That's why it makes me angry that modern culture no longer finds violence and gore inappropriate or upsetting, yet finds a picture of a beautiful and perfect baby, who is no longer alive, disturbing and grotesque. Can you see the irony here too? How is it more offensive to see a precious child, with darkened lips and closed eyes, than it is to see violent movies or horror films?
Do you realize for a family whose baby was stillborn that those are the ONLY pictures they will EVER have of their beloved child, when they dreamed of a lifetime of photos and memories? Do you realize they love their child just as much as you love yours? And just because their baby was born dead does not mean they aren't proud to be their mother or father and that they don't want to share them with others. Can you not try to grasp for one minute what it would be like if this happened to you?
I have been open with sharing photos of my daughter Lily Katherine, who was stillborn at 40 weeks 2 days gestation on March 16, 2010. Many people remark how perfect and truly beautiful she was. Yet, there have been those through the years who have said some cruel things. She is not some nightmarish freak. Her pictures capture how lovely she was, perfectly formed and real. She isn't scary or disturbing. Yes, I realize that some of the photos show crimson lips... but besides that, she looks like a sleeping child. And if crimson lips are the most disturbing thing ever to you, you have GOT to be KIDDING me.
I have been hurt in the past by the harsh things people have said about Lily/her photos and about the fact that I choose to publicly share them. Why don't they see her the way I do? Should I have been more private with her photos? Should I have protected her memory from those that will only mock it and not recognize her beauty?
NO - I will share, I must share. Because I believe it shows honor to Lily by not being afraid to share her with others. It shows the sanctity of unborn life, even those who don't live outside the womb. They don't magically become babies once they are born alive and healthy. She had eyebrows, eyelashes, fingernails (details that I can only remember through the photos I am beyond grateful to have)... everything that makes a baby look like a baby. Only she was asleep to this world. I want to be brave in sharing her photos and her story so others who have been through something similar feel like they can do the same. A child who was stillborn has beautiful photos, for those of us who were blessed enough to get any. When people are walking through the experience of losing a baby, in the midst of it, many people cannot comprehend how precious those photos will one day become. They think it's morbid to even think about capturing photos of death/the saddest day of their lives.
But as a NILMDTS volunteer photographer, Vicki Zoller, wrote, "We don't photograph death... We capture love." For those who aren't familiar, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep offers free professional portraiture photography to those who have lost/are expected to lose their precious baby. It is not unusual or unhealthy to desire photos of a stillborn baby or to desire to share those photos.
If there is one regretful wish I hear over and over from other parents I know who lost babies, it is that they wish they had taken more/better pictures... some wish they had taken one single photo. Only those of us who have walked this road understand how valuable those pictures are. They capture a moment in time that we'll never be able to experience again. They capture the very real child we held and love, but unimaginably had to bury.
In the 19th century, post-mortem photography was common. According to the NILMDTS Facebook page, "Post-mortem photography is termed the practice of photographing the recently deceased. This type of photography was very common in the nineteenth century when death occurred in the home. Photography was new and expensive. Childhood mortality rates were extremely high in the Victorian era. It was common practice to make the 'subject' look alive or appear to be sleeping. These photographs served as keepsakes to remember a loved one, and especially with infants and young children, was the only documentation of this child into a family and possibly the only photograph the family ever had. Post-mortem photography flourished in the early decades among those desperate to capture an image of a deceased loved one. It was better to have a photograph, than have no photograph at all."
It is better to have the photographs I have of Lily than to only have my unreliable memory to reference. With photographs, I don't have to question the things my mind could easily forget. I have the assurance that she was truly real when I look at her sweet face in her pictures.
As a society, these photos don't have to be seen as creepy if we don't allow them to be.
Be brave, sweet mothers and fathers of babies who've been lost. There are many of us who feel honored to see photos of your baby. And to those who don't get it and don't want to, please keep your thoughts to yourselves and allow the only photos we'll ever have of our babies to be freely and proudly shared with whomever we wish.
Here is my beautiful and perfect daughter, Lily Katherine....