Skip to comments.Parents Cherish Photos of Stillborn Babies
Posted on 04/20/2006 11:13:07 AM PDT by Incorrigible
Parents Cherish Photos of Stillborn Babies
BY SUSAN GLASER
Hours after Connie King gave birth to a stillborn boy, a stranger arrived, carrying a camera.
Photographer Michelle Reed Cantley entered the room and quickly went to work, posing baby Nicholas on the couple's bed and in the arms of his parents, hoping to capture both his beauty and his peace.
Mark and Connie King of Hinckley Township, Ohio, embrace their stillborn son, Nicholas. Their living room is filled with more than a dozen images of Nicholas shot by a photographer on call for such occasions. "It makes our little boy real," said Mark King. (Photo by Michelle Reed Cantley)
Cantley, who has spent most of her eight years as a photographer chronicling joyous events such as weddings and proms, has found a calling giving grieving parents a remembrance of their babies.
"If he starts to fade in my memory, I can turn to these pictures and love him all over again," said King, who gave birth March 10 at her home in Hinckley Township, Ohio.
Mark and Connie King's living room is filled with more than a dozen of Cantley's images of Nicholas: a close-up of his tiny feet, cradled in mom's arms, embraced by dad and mom on the bed.
"It makes our little boy real," said Mark King.
Decades ago, women who delivered stillborn or gravely ill infants typically were not encouraged to grieve. Parents rarely took photos and other mementos with them when they left the hospital without their babies.
Then, as the healing process evolved, parents were gently encouraged to create memories in whatever ways were comfortable for them.
Increasingly, parents are turning to a new national network of photographers, including Cantley, available to families in their darkest hours.
The nonprofit network Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, named after the first line in a well-known children's prayer, was founded a year ago by a Denver mother who lost her 6-day-old son and a photographer who took images of the boy.
Today, nearly 500 photographers nationwide are on call to visit hospitals and homes in an effort to keep the memories of these children alive.
"It's almost like proof," said Megan Senthil, an Aurora, Ohio, mother whose fourth child, Asher, was stillborn in February. "It's strange to go through nine months and have a life inside you and then have nothing. It makes it more real to me. Yeah, I did have a baby."
Cantley came to Senthil's room at University Hospitals in Cleveland the day after Asher's birth and took hundreds of photos, including dozens with his older sister and two brothers.
"They see these pictures and I think it's really helping get us through the process," said Senthil. "I couldn't imagine the grief that I would have if I didn't have the photos. I look at them constantly."
Cantley's service, including a CD of images, is provided free; prints are offered at a discount.
The challenge from a photography standpoint is to make the children look peaceful and at rest, no matter their circumstances. Cantley deals with these difficulties through posing, lighting and camera angle. She can focus on the baby's hands and feet, if necessary. She frequently recommends that parents choose black-and-white images, which tend to be more forgiving of poor skin tone, bruising and other imperfections.
"The focus is on the beauty of the small life," she said.
Cantley, of Parma, Ohio, acknowledged that the assignments can be emotionally difficult. "I had to take a deep breath before I walked in that room for the first time," she said. "Being a source of comfort for the family pulls you through."
The national organization provides an online discussion group for photographers to share their experiences and their emotions, with topics ranging from whether to cover up a baby's cleft palate to making the best of available lighting.
Cantley said she believes that she has gained as much from the experience as the families have. "It's changed my life. I'm doing something that I really feel is touching people's lives."
Indeed, the families will be grateful for years, according to Cheryl Haggard, who founded Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep just two months after her son, 6-day-old Maddux, died in February 2005.
A year later, the photographs taken during his short life help to keep him alive in her memory. The pictures are not morbid or depressing, but joyful, said Haggard.
"When I look back at his photographs, I'm not reminded of the night that he died being the worst in my life," she said. "I am reminded of what a blessing he is to us."
For more information, go to www.NowILayMeDowntoSleep.org on the Internet.
April 20, 2006 (Susan Glaser is a reporter for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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I personally doubt I could handle something like that. The sad thing is that couple is from our hometown. Craziness.
I fully and completely understand why someone would.
Doesn't sound like the healthiest situation. It seems like it would just reawaken grief more and more. If a loved one of yours died, would you want pictures of them right after they died? Granted, you would have other types of pictures. But, this just doesn't seem healthy.
The picture is invaluable and gives the mom something to hold onto when her baby is gone. It eases the suffering to have the picture.
One friend whose baby was stillborn was not even allowed to see the baby when it was delivered and for years and years she was so saddened by that fact.
I'm glad I have the ultrasound pictures of my babies who died in utero. I haven't looked at them in several years but I'm glad I have them.
If those pregnancies had gone to term and I'd lost my babies it would be so much worse and how much more I'd treasure pictures.
In the nineteenth century death pictures were common - just read today about an old house where they found stereopticon (double, 3D) images of all the family members who had died. Photographer came into the parlor where they were laid out.
God bless this photographer in her work of charity.
This is really sad, and being a new parent myself, I completely undertand why these unfortunate mothers and fathers would want to have their stillborn infants' memories preserved through photography before they are lain to rest.
I do too. Imagine not having pictures of your child.
The photograph of a still born child or a older deceased infant/child was highly prized in the late 1800's and early 1900s. This is not new to our society.
If it provides comfort to the parents, who am I to judge if they should have such photos?
I have been in the situation.
Mom didn't want to see the baby she lost.
We carefully dressed and wrapped him in a blue blanket.
The photo's were for a few months down the road when Mom changed her mind.
Most of them do.
Being a young fella with no kids, at first glance I thought this was pretty creepy. After reading some of the posts here, I think I can understand.
I'm not sure if it would be for me, but I'm glad that it helps some people.
I don't know, maybe I'm wrong but I think this might be due to the movement away from God. They think a photo is all they have or all that ever existed of that Soul. Then again, if I had a child that died shortly after birth, I'd probably like a photo myself... not much difference. A terrible loss anyway you slice it.
In the early days of photography, adults were often photographed in their coffins with members of the family gathered around; it was likely the only photograph ever taken of the deceased.
A friend has a few photos of her full-term stillborn daughter and they give her great comfort. But she keeps them privately tucked away. I can't imagine displaying them in the living room.
There are parents who have devoted websites to their stillborn children. My wife (ever the cynical one) showed me one impressively sappy pink fluffy page with a midi file playing a melody over the top. Yikes! Seems to me that that's a little over the top.
This thread is hard to read without tearing up. I'm for whatever gives comfort. If pictures do it, then bless those who take them.
I used to help out in a support group and the horror stories of callus a-holes wondering aloud what all the fuss about 'a dead baby' made me wonder why the murder rate is not a lot higher. I had a Chiropractor tell me my daughter would have lived if I had taken her into him for a 'chiropractic adjustment' -- and to this day I am amazed I did not remove his skull from his neck.
A random visitor, seeing photos of a newborn, would probably politely ask: "How cute! How old is he now? What's his name?" etc. and the inevitable answer would make the visitor just feel like dirt, no matter how the answer was handled.
I sat in an Emergency Room recently with a young father who held one of two twins.
The twin that the father held had been still-born.
I remember him telling me that he wanted a few minutes to hold his daughter. Because, he said, he would never have that chance.
So I completely understood when he told me that he wanted to have a picture or two of this daughter he would never know.
W T F ? ! ?
That would have been justifiable homicide, in my opinion.
I have a hard time even looking at the website.
Thank you for making me tear up!
No, really, as a woman just days (hopefully) away from giving birth, I can completely understand the desire for pictures if something were to happen to my baby. I cherish the 3D photos I have, but I think I'd really want some of us holding her in our arms.
We lost an infant son at 3 days of age. He was taken to one of the early NICU's at another hospital immediately after birth. I never saw him alive nor do I have any pictures of him. The only time I saw him was at his funeral and no one thought to take a picture. So I think this is a wonderful idea.
Having lost a baby during early pregnancy, I can assure you that I wanted nothing more than to cling to any memory I had of my baby boy. I had nothing, though. I would do this.
I think it is healthy as long as it doesn't take over the rest of one's life and remains in a balanced context.
Loosing a child is really tough. No matter how young it is.
Oh my heavens this is the saddest thing I have read in ages, it makes me want to cry.
We have been blessed with two healthy thriving children, but we will never forget the one we lost. And yes, just having the ultrasound picture helps somehow. Maybe if you haven't been through it, you can't really understand.
I guess you have to be Catholic or something. It's the open verses closed casket thing. I'm big on open caskets but I know my sister in law about had a fit when the minister at the cemetery asked that the casket with my father in law in it be opened one last time (it had been closed at the church ceremony) so that the family could say goodbye. At my father's funeral, casket opened, all were invited to go up and say goodbye and in the case of the grandchildren and children, put something in the casket. I put a rosary, the grandchildren put a family photo. just a cultural thing. I didn't throw myself in the grave or anything.
But, these parents didn't have a chance for a picture of a living child.
I've lost 3, only have an ultrasound of one - I totally understand, even though they were never born, they were still my children and still very much loved!!
I looked at the website - I did cry. How heartbreaking.
I concede that. I haven't lost a child. But I think such a vivid reminder would be very difficult to continually relive. In life, we have pain, but we can't live there.
I believe Sen. Santorum and his wife had pictures taken with their baby that died after being born prematurely. I haven't read her book, but I do remember reading that somewhere.
The idea of the picture is perfect. It makes the experience of the pregnancy, the hopes and dreams, and the loss so much more bearable.
I counselled a young woman whose baby had no chance for survival. Her family did not want her to go to the hospital to see him but I advised otherwise.
Later her doctor told me that it was in her best interest to go see her baby, touch him, and talk to him. It eased her pain after he died.
It wasn't a "fetus" or "fetal tissue".
These children have names and should be remembered for the children they were.
But that's when people still had a healthy opinion of Death, not the fear that we have today!
Yes, they did. And had his siblings "meet" him as well. I'm okay with that for adults, not sure how I feel about it for young children.
Very good point. They were far more familiar with it than we are. When my mother died, I said to my father, "I hope I'm doing things right; this is my first deathbed." My eighty-year-old father said, "Mine, too."
At first I was turned off the but photos seemed to be in good taste. What always creeped me out were those photos years ago where they would photograph the dead child with his eyes open as though he were alive. This is an example.
I think this photographer is a real blessing for those families. They want to remember those children, even if they only had them for a short time, and this is a perfect way to do that.
There is little new here. The practice has been around since photography was invented.
Don't feel like dirt if someone tells you of a child that died. It means a lot just for the acknowledgement of their little life. You feel crazy grieving a stillborn or miscarried baby because you haven't lived with them and other people have never seen them. Pictures help you know that all the love and pain you are experiencing are for a real reason, a real human being.
It isn't possible to know the pain of losing children, at any age. I know I was very surprised at the depth of my grief at the experience of two late miscarriages. It hurt as much, and in many ways, more then losing my father.
You can usually tell in Victorian daguerreotypes and early photographs when a baby or small child is dead; the exposure times were so long to take a photograph that small children couldn't hold still long enough. If they are living, they are usually slightly blurry from movement.
Some people have to give it some time. I worked in OB years ago before transferring to the OR. The Baptist's womens league made clothing for stillborns in various sizes to insure dignity for stillborn photos. Every stillborn was photographed in our hospital for the death certificates and the parents had the option of requesting copies. Many parents came back months later to request copies after turning down copies before they left the hospital.
About seven years ago a young couple from a church I attended were pregnant with their first child. Everything seemed to be going well with the wife's pregnancy, but all of a sudden the woman got sick and gave birth to a still born son. They took pictures (not from a professional photographer though)-I guess as way of dealing with the grief. Not only that, but we had a full memorial service at the funeral home. It was an Orthodox Christian funeral which involves a little more than a priest/pastor mumbling a couple of prayers and saying a few nice words. It was the saddest thing I ever experienced (more than family deaths). This little boy was perfectly formed (she carried full term) and all I could think was how folks could go through late term abortions. I really don't support abortion period--but I want to focus in on late term where the baby is fully formed. It was amazing how the whole parish came to support this young couple even though it was so sad. I understand why want to do this although it may seem morbid to some. Unfortunately society has been getting very squeamish and cold about not having a body present at memorials. Don't tell me about Jewish tradition yadda yadda---I am focusing on Christians. The Jews may not have the body present for a wake but there is a traditional washing of the body before burial and the sitting of shivah (which is intense) plus a yahrzeit a year later after the person's death. I believe that this "forever young" culture doesn't want to deal with death. The Christianity I grew up with believes the body is the vehicle that encased the soul for the person's lifetime--it's not dirty or shameful and deserves some reverence in death.
I think it would help with the grieving process.
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