Because It Is All I Have Left
Updated: Feb 6
Please be aware that this blog post contains images of my daughter, born still at 15 and 1/2 weeks. Please use discretion upon viewing and sharing. This blog post may trigger deep emotions for other loss families.
Several years ago, I volunteered with Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep as a digital retouch artist. In those few months, I worked on many babies' pictures. Each baby I treasured and each family I prayed over. One question that I was asked and has continuted to stand out to me has been, “why would anyone want pictures of their dead baby?” It used to be a common practice among older people (from what I have seen and stories I’ve been told at least), to take pictures at funerals and of the deceased and their coffin and flowers and such. This perplexes people. "Why would you want to remember your loved one like this?" However, when a family loses their child before any kind of memories could be made, before family photos and toothless smiles, before videos of giggles and first steps, these bereavement photos are all they have of their little one. This is their one time to capture their little one so that they will have something to look back on; their one time to make a lifetime of memories in a short period of time.
The thought of holding one’s stillborn baby can be hard to accept. Some mothers fear seeing their baby and in that fear, anger even, may feel that they do not want to. So, the idea of having pictures done can be even more difficult to conceptualize. For mothers who did not hold their babies, who did not see their babies and who did not keep any of their mementos, most often times they come to regret that decision later on. Once the grief eases, they long to have something tangible of their child only to find that there is nothing. That can add another layer to the heartache: regret. When I had my daughter, Hope Abigail, regret was the one thing I knew I did not want to live with.
“Give me a little push,” said the doctor and there was my daughter. I will never forget that moment. It is still just as vivid as the morning she came into this world. I just sat there, looking at her, amazed at this tiny and perfect little person laying on the bed. The nurse scooped her up and turned to go clean her off. Just before she did though, I stopped her. I had to take a picture of her, just like she was; fresh from my body. I didn’t want to forget.
The nurse cleaned her up and tucked her carefully into this beautiful basket with her own little blanket and teddy, and a gown I had picked out for her. (I eventually had the nurse take it off of her though because she was so tiny and really, all I wanted to see was HER.) A photographer I had met just months before, and who had done our gender reveal pictures just two weeks prior, did not hesitate to agree to photograph her. She came and took many photos and to this day, I could never thank her enough. Those pictures have been one of the greatest treasures I have ever had. Because they, and her mementoes, are all I have left of her.
Not only did she photograph my daughter, but she photographed my other children and us (mom and dad) with her. The children have loved looking back on her pictures. They miss her terribly and these pictures bring comfort to them as well.
And then, it was time. I needed the nurse to take her. I was exhausted and feeling very ill and if I didn’t let her go, I didn’t know if I would ever be able to. And our photographer captured those moments as well. As heartbreaking as it is, I am glad to have them. The agony of losing my sweet little girl comes from the depths of my love for her. These pictures are pure love.
Later that day, once moved to my recovery room, I took more pictures with my very low quality phone camera. But, quality hasn't mattered. They too are priceless. In my room, I shattered; completely and utterly fell to a billion pieces. I cried like I have never cried before. I cried until I thought I would not be able to breathe again. The grief we fear facing came crashing down on me like a tidal wave. I took those pictures. I felt ridiculous doing so but I knew I would want them later. It is real life. They are memories that need to be held on to.
I needed my little girl back. I had to hold her. I was so scared it was too late. I was terrified they had already sent her off. I ran frantically down the halls, trying to find my nurse. I NEEDED my little girl! The nurse collected me in her arms and brought me back to my room and had me call for my husband and then, she would bring her to me. John got there as quickly as he could and right after, the nurse wheeled my baby girl in, treating her just like she were a healthy newborn baby. And oh how beautiful that moment was as this sweet relief washed over me. “My baby!” I exclaimed with joy as I reached out for her.
We took turns holding her, this time not in her basket. I needed to feel her weight. I needed to touch her body. I needed to kiss every single little part of her that I possibly could kiss. No regrets. This was it. This was farewell. I smelled her. I could taste her on my lips. I felt her paper thin skin. I poured out every ounce of love I had for her. Her daddy held her too and finally was able to cry. I wanted to make sure that I had something of this moment to look back on.
I encourage anyone who faces the loss of their precious child to delegate someone to take pictures. There are professional photographers who volunteer their time if you want professional images. Ask your hospital for any names they may have. However, you can have a nurse or family member take pictures. Don’t worry about posing or how you look. Just make sure you capture memories and as many as you can. You may not want to look at them right now. That is okay. Have someone burn them to disk, save to an external hard drive or something, but have them so that when you do want to see them later, you will have them. It is better to have and not look at, then to want them and regret not having them.