I Didn’t Think I Wanted Photos Of My Stillborn Baby And I Was Wrong

I sat there, cradling my stillborn daughter in my arms when they asked if I wanted photos. I looked at them horrified–why would I want a photo of me holding my dead child? So, I said no.

My medical situation was urgent and I was running out of time to hold my baby. Even though time was precious, they asked me about the pictures again.

“Are you sure you don’t want any photos of your daughter?” they questioned.

In that moment I felt very sure. Of course I wanted pictures of my daughter, but I wanted them was she alive and pink and adorable. I didn’t want a picture after all the life had drained from her.

Yes, I was certain. I wanted no memory of this moment–the day my daughter was stillborn.

It turns out that I was wrong. I had no idea at the time, but I was so very wrong in my decision not to take photographs.

I want every memory of that day. I want to see what it looked like when I held her. I want to see what we looked like as a family of three. I want to see the memories of that day, but I can’t because I said no.

I said no to photos, because I was scared. I was sick. I was confused. I was heartbroken.

So, I said no and they listened–except for one nurse.

I don’t know who she was, but she took a photo of my daughter. She dressed her and wrapped her up. She positioned her hands so delicately and tilted her head just so. And then she took a photo–our only photo of Dorothy.

After taking my daughter’s picture, she tucked it inside the white memory box from the hospital. She nestled that photo among a card bearing my baby’s measurements, a soft pink blanket, and the hat she wore the last and only time that I held her. And there it lay, for over a month.

It took me over a month to open that memory box.

I knew there was a photo of Dorothy inside and that really upset me. It felt like another instance of someone thinking they knew what I needed even when I stated the obvious. I had said no photos and I had meant it.

Then one day, we decided to open the box. Sitting perched on the edge of our bed, box between us, I met my husband’s gaze. He told me to go ahead, but I was afraid. I was scared that I would see her face and recoil. I thought that seeing a photo of my dead daughter would only add to my heartbreak.

I tugged at the green ribbon that kept the box closed and drew in my breath. Staring at the wall, my fingers fumbled with the lid and before looking down, I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I was gazing upon the most beautiful face I had ever seen.

In that photo I didn’t see a lifeless body, I only saw my beautiful daughter.

How could I have been so foolish to think I wouldn’t want a photo? As I held her in my hands again, I was overcome with so much emotion. I felt grateful that this photo was in my hands and I felt so much regret that I had said no to taking photos. It turns out I needed those photos.

I’m so glad that one nurse didn’t listen to me.

I am so grateful that there was someone who knew what I didn’t. She knew that, when I was ready, I would want to look upon that beautiful face every single day. She knew that the birth of my first child, was a day to remember.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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2 thoughts on “I Didn’t Think I Wanted Photos Of My Stillborn Baby And I Was Wrong

  1. This is a powerful story and thank you for sharing it. As a nurse who cares for moms experiencing stillbirth, however, I would not instruct my nurses to take a photo against explicit instructions as most hospitals now require consent to photograph and taking photos without consent might be considered a severe punishable lapse in policy. In this situation (Ive been in this spot dozens of times) I sit with parents and explain that people have told me that they are afraid … they fear that when they look at the photos in the future, they will have the same emotions they are feeling at that minute resurface and they never want to ever feel this bad ever again. I tell them that often parents feel differently when they look at the pictures in the future and that parents have later told me they would go into a burning building to get the photos of their baby. I also tell them that I also respect how they feel right now and I will ultimately do as they wish. I ask them though to consent to me taking a few photos and I will archive them in the hospital and later they can choose to see the photos or ask that they be deleted. I also offer to put them on a flash drive (that is well labeled so it wont accidentally be opened), give them to a relative of their choice, or I will print photos and put them in a sealed envelope. Once people realize Im not going to railroad over their wishes, they will ask for the flash drive or sealed envelope.

    I had one very conservative father from another culture who feared that our bereavement practices would cause his wife pain. I knew if I asked him permission, he would refuse and if I took a photo of the whole baby he would be very angry. I took a single photo of just the babies toes and showed him the image on the camera and said “this gentle, beautiful photo is the sort of picture we take, do I have your permission to take more?” he responded well to the level of respect we showed in the interaction and not only consented, he requested a few specific photos.

    In the case I did yesterday, I saw the dad taking really good pictures so I backed off and rather than doing a lot of shots of the baby, I photographed the lovely interaction of the parents – lovingly caring for their baby together.

    Like

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