How photographers are helping the parents of stillborn children heal.
February 2, 2009 12:19 PM   Subscribe

posted by cjorgensen at 12:24 PM on February 2, 2009

Photo, caption and first paragraph did me in.

Sorry. Can't.
posted by fleetmouse at 12:24 PM on February 2, 2009

This is a Newsweek article.

"Family Portraits--A unique volunteer group helps parents preserve precious images of babies that are stillborn or expected to die soon after birth."

Very touching but also very sad.
posted by zerobyproxy at 12:28 PM on February 2, 2009

Sort of a Double. And yeah, this is all kinds of depressing.
posted by chunking express at 12:28 PM on February 2, 2009

Wow, indeed. I much prefer this to car decals.

Their website is a bit odd. I'm not sure how the art prints and lithographs relate to the organization.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:31 PM on February 2, 2009

sorry guys, its my first post. i hope i did it right.
posted by Heliochrome85 at 12:32 PM on February 2, 2009

One of the very first songs I ever wrote was about exactly this. It was quite common in the Victorian era. Never really expected that it would make a comeback.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:35 PM on February 2, 2009

What fleetmouse said. I read the first caption, saw the picture, and my heart caught in my throat.
posted by Brak at 12:36 PM on February 2, 2009

For some reason, that link keeps crashing my browser. Which is fine -- like fleetmouse said, the pic and caption were enough.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:44 PM on February 2, 2009

I know a few mothers who have used this service. Heartbreaking, but I know they are all very glad to have the images.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:46 PM on February 2, 2009

The photo's absolutely did me in.
posted by cbp at 12:53 PM on February 2, 2009

Thanks a whole helluva lot Heliochrome85. Now I just want to bawl my eyes out.
posted by illiad at 1:03 PM on February 2, 2009

"Your poison womb is making heaven too fucking crowded."

I laughed and laughed and laughed... so inappropriate! I must be one seriously sick bastard. Ah well.
posted by markkraft at 1:04 PM on February 2, 2009

odd thing about that article, After reading it, it started raining on my face
posted by tylerfulltilt at 1:40 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes that was the picture that ate the world today. Since taking that in, I haven't been functioning at my usual 65%...
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 1:49 PM on February 2, 2009

Yeah, but are they people?
posted by Roach at 1:49 PM on February 2, 2009

Wow... i was kinda hoping...nevermind...
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 1:52 PM on February 2, 2009

Had some friends lose a child two weeks before due date.
This service, though seemingly odd to most people who have not experience this kind of loss, is both amazingly valuable for the healing of the parents and amazingly beautiful for the people who never got to see the kid they grew to know and love.
posted by Seamus at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2009

On the bright side, at least this is now one of the most tragic things that can happen to a family. For most of human history losing at least one infant was fairly common, and losing the mother wasn't rare either. It's great that we don't have to worry about common ancient disasters like being killed by wild predators or enslaved by rival tribes.

Always look on the bright side of life

posted by mullingitover at 2:03 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, but are they people?

I'm not sure this is the right place for that discussion. The point here is to discuss the merits/pitfalls of the business model and/or whether or not it might help in the healing process. Perhaps we'll hear from some who have had stillbirths, and we'll get the chance to look into the hearts and souls of people that have gone through a situation that many of us may or may not ever have (if we're fortunate enough for life to allow us to avoid that scenario, of course).

Debates about what is and is not "people" should probably go into the next pro-life vs. pro-choice thread.
posted by revmitcz at 2:05 PM on February 2, 2009

I cannot be the only one who finds this severely creepy.
posted by tzikeh at 2:08 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

@revmitcz Thanks. That's what I was trying to say 4 posts up.

I went through this with a dear friend and we took pictures. The imprint was, and continues to be, a source of comfort to her and her family- especially her two young children.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 2:12 PM on February 2, 2009


I hear you, and I promise I wasn't trolling. I think this is a great post and a great service that these photographers are providing.

To me though it's hard not to make the connection that, indeed, these babies inspiring so much emotion were subject to being terminated right up until hours before these pictures were taken. So I made the connection.
posted by Roach at 2:20 PM on February 2, 2009

Roach, i'm guessing people who wanted to terminate their babies probably wouldn't be interested in this service. And those who were looking forward to the birth of their child might. Good job making that connection though.
posted by chunking express at 2:22 PM on February 2, 2009

@tzikeh I'm not sure if you are referring to stillbirths or to wanting to hold and photograph a stillborn baby, or both... but, yes, it's intensely uncomfortable to say the least. Being near a loved one who is dead or dying, especially a child, is, horrific. But, when you have carried this being (and I'm going to guess you have not experienced this) for nearly a year with all the dreams of this person that is becoming -you need something, ANYTHING, to grip in your grief- or else you'll just lose it. I mean completely lose it. A picture of those moments just after or before exiting this sphere- is... it's hard to explain... someone? Can someone help explain?
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 2:28 PM on February 2, 2009

@chunking express

Well- actually there are folks who terminate and then use this service. There are mothers who learn late in pregnancy that their babies have fatal problems- hydrocephaly is one, for example. These babies always die- either in utero, or soon after birth. Some mothers- when they learn this, choose to induce labor before rather than carry the baby to term and possibly face a stillbirth. This is their chance to hold the baby, alive, if only for a short while, in their arms.... So, yes, people do photograph after choosing to terminate. It's an unbelievably difficult decision to make.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 2:36 PM on February 2, 2009

Ah, I hadn't considered that. Yeah, as I said up thread, this whole topic is all kinds of depressing.
posted by chunking express at 2:37 PM on February 2, 2009

posted by hellboundforcheddar at 2:42 PM on February 2, 2009

So, all of these mothers must know already that their babies have a good chance of dying? You'd need time to contact one of these photographers well in advance I imagine.
posted by orme at 2:57 PM on February 2, 2009

For the second time in three days, Metafilter has made me cry. I've never lost a child at birth, but I come from a family which has, and I think we're still scarred from it.

Five or ten years ago, my response to the idea of these photographs would have been, 'you're making it worse', or, 'you're prolonging it for them'. But these are just the reponses I was brought up with, the responses of my parents. They had lost a child at birth before I was born, and took nothing to remember that child by. They have no photographs, not even one, and no grave either. There is no birth certificate, indeed, the child had no name, and they claim to not even know its sex. The child's existence for them is perhaps at most a few months pregnancy, followed by a few hours of blurred and half-faded memories. For me, and my siblings, it's just a hole where another child should be, their faint trace lingering in the gap between our ages, and nothing more. I suppose my older brothers can remember the pregnancy, but neither me nor my sister can. We don't count this child as a member of our family, because it's impossible to count what isn't there.

How can this nothingness be any better than acknowledging that this person is gone? To convert them into nothing is to prevent any kind of healing. There can be no grief, because nothing was lost, and there is nothing to grieve over. It's like losing an arm, but refusing the doctor with the claim you only had one to begin with. At least acknowledging the lost child in a real way, like with a name, or here in this case with a physical reality that can't be corroded by the disserve of memory or privatised from the view of others, admits that they were once what we are now. Of course, the child's ephemeral life would have struggled to find meaning considered next to the very real weight of existence their siblings impress upon the world; but a poet's mother remembers their child's first words with more affection than even their greatest work. Don't they?

I doubt a set of photographs could prolong my parents' loss; I'm sure it is enough to wake up in the morning to find that loss prolonged. That's not to say they continually suffer the pain of loss, but rather they've been transformed by their experience. Their loss goes beyond that child, and into their understanding of the world. As a fact of living, death isn't easy to process, and neither is birth if we're being honest. But to see both in the same person at one and the same time? That's an understanding of existence which will not fade or disappear with time, and won't even leave a palimpsest of innocence on which to trace comfort. Photographs, however small a token they must appear measured next to this, at least offer a return to that moment, a chance to glean insight from it at a later time.

My father has never spoken to me about this child, not one word. I used to question to my mother about it every now and again, but stopped when I realised how difficult it must be for her, and how awkward my questions must sound coming from somebody who can't possibly understand. Aside from the occasional mention, which is always short and matter-of-fact, the child doesn't enter our public thoughts.

So what's the point of this rather long and personal comment? Well, as I said, my parents have no photographs of the child they lost, and I feel my mother has suffered because of it. When my sister was born a year or so later, she began taking photographs, much as she had done with my brothers. But my sister became gravely ill at just a few months old, and she stopped photographing her entirely, seemingly preventing my father from taking any as well, even though they both continued to photograph my brothers. For months and months, there are no photographs, and you would never know from looking at the album my sister was ever ill, though you might notice the gap. Only slowly do the photographs trickle back, but not reaching the same amount as my brothers until my sister was three or four years old, and safely out of infancy. When I was born, my mother was even more careful, preventing almost all photographs: only two photographs of me exist from before my third birthday. I suppose she did this 'just in case' something should happen to me, her experience being that you should not look to remember a lost child, but to forget.

I wish my mother could have had photographs like those to help keep her lost child in mind.
posted by Sova at 3:13 PM on February 2, 2009 [9 favorites]

(And I wish she could read what I've written.)
posted by Sova at 3:13 PM on February 2, 2009

I can't really process this in the mefi context ... good luck.
posted by lesChaps at 3:17 PM on February 2, 2009

My ex-wife had twins in her third marriage, carried them to term, gave birth, got to hold both of those boys in her arms before they both died that day, she held one of the boys as he died. It was the hardest thing in her life, it about broke her, probably it did break her, I don't know that she ever really got past it, it darkened the rest of her too-short life, pretty much killed that marriage and her life was ... hard, from that time on. It'd been plenty hard prior. Cancer got her young, her request was that her ashes be spread over the graves of her twin sons.

My nephew and his young bride were having some troubles in their marriage, as young couples will, and then she ended up pregnant, and they were overjoyed, they decorated that room, anxiously awaited parenthood, bonded so deeply, a bond which was eaten through like acid through leather when she miscarried.

I don't have children that I know of -- it's possible, I caroused plenty in the 70s and early 80s, safe sex mostly meant knowing the husband was at work or whatever -- and I know I've missed out on much of the beauty in life, but I'm damn sure glad to have been spared this ache; it was plenty hard enough consoling my ex and my nephew and his sweet little wifey, and in fact they were all three of them inconsolable, about all I could do was be there, love them as best I could. It fucking hurt.

I know for a fact that my ex-wife would have wanted photos of those boys.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:24 PM on February 2, 2009

I do agree with fleetmouse. My heart just broke and I can't look any further. To those of you who see this as creepy, I get you, but if you've ever lost a child or been close to someone who has, I don't think you get the opportunity to see what might seem to modern day photographers (certainly not Victorian ones) as surface creepiness.
posted by theefixedstars at 3:29 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Heliochrome85, you did it right.
posted by theora55 at 4:08 PM on February 2, 2009

Perhaps we'll hear from some who have had stillbirths, and we'll get the chance to look into the hearts and souls of people that have gone through a situation that many of us may or may not ever have (if we're fortunate enough for life to allow us to avoid that scenario, of course).

My first child, my only son, died, age 25 hours. He was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. We had decorated his room and bought all the stuff that you need-- stroller, car seat, toys, crib, clothing, baby bath; he was much anticipated. He was also a perfectly healthy child who had great difficulty entering this world.

To my eternal regret, I initially rejected him. I refused to hold him or even visit him in the neonatal clinic after my first visit. He looked so horribly vulnerable, naked under the lights. I held him after he died, however. My mother was on vacation and kept calling all through my labor. Telling her that our boy was dying was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. She screamed and dropped the phone. Although her brother got her on the first flight out, she didn't make it in time, but she arranged with the nurses to bring him to my room. We both took turns holding him until he grew cold. My husband could not stand to be in the room and mourn with us. Right there. That was the moment our marriage began to go south.

Someone on the staff baptized him (it was a Catholic hospital) and someone also took a a quick Polaroid. The picture was dark and murky and it is difficult to make out any of his features. I would have loved a well lit photograph of the two of us together. I also wish that I had kept the little hand embroidered outfit I had made for him to wear for his homecoming. He was cremated in it. We kept no mementos; my husband gave away every single item before I got home from the hospital.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:53 PM on February 2, 2009

That article and this thread are among saddest things I've ever read. To me, it makes the birth of each healthy baby seem that much more miraculous. Thanks to those who have shared (or will share) their stories.
posted by Simon Barclay at 6:07 PM on February 2, 2009

posted by hellboundforcheddar at 7:51 PM on February 2, 2009

My mom and I haven't spoken to each other for many many years.
I've heard the rumors from other people in the family..... always in a whisper.

I checked the Now I Lay me Down to Sleep website and my mother is listed there as an "affiliated photographer".

I have no idea what to say. It's a strange feeling.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 8:06 PM on February 2, 2009

@Optimus Chyme

"Your poison womb is making heaven too fucking crowded."

So I guess that link isn't linking due to the threats incurred by the author?

I found the text somewhere else- and I guess I'm wondering why you posted it? I get that there are people who are stuck in grief, who are getting pretty morbid and pathological with the photos, shrines, and websites... but, still- I don't get why you posted it. Brutal... or am I missing something?
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 8:29 PM on February 2, 2009

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