant for a soon-to-be-parent?
for all others, it's more of a morbid curiosity, I think.

but you've shown me something I'd not heard of previously, so thanks.
posted by Busithoth at 5:47 PM on September 26, 2008

Wisconsin Death Trip features a number of portraits of stillborn infants. My understanding is that this was a fairly common practice at that time.
posted by everichon at 5:49 PM on September 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

In the 19th century, that is to say.
posted by everichon at 5:49 PM on September 26, 2008

I might be wrong, but the manner in which the question "Why?" is asked leads me to feel that both hadjiboy and Kokuryu are viewing this as some absurd, abnormal, strangeness. If I'm wrong about that, please feel free to correct me.

From that assumption, let me make just a couple of statements. I've never lost a baby, but, I have lost a child (age 20), so I have some perspective on the grief, perhaps even more so since I had years of loss instead of days, weeks, months...

The process that people go through in grieving the death of a child is very difficult to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it. You find yourself seizing opportunities to hold on to any memory, energy, or image of your child, and almost every parent does it in a different manner.

I encourage anyone who comes into contact with someone who has lost a child to respond with tolerance, love, and compassion, allow them to grieve in any manner that brings peace.
posted by HuronBob at 5:55 PM on September 26, 2008 [20 favorites]

doesn't this seem like something very much relevant for a soon-to-be-parent?

Yeah, but only if the parent can handle it; I wouldn't want to arouse any feelings that could be counter-productive for them at this time.
posted by hadjiboy at 5:57 PM on September 26, 2008

When my wife and I lost a child soon after birth in 1981, and were given the opportunity to sit and hold him for a while, one of the nurses came to ask if we'd like a photograph of him. We were a bit blindsided by the question and said no. But we've regretted that answer. We wish we had the picture.
posted by beagle at 5:58 PM on September 26, 2008 [6 favorites]

I understand what they're getting at, but it's still rather macabre.

Especially the photos of the really, really prematurely born babies and the ones born with horrible physical defects.

It's like taking remembrance photos of your dead cat after it was hit by a car.

I mean, you COULD use such photos to remember your cat by, but should you?
posted by Seppaku at 5:58 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was eight years old, my mother gave birth to my brother, who was hydrocephalic. He lived less than six months. I was never taken to the hospital to see him, and I have never seen a picture of him.

I understand why my parents did not want any pictures taken of him, but I also kind of wish they had.
posted by yhbc at 6:00 PM on September 26, 2008

Whoa, Seppaku, you might want to reconsider your equating a dead child with a dead cat.

When a child is wanted, expected, planned for, imagined over 40 weeks...well, you already love that child when he or she is born. If all of the dream-castles you've built for that child over the course of that pregnancy are destroyed by death, I don't think it's weird or unnatural to want some physical reminder that your baby existed.
posted by chihiro at 6:05 PM on September 26, 2008

Seppaku, what a strange, strange way to think about this.. I can hardly even respond to that..
posted by HuronBob at 6:05 PM on September 26, 2008

My sister didn't do this when she lost her first daughter after roughly a week; however, she does very much appreciate that (before she had more children) we sent her a mother's day card each year -- she let us know that if people didn't treat her like a mother, it felt like nobody remembered that her daughter had existed.

So each person grieves in their own way; I think I'd be inclined not to question why people do this, but rather why they might share the pictures on the internet or somesuch.

disclaimer: my children are alive, but my father and cat are dead, and I have pictures of both...from when they were alive.
posted by davejay at 6:06 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

How about keeping it frozen for 21 years?
posted by Rhomboid at 6:06 PM on September 26, 2008

I mean, you COULD use such photos to remember your cat by, but should you?

It's nothing like this. You don't carry your cat around inside of you for months, bonding with him or her, seeing them on ultrasounds, hearing them, feel them moving around inside of you. While the death of pet is extremely upsetting it can't be compared to losing a child.
posted by gomichild at 6:07 PM on September 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Hi HuronBob.

I might be wrong, but the manner in which the question "Why?" is asked leads me to feel that both hadjiboy and Kokuryu are viewing this as some absurd, abnormal, strangeness.

No, not at all, although I was a bit conflicted at first when I saw the pictures of the deceased (in the image gallery) being shown to the public, but then I figured--it's their kids, and their right.

I just lost two relatives on the same day yesterday, and I was just wondering if I'd want to post their photographs on the web... which led me to ask the question and play devil's advocate for a minute. Sorry if I've hurt anyone's feelings; it wasn't my intention.

PS. Very sorry to hear about your son too, Huron

posted by hadjiboy at 6:08 PM on September 26, 2008

I mean, you COULD use such photos to remember your cat by, but should you?

I don't really think I can judge how people 'should' grieve over the loss of their children.
posted by lullaby at 6:09 PM on September 26, 2008

I don't really think I can judge how people 'should' grieve over the loss of their children.

Dunno; the WHY? posited within the original post screamed JUDGE JUDGE JUDGE to me.
posted by Seppaku at 6:22 PM on September 26, 2008

When my daughter was unexpectedly stillborn with a birth defect, my wife & I were basically in shock. The suggestion that a photo be taken seemed a little strange at the time, but we had been mentally prepared to be proud at that moment for so long and had invested so much love in that little girl, we said yes. I'm so glad we did.

It makes me cry now just to remember it, and I haven't looked at those pictures for a few years (and the last time I did, I was shaken at how broken we looked), but I'm glad we have those pictures. Other than a gravestone, and our memories, that's all we have.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:25 PM on September 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

I can't have babies. I should not have clicked and have learned my lesson. Off to bed with me.
posted by Jenny is Crafty at 6:26 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I thought there was a photo retouching service that specialized in photoshopping such photos to make them look as good as possible that was posted about on mefi at one point. Yes, I am too lazy to look right now. Oh, here it is. The discussion in that one might be worth looking into if you are so inclined.

As far as I'm concerned, whatever it takes to help them grieve and heal in the way that suits them. I wish them peace.
posted by marble at 6:29 PM on September 26, 2008

I haven't clicked on those photos, and I don't intend to. I'm not a new parent, but I still can't look at these images. I frequently wonder what the hell I was ever afraid of before I had children.

When I was much younger, I had a friend whose baby died at 38 weeks. I understood the sadness but not the amount of grief, since no one had gotten the chance to actually know this baby yet. I discovered how idiotic I was when I was pregnant for the first time. My child was so real to me, and even though I knew him just through a blurry ultrasound and an inconveniently-placed lump, I loved him more every day.

When he was born, he was immediately sent to NICU (although we were able to take him home in a few days with no problems). When the nurses took him away, and I was lying alone in a dark hospital room after all the noise and bustle of labor, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of loss. I'd only seen this baby for a few minutes, but he was mine, he was this idea I'd had for so long that finally had a visible, physical form. I was terrified and upset, but I also could not comprehend how nine months of expectations and possibility was reversed so quickly.

My father-in-law chose to become a photographer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep after he retired. While I can't bring myself to look at his photos - and I understand they're beautiful - he's told me about the parents who need these images of their baby. He's also told me about mothers who have asked for a photographer before the birth because they know their baby won't live very long. Especially in a culture where we often don't speak about miscarriages or stillborn children, these photos are the only proof that what was once so pivotal in their lives was real. These children died when they were new, but their parents have known them a long time.
posted by bibliowench at 6:31 PM on September 26, 2008 [17 favorites]


Why the fuck not? Apologies for being all high and mighty, but let's not question how people choose to grieve the loss of their children.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:32 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dunno; the WHY? posited within the original post screamed JUDGE JUDGE JUDGE to me.

The links in the [more inside] part of the post were supposed to counter that "judgement" Seppaku; guess it didn't work. My bad.
posted by hadjiboy at 6:33 PM on September 26, 2008

Also, the contents of the WHY link provide a pretty good answer as well:

But there is another aspect of pregnancy and birth. There is an unexpected place in this journey where some families may find themselves. When a baby dies, a world is turned upside down. There is confusion, sadness, fear, and uncertainty that cannot be explained. There is sorrow where there should have been joy. During this time, it might be impossible for families to know what they might need in order to heal in the future.

posted by hadjiboy at 6:35 PM on September 26, 2008

posted by lester at 6:37 PM on September 26, 2008

see also.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:38 PM on September 26, 2008

Hadjiboy, you seem pretty sincere in your desire to not hurt anyone with this post. However, it's worded (that all caps WHY?, especially) in a way that implies you are inviting us to come look at some freakshow with you. "Playing devil's advocate" about how people grieve their dead babies seems more than a little cruel.

I didn't click the link, because I don't want to spend the rest of the night sobbing. I'm not sure I need to, though, because I received a photo once from a friend whose baby was born prematurely, and then died. The photo allowed me to say to my friend "Oh, she's so sweet" which gave her one tiny moment of feeling what she had waited months to hear, someone loving her baby.

I'm torn between flagging this post for being horribly worded for such a sensitive topic, and not flagging it in the hopes that someone who needs to see it, does.
posted by donnagirl at 6:38 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Once one reads the "WHY?" link, hadjiboy, it does make sense. I think perhaps people are reacting to the tone we "hear" when reading all caps.
posted by chihiro at 6:39 PM on September 26, 2008

In Japan, there is Ojizosama.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:44 PM on September 26, 2008

Well, walls are covered with pictures of relatives from long ago. Photos of friends of the ages cover desks and bookshelves. Cemetaries have rows of homages to children. Why not? It is still a child and I am surprised that this is not more common.

Now, the music on the website sounds like a House episode set in an alcoholic hell, or maybe a care home where some poor mofo cannot get out of bed to turn off the debates.
posted by buzzman at 6:44 PM on September 26, 2008

However, it's worded (that all caps WHY?, especially) in a way that implies you are inviting us to come look at some freakshow with you

See, that's exactly how I felt when I stumbled upon the site: that it were inviting me to see some kind of a "freakshow", and like you, I was in two minds whether to click on it or not, but after I did, and read the posts by Cheryl Haggard and why she wanted to do what she did, I sort of understood the desire of a parent who's lost his or her loved one to try and immortalize that memory in any way he or she can.

On preview: what chihiro said.

Also, if this post is causing distress to people, I wouldn't mind taking it off... again, my apologies to anyone and everyone who might've taken this the wrong way.
posted by hadjiboy at 6:48 PM on September 26, 2008

hadjiboy, don't back off. I think donnagirl has an excellent point when she says that someone who might need this someday could see it here. It's a terrible thought, especially as a parent, but a real possibility and could do someone some good. Maybe the mods could just tone down that "WHY?"
posted by chihiro at 6:53 PM on September 26, 2008

hadjiboy, I did not see your post as insensitive please don't experience any guilt about how this was worded. Your posts are always quality and worth reading, we know who you are and I suspect none of us felt the post was inappropriate.

To all of you that have a personal experience related to this, I send my peace...
posted by HuronBob at 6:54 PM on September 26, 2008

It's a impulse that's about as old as photography. I cannot not judge based on the age of the deceased.
posted by rainbaby at 6:56 PM on September 26, 2008

FWIW I wasn't offended. People shouldn't be be afraid to ask questions, lest of all here.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:01 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe the mods could just tone down that "WHY?"

Yes, that would be a good idea. (Trying to read the post without recollecting what's being said in the links does make it sound rather insensitive).

Thanks HuronBob, I appreciate it.
posted by hadjiboy at 7:02 PM on September 26, 2008

Yeah - toned down, the sentence would sound much differently. Sorry for the strong knee-jerk reaction, I see better now what you were intending.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:22 PM on September 26, 2008

Because I follow a lot of midwifery/birth/mom blogs, I have run across moms who have had this experience. One particular woman's little girl started crashing moments after birth and was gone two days later, by which time the process of trying to save her had scarred her little body. The hospital helped them dress the baby to disguise the scars and take some pictures, the only pictures she now has, of her daughter before letting the funeral home take her. She uses that picture as a photo icon for all posts about her lost girl; and if you read those posts and that grief, you understand, a little. Had the baby lived even a few months or years, there would be plenty of photos of her alive for her mother to have. When they die so young, they leave so little trace behind. You hold on to whatever you can.
posted by emjaybee at 7:40 PM on September 26, 2008

Why wouldn't you want a picture of your child? I don't understand why this would be considered weird. It's still your child.

I think a picture is especially valuable if you have other young children, or have children after the stillborn child. It's really difficult to connect with a cold gravestone, but the siblings would likely cherish a picture of their brother/sister.
posted by Ostara at 7:41 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

OK, maybe we've all reacted strongly, because it's a horrific topic and deserves a strong reaction. Given your explanation of the WHY? link, hadjiboy, I went back and clicked it. Before, I assumed it went to a particularly awful image of some sort. I'm glad I did go back, and I'd like to try to re-rail this post to talking about the content instead of the presentation of the post.

The site hadjiboy has linked in his WHY? link is a foundation and network of volunteer photographers who create gentle, loving mementos for people at some of the most difficult moments of their lives. The images on that site are quite beautiful, and certainly heartbreaking if you know their context, but not at all morbid, gruesome, or voyeuristic. I have a lot of admiration for someone who is willing to step in for a stranger and perform what must be a very difficult and often haunting exercise. bibliowench, if your father-in-law's photos are anything like the ones I saw, he does good work. Not just in a photography way.
posted by donnagirl at 7:46 PM on September 26, 2008


Why not?

Our son was stillborn at full term, had no obvious defects or any kind, other than being, well, dead. Why is the fact that our son had lost the thin thread of life make him any less deserving of a baby picture than a living one?

And, as taking pictures of the family all grieving over him isn't really all that hot a plan, the baby picture may in fact be the only photo of the event we have.

Until it happens to you, you really have no idea of the horror of it all, and parents may not be in good decision-making shape at the time it happens. So the hospitals don't shunt you off to the dead baby floor and treat your child's birth as anything less than those that are still living.
posted by Windopaene at 7:48 PM on September 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

doesn't this seem like something very much relevant for a soon-to-be-parent?
for all others, it's more of a morbid curiosity, I think.

I chose not to explore the site beyond the two main pages linked, but I think
posted by longsleeves at 8:02 PM on September 26, 2008

(sorry, meant to hit preview). I just wanted to say that whatever reasons people have to accept the invitation to share in the images are probably not so simple as mere morbid fascination.
posted by longsleeves at 8:07 PM on September 26, 2008

Like many others, this seems like a very personal thing for parents to do, and I can certainly see why they choose to do so.

When I was born, my parents had no money, and no camera. I was born 3 months premature.

Three baby pictures exist of me. Two of them are shaky polaroids taken shortly after my birth, both of me in an incubator hooked up to all sorts of crap. I remember asking my mom "God, why would you take *these* pictures? They're awful!"

Her response was that they borrowed a camera and took those pictures because they didn't know if I would live, and they wanted to have something, anything, just in case.
posted by aclevername at 8:17 PM on September 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


what a wonderful post thanks...
posted by HuronBob at 8:23 PM on September 26, 2008

A friend of mine, while renting a disused hospital ward for a photo shoot, was hit up for a program like this.
I'm thinking there's a lot more demand for it than there are photographers willing to volunteer their time for it. Despite his initial reaction being "god no" they called him a bunch of times after to see if he'd changed his mind.
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:38 PM on September 26, 2008

First my condolences to HuronBob and beagle on the loss of your children.

hadjiboy, I'm sorry about the loss of your relatives yesterday. My condolences to you and your family.

When this Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep site was posted a couple of years ago I was also shocked initially but on reflection it makes much sense.

hadjiboy, your post title is "Everybody's Baby". Would you consider mentioning why you called it that? Does it seem like an invasion of the dead child's privacy to be photographed? I think mementos of the person/s who died have been varied throughout history, from hair jewelry, death masks to entire buildings decorated with human bones. It's something for those who miss the dead person/s to hold onto, to feel connected, to honor the dead person/s existence.
posted by nickyskye at 8:53 PM on September 26, 2008

Elizabeth McCracken writes about she and her husband's decision not to photograph their stillborn child in her wonderfully written, deeply felt, and often funny(!) memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, which just came out, and which I just happened to be reading last night.
posted by dontoine at 8:54 PM on September 26, 2008

Er, her and her husband's decision.
posted by dontoine at 8:57 PM on September 26, 2008

I'm a volunteer photographer for this organization, who will go through the training process soon. The portrait sessions are done with mothers and couples while still pregnant, babies who are still alive, and babies who have died.

The reasons that parents would choose this way to commemorate their children are varied, but the love that they feel for their baby is absolutely no different from the love that any other parent feels - it's just as strong. They know that they're not going to have a lot of time, if any, with their child, and unlike parents who have photos and baby blankets and clothing that their babies wore, these parents have nothing, and they desperately want something to hold on to.

This is still a baby. This is their baby. These are families who are just as deserving of a family portrait as parents with a baby who is healthy and thriving. We all celebrate and grieve in our own way - none more or less normal than what you'd consider the proper way (some families even keep blogs).

I reached out to the service rather than the other way around, when looking for charities to support as part of my side gig. Personally, I think it's as beautiful and worthy as any other portrait session.
posted by mewithoutyou at 9:10 PM on September 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Hey Nicky,

Would you consider mentioning why you called it that?

Yeah, sure--the first thing that came to my mind while making this post were all the people it involved (and not only the parents) who sort of became a part of the child's existence, from the hospital staff, to the photographers/their helpers, and the family--to the many people who would view the site and find comfort in it (as the testimonials suggest, and some of the posts on this board as well).

Everyone's Baby [the story of Jessica] seemed like a good title to have to express that:)
posted by hadjiboy at 9:13 PM on September 26, 2008

I was also born three months premature. My twin brother died nineteen days after our birth; there are only a few extant photos of him alive. The nurses took several photos of him after his death and gave them to my mother. She keeps them now in the back of her closet and says that she gets "chills" whenever she sees them, since she does consider them to be morbid and gruesome.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 9:15 PM on September 26, 2008

Unless I was put in that position, I don't think I could give an honest answer. Nonetheless that seemed weird to me. I mean I guess I could maybe understand taking the pictures, but posting them on the Internet seems extreme.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:16 PM on September 26, 2008

WHY? A photograph is a moment in time... in this case, it's an instant before the body will start to decay and be lost forever. Why not take everything you can from that moment?
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:18 PM on September 26, 2008

9 months is a long time.

During the pregnancy of our child, I had constant thoughts of what was going on...what was going to happen, what I hoped would happen, what I dearly hoped would not happen, and I nearly drove myself crazy with unlikely and nearly impossible scenarios played out in my head. For a while I obsessed with thinking of every negative possibility, with a superstitious and fairly neanderthal-like concept that if I explored the negative scenario completely in my head, then it wouldn't happen. During that period I tried not to think of too much positive, as I began to worry that if I thought about the positives, then those would not happen either.

Even when I got past that foolishness, my every thought was consumed with the life growing inside my wife. I can imagine, though I cannot comprehend, what my thoughts and behaviour would have been had my daughter been born dead or died shortly after birth.

Would I have taken photos of her? I doubt it, but I can't guarantee that I would not. Certainly I would have cuddled and kissed this child, taken from me by horrible circumstance. I not sure I would have been even capable of being strong for my wife, who would suffer as much or more than I, having shared a bloodstream with our baby for all that time.

And so, I cannot possibly call this creepy or wrong. I can empathize, though not understand. I thanks whatever powers exist for that fact, as to understand completely would mean living through that horror. All I can say is that they did the right thing for them, I hope, and I hope that brings them peace and comfort.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:22 PM on September 26, 2008

I'm sorry for having posted this; I wasn't expecting the kind of replies detailing family death and sorrow... really sorry guys.
posted by hadjiboy at 9:23 PM on September 26, 2008

In 1995 - (thirteen years ago. my God, I'm tearing up just writing that), I had a miscarriage at 30 weeks.

I was given the option of having very carefully taken photographs. I was told it would help with the grieving process, with being able to separate and move on and accept, to have a tangible reminder that I had carried this child, had gone through most of a pregnancy, had morning sickness and swollen ankles and went into labor and that it was not for nothing.

It is the only thing I have of the baby I lost. There is no gravestone, there are no ashes, the father and I are no longer together and are barely on speaking terms. My son was too tiny to hold, and the miscarriage so sudden and frightening that I would not have been in any capacity to handle that until days later - and by then, it was most certainly not an option.

For me, those pictures are it. That is all I have to make it 'real' - which isn't to say that I doubt my memories - I most certainly do not. But for many people, it is one thing to say "This thing happened to me." and another to have something to hold, to see, to cry over.

Funerals are for the living, not for the dead. We go and view the body of a loved one because it is one way of accepting and moving on and one last chance to say "I love you".

For parents who have lost babies, young children - sometimes a picture may be all you have to say "I love you."
posted by FritoKAL at 9:48 PM on September 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

There are certain things that happen in life that you just can't understand without experiencing them firsthand. I wish with all sincerity, jadjiboy, that you will never find an answer to your question.
posted by c13 at 9:52 PM on September 26, 2008

I really, really wish Matt adds an edit function.
posted by c13 at 10:00 PM on September 26, 2008

I wish with all sincerity, jadjiboy, that you will never find an answer to your question.

You know, up until this point--this very minute I mean--becoming a parent was something (maybe even THE thing) that I wanted to do with my life... suddenly, I'm not so sure anymore.

Thanks for scaring the living daylights out of me, and again--I'm so sorry for drudging up anything that people didn't want to be reminded of like this... so very sorry.
posted by hadjiboy at 10:24 PM on September 26, 2008

Hadjiboy -- don't be sorry for making the post. It was clear what it was from the front page, and if people didn't want to click on it, they didn't have to. Aside from the strange choice of capitalizing the "why?" (which you've now explained), I actually think it's -- interesting (for lack of a better word) to read these stories from fellow Mefites.

Humanizing, if you will.
posted by aclevername at 10:43 PM on September 26, 2008

No, being a parent rocks. And the number of parents who experience the loss of a newborn is very low. But when the dice come up snake-eyes, well, you do what you can to make it through. The potential of this happening isn't a good reason NOT to try to have children.

I do find that I really don't like to be around pregnant women much though, as I want to tell them things like, "check for movement 4 times a day, and if you don't feel it call the doctor ASAP", but then that will likely just freak them out more than it will do any good...
posted by Windopaene at 11:14 PM on September 26, 2008

My mother had me when I was 28 to 32 weeks old (she doesn't remember now). I asked her if she would've taken a picture of me if she'd had the chance to back then--and she says no, for the simple reason that she wasn't sure if I was going to make it or not, and didn't want to risk taking a picture of me and having that be the only token of remembrance that she would have...

On the other hand, when I asked her if she would've taken the picture had she known I might not have survived, she says yes--instantly--without even thinking twice about it. I guess when you're a parent and are faced with such a situation, you'd want to try and preserve the memory of your child as soon as possible, and in any way that you can.

Sorry for apologizing so much in this thread, but I really appreciate the stories that all of you have shared.

posted by hadjiboy at 11:25 PM on September 26, 2008

I read an article a year or two ago about this very subject, photographers who volunteer to do pictures with still-born babies or premature babies who have been estimated to live a very short while. I couldn't find the one I read online, but here's another one I came up with while looking. (Anyone uncomfortable with photos of children, you're safe with that link.)

hadjiboy, I can only speak for myself, but thinking about this stuff again has been good for me tonight. It's a tender glimpse into human nature, and how people sometimes react to very terrible situations by trying to find, somehow, at least one moment of beauty amid--or perhaps aside would be the better word--their grief. I don't know what I would do should I ever find myself in this situation. But I do know I wasn't the healthiest kid when I was little, so I sympathize with parents who don't have the typical birth everyone wishes for. If this helps them in any way, I'm glad. Beyond that is not for me to judge.

As an aside, the other significant thing I read about today was also about heartwrenching photographs, albeit of a different kind: there was a piece in the New Yorker from a few months back I only just got around to about some newly discovered photos from the death camps at Auschwitz (link goes to abstract of article, no pictures included). Those pictures, and that article, disheartened me, for obvious reasons.

But these pictures, of children and parents together, and of people trying to find ways to make love endure over death, make me glad. Sad, yes, but glad. It's humanity's better side, and it's a nice tonic to our more horrid capacities for hurt.
posted by roombythelake at 11:44 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've lurked at MeFi for a long time. This thread is the most heartbreaking I've ever read on the Internet.
posted by Token Meme at 12:32 AM on September 27, 2008

My midwives carry in their birthing bag a little kit with clothes, knitted hat and booties, a camera and a blankie especially for the babies that do not make it. The hospital where my daughter died a few hours after birth had a really nice fabric-lined box where they collected all the bits of information about her (a little id tag etc) and gave it to me. It is on the shelf behind me and I am always aware it is there but I haven't been able to open it for a few years. The saddest part was trying to find clothes to bury her in; shopping for newborn clothes the day after was devastating, especially because she was so small. My mother or sister (I can't remember which) fortunately lucked into a doll collecting network of women that searched out and found a prefect little doll-sized dress for her to be buried in. I am very grateful for their generosity. That, and the crossing guard who held his hat to his chest as the car with her little white coffin drove by (there was no need for a hearse because it was so small). There was a time when I frequently looked at her pictures, it is nice to see the resemblance she has to her siblings. At one point I had done a momento mori photo collage in a frame but I never hung it on the wall for fear of upsetting visitors.
posted by saucysault at 12:41 AM on September 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sorry to be meta, but, hadjiboy, this thread is a success, and a very good example of Metafilter. You blundered a bit; it was generative. It's made me go all communal/maternal, in fact!!! Good thing I can babysit it out.

Thank you to those of you sharing your stories.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:07 AM on September 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know how anyone could deal with this sort of loss, myself. But the whole "studio" look of these photographs is what makes me feel strange. I don't know if I could sit for a portrait with a dead loved one like this. But again, luckily, I've never been there.
posted by Kloryne at 2:01 AM on September 27, 2008

Losing a baby is hard to forget and hard to remember at the same time. When a parent (grown up) dies, there are many memories that you can share with people who actually knew this person. When a baby can't live, all you can remember are expectations and hopes and a sequence of painful events but no shared life or (happy) memories.
At times, pain crushes you, while at some other times you hardly believe anything happened.
Taking a picture helps to remember the actual baby and makes up somehow for the lack of memories.
It is the closest you can get to the individual being of the baby, beyond parental desire. So it is also a gesture of recognition and respect.
I can understand the desire to put the photographs online, since these photographs tend to mend what's missing in child mourning : the existence of the child as an individual being, recognized by other people, not only by the parents. It is a also a way to show that parents' pain isn't only an illusion, to make it acknowledged.

So it sure isn't Everyone's baby.

I've taken some pictures of the child we've lost, and it helped a lot. We could show him to our parents. Like saucysault, I have to admit that I don't look at the photographs all the time, but they are around.
posted by nicolin at 3:04 AM on September 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's an excellent book by Jay Ruby about the practice called Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:50 AM on September 27, 2008

I guess I'm kind of different. I lost a baby at 33 weeks and I was given a picture of my baby, and I threw it away. I kept his bracelet, but I didn't want to remember him in that stillborn pose. He's alive, somewhere, maybe just my heart.. but the picture wasn't helping my grieving process. It kept me stationary in agonizing pain and remembering the torture of having to deliver a baby that I knew had passed away.
I was very angry with the hospital for giving me the picture. I didn't ask for it.

I completely understand why parents would want a picture, and I hope that everyone in that situation has the option (or opportunity?) to have it done. These people do a wonderful service for those who need/want it.
posted by czechmate at 5:22 AM on September 27, 2008

hadjiboy, thank you for this post.

Like photos that were taken (or not), somewhere down the line, a person will search online with keywords like "death" and "photography" or "portrait" (or whatever), and this post (if not deleted) will be there. And for those people, reading this snapshot in time on what people think about such a sensitive subject, there will be voices all along the spectrum of feelings from people with similar experiences. And maybe this person can't talk to loved ones. And maybe this is the only text that helps the person climb out of grief. So you've done a service, not a disservice. How much so, time will tell.
posted by datawrangler at 5:49 AM on September 27, 2008

Not the same, but I photographed my father after he died. Why? In a way, to make peace with death.

It's socio-culturally acceptable to record a new life entering the world, why not an old life coming to its close?
posted by Lleyam at 6:04 AM on September 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

It kind of reminds me of the sentiments in the final episode of 6 Feet Under - you can't take a picture of it, it's already gone.

Pictures are often all we have of moments that have already passed and we need that evidence that YES, this HAPPENED. I agree with Lleyam that life coming to its close is just as worthy as recording life entering the world. I would wager that we have more evidence of death masks over history than we do of say, Moses' baby pictures or Julius Caesar's baby booties.

Sometimes the end and the beginning are just too close together. Sometimes life ends before it had a chance to really truly begin. It's still life and it's still worthy of remembrance.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:50 AM on September 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

(That said, I couldn't actually look at the photos today. I've seen the post nickyskye mentioned from a while back, and that was enough. I don't have any children of my own, but I nanny for two girls who are very, very dear to my heart and I just can't put myself in the emotional space to even imagine what these parents have gone through. To all you MeFites who have gone through this - you have a lot of love and sympathy from me. Lots and lots of it.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:52 AM on September 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

WARNING. This brings it home.

Stupid Television Post -- ER Episode that will make you sob.
posted by aclevername at 6:55 AM on September 27, 2008

That clip seems very apropos regarding the topic. But please take caution. It's TV, and I have no children, and it makes cry. But for those who don't get it? Maybe that will move you a bit in the other direction.
posted by aclevername at 7:10 AM on September 27, 2008

posted by EarBucket at 7:21 AM on September 27, 2008

I'm just commenting to give everyone a hug.
posted by bettafish at 8:37 AM on September 27, 2008

After I lost my third pregnancy I looked at some of these pictures. I'm still not sure why. I cried harder and harder and harder. Then I could stop. I understand these pictures. As we hope for another child (we're very lucky to have a six year old daughter) I find I can't look at these pictures again (or for very long) without sobbing and wanting to comfort every parent, to take away their sorrow, but then not--because the sorrow marks the place where someone is missing.
posted by pywacket at 9:36 AM on September 27, 2008

Hugs all round I think. Reading through this thread I've been close to tears a couple of times. I know when our 1st was born she had a kidney problem and needed an op, those hours when she was in the operating theatre and was out of my protection were the worst hours of my life by a long long way. Our 2nd is due at the beginning of November so reading through this has been hard.
posted by lloyder at 9:47 AM on September 27, 2008

czechmate : what happens here (France) [and I'm sure it doesn't happen everywhere in France, but only in places where people have thought about it] is that the nurses take photographs of the child, put these photographs in the file, and tell the parents that if they want to see the pictures, even some time later, they still will be there. I agree that being forced to look at the photographs isn't soothing at all. What's soothing is being able to look at them when you need it.
posted by nicolin at 10:40 AM on September 27, 2008

if you need it.
posted by nicolin at 10:41 AM on September 27, 2008

just another person voicing her thanks for this thread, and the love and compassion expressed in it. it's a regular thing that i grieve for the losses of those i've never even met; reading all your stories adds another beautiful layer of community onto metafilter. i wish i could hug each of you.
posted by CitizenD at 12:19 PM on September 27, 2008

I feel so much for all the stories here. I'm so grateful, again, that I get to interact with my children and not just photos. Now that they are getting to the exploring ages, I'm more afraid every day.

. to all of those who have lost a child. A thing that scares me everyday.
. and all the love I can send to you.
posted by lilywing13 at 2:01 AM on September 28, 2008

Yes, take photographs of your dead baby to treasure and remember them by, in your personal life. DON'T PUT THE FUCKING THINGS ON THE INTERNET.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:11 PM on September 28, 2008

Thanks turgid dahlia for letting me how I should grieve my child - I don't know how I would have done it without you. Perhaps the people that make photos of their children publicly available are doing it looking for public acknowledgement that they are mothers and fathers even though they have no living children (more than one I have had people question my referring to my deceased child as "my daughter" because, well she's dead). Maybe they think their children are beautiful and want to share their beauty. If you don't want to see, then don't look, and maybe learn a little compassion not to crap in a thread on a sensitive topic. Now run along and leave the grownups to their discussion.
posted by saucysault at 5:17 AM on September 29, 2008

Oh how excellent. People telling other people they should handle their pain some other way because these photographs are CLEARLY clogging teh Intartubes. Can't get to the rest of the Web with those stupid baby photos in the way dammit.
posted by illiad at 9:57 AM on September 29, 2008

No, it's sick and it's pathological and it's attention-seeking. Fuck do you care what other people think about your children, dead or alive?
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:18 PM on September 29, 2008

No, it's sick and it's pathological and it's attention-seeking

I'm doing a lot of considering the source for that assessment.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:33 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, take photographs of your dead baby to treasure and remember them by, in your personal life. DON'T PUT THE FUCKING THINGS ON THE INTERNET.

I suspect that the parents do not think of the photos -- I do hope that's what you were refering to -- as "the fucking things." They think of them as pictures of the children they love.

You don't have to look, you know. Nobody's going to rickroll you with one of these portraits.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:39 PM on September 29, 2008

No, it's sick and it's pathological and it's attention-seeking.

On the INTERNET??? OMG, say it ain't so!

Not that I actually think it's any of those things. But, you know, there are a zillion things on the internet that I don't want to look at. So I don't. Just like there are posts on MetaFilter, and questions on AskMe, that I don't want to look at. So I don't.
posted by rtha at 4:00 PM on September 29, 2008

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