Why I Need To Share Photos Of My Stillborn Son

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Why I Need To Share Photos Of My Stillborn Son

Heather Smith

I’ve written this at least four times and have let it sit for at least four months. Why haven’t I shared my son’s photos online? Honestly? I am scared.

I am scared that my son will be judged and that I will be judged. I am scared of what people may think of me and him. I have worked in social media for years now, and I know how it works. The internet can be harsh, and placing my son at the mercy of trolls is my biggest fear.

I am protective. I don’t want anyone to judge him, make their own opinions of our loss, or worst of all, brush him off as nothing. My fears even extend to the extreme that someone could take my son’s photos to use for their own political agenda. I have read several accounts of baby photos being stolen online and incorrectly labeled as an abortion to push pro-life platforms.

If my son’s photos are ever taken and used without my permission, I will Liam Neeson your ass and hunt you down myself. You have been warned…

Miscarriage and stillbirth are taboo subjects, so naturally, photographing your dead child is taboo.

There were two questions we were asked in the hospital when I was waiting to be induced: Would we like any photos of our child, and did we want to hold our child? Without hesitation or explanation, I immediately said, “No.”

I hadn’t thought about it before. A few years before, I had come across a Facebook post by someone who had posted their stillborn child’s photo. I remember thinking, How morbid, then I kept scrolling.

If only I’d known back then what I know now.

The thought of holding my dead child and having photos of him scared me. I wasn’t strong enough to see that. The logical side of me thought I would never look at the photos. They would be too morbid and painful, and I couldn’t subject myself to that. The conclusions I came up with were strictly to protect myself and were made out of fear.

That day at the hospital, however, my husband looked at me very cautiously, then quietly said that he wanted to hold our son — and wanted photos.

I began to cry. I knew I could never deny my husband a moment to hold his child or keep him from photographing his child, but I wasn’t strong enough for the conversation. I was too ashamed to respond that I was afraid of what our child would look like; I was afraid he would be deformed and that I would be even more upset.

Our nurse asked if she could share some advice, and we nodded and listened. She explained that in all her years of working with stillbirth parents, not a single one regretted holding their child or receiving photos. The regrets came after, when parents had opted to not hold their child or have photos taken.

I thought about what she said, and I called my aunt. She is a level-headed woman, and I knew I could ask her advice and that she would give it to me straight. She had never been through a loss like ours, but she did offer up a solution: Get the photos, and don’t look at them. “At least you’ll have them if you change your mind.”

And I did change my mind.

With each contraction, I felt more compelled to see and hold the little creature my husband and I had created. My body was doing what it was designed to do, and that floored me. Never once had I seen my body in such a beautiful form. I had made this baby, kept it healthy and warm for 18 weeks, and now my body was working hard to deliver the baby into my arms.

The fact that my child was dead didn’t deter me from wanting to celebrate my baby.

My husband held our son first and wept. I was being worked on and was so exhausted from the pain that I could barely see what was going on. Once I was strong enough to sit up, my husband handed me our sweet baby, all 3.5 ounces and 8 inches of him.

I cried and stared and stared and stared. I memorized his face. His nose and ears. His face and eyes, just like his daddy’s. His fingers and toes. His tiny little knee caps and little belly. Gah. So freaking cute and perfect…

Even with holding him and getting photos of him, I still have regrets. I wish I had held him longer. I wish I had more photos of him. I wish I had been looking at the camera. I wish my husband and I were together in a photo holding him. I wish I hadn’t crumbled in panic when I went to give him a kiss and saw that his forehead was bleeding.

My husband quickly took him from me, and I never kissed him. I never kissed my child. That pain feels like a 400-pound man sitting on my chest, and I’m afraid it may never leave.

I know that to some, my son’s photos are hard to look at. His heart stopped at 16 weeks and 5 days. He’s not a round, chubby, 8-pound baby. His neck and head were swollen from a wrapped umbilical cord. He was red, and his ears and nose were still developing. The photos were taken about 4 hours after I delivered him, so the surrounding environment had started to take its toll on his little body, hence the bleeding I saw.

We were very careful the first few days and weeks after our loss. We were told that his photos would be too hard to see for some friends and family. We were told that some people wouldn’t understand or that if a child saw the photos, it would be too hard to explain. We didn’t show anyone unless they asked.

We understood why our photos would make someone uncomfortable: James was a small, dead baby. But we don’t look at the photos and see death. We see our son, his hands sweetly crossed over his belly. He’s our baby. Our son.

There is this hole that has been growing larger and larger over the last few weeks. The daily ache stings longer, more deeply, and breathing feels difficult. I feel left out. I feel like I didn’t get my “mom justice” — my right to brag. I want everyone to see my son.

Because, you know, if you don’t post it on Facebook, it didn’t happen.

Until recently, I was too scared to share his photos. Then I had a brief Twitter encounter with reality star Jamie Otis. She had also recently lost her firstborn, Jonathan, at 17 weeks and had tweeted something about him, along with photos. I tweeted, and Jamie responded with her email, and I shared photos of James with her.

I never got a response, not sure she even got them, but that’s OK.

Then recently, a photo of her and her husband with their son circulated, and I felt this sense of admiration for her bravery. Her Facebook post alone got over 17,000 views. That is huge. That is 17,000 people in this world who are more aware of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss. Kudos, Jamie.

So I hope that by sharing, this hole and injustice I feel will be better. Who knows? I may feel worse. But I am willing to take that chance. There has been so much anger, jealousy, and fear. Frankly, I am tired of feeling that way.

We have four photos of our son. Total That’s it. We will never have a first Halloween photo, a photo of the first time he tries solid foods…just these four photos that we are comfortable sharing.

Heather Smith

Heather Smith

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