Friday morning. I was stoked to wake up to a message from my client (and friend) to learn that she was dilated to 3cm and having contractions every 20 minutes. The flower headbands I purchased for this session were hung on my wall with care.
Plus, the anticipation of meeting this sweet girl was agonizing. Friday came and went, with no further response. She probably had the baby later that night and is utterly exhausted. Then it was Easter weekend. I knew we would connect the following week and get a session date pinned down. Oh, and did I mention the bunny? I couldn’t wait to capture the custom-made crochet bunny I had just purchased for the images!
As I felt each tomato for its ripeness in one hand, my phone vibrated in the other. It was her! Maybe she was sending some quick photos of her new little Easter baby??
Our little angel could not make it into our lives. We are currently grieving and I might need some time.
WHAT??? I stopped dead in my tracks. That was NOT the message I was hoping for or remotely expecting. Was someone chopping onions? My eyes were flooded. How does something like this happen with an otherwise healthy pregnancy at full term? Well news alert: it does. This was my first experience with a stillborn as a newborn photographer though.
This is something we as a society do not talk about enough. The reality is that death is something we avoid. It scares us, and yet it is something every one of us will eventually go through, as morbid as that sounds. For this beautiful tiny human who wasn’t even given a fighting shot at life though? I’m baffled. I can ask WHY and HOW all day long, but sometimes the sequence of mother nature cannot be explained. Also, I’m not a trained clinician to offer advice and explanations in this arena. What we can focus on here is the empathy factor and how to grieve.
As an individual who has never experienced a late-term miscarriage or stillborn, it is hard for me to fully grasp the emotional turmoil. So I want to explore how we can better support those around us who may experience such a tragedy. Because that’s what losing a child is: a complete and utter tragedy.
One book I read by a favorite author, Atul Gawande, is “Being Mortal”. It was a required reading during grad school, and frankly should be required reading for humanity. Gawande dives into the depths of our mortality and confronts humanity’s avoidance of the inevitable. Also, he’s a trained clinician who can speak to the medical side of ageing and end of life. He articulates the process people go through at the end of their lives, and also helps us view death from a different lens; the lens of those of us enduring the death of a loved one. You can buy a copy here (and no, I’m not being paid anything to say this, I genuinely think very highly of both the author and the book):
When researching what to do for my client and friend to help her in her grief, I found an Australian organization called Heartfelt. You can check it out here:
This is an amazing organization of volunteer photographers who offer a complimentary photo session to families who experience a stillborn and want to preserve the memories of the baby they lost. Photographers can volunteer for service and provide both a short session and 20 or so images for the client. Fair warning: grab a box of tissues before getting too deep into the website. I can’t visit it without tearing up. I haven’t been able to find a similar organization in the U.S. though, and it seems like a wonderful gift to offer families experiencing this type of a loss. This also offers the family some images for the baby’s funeral. I only wish I had found out about it sooner so I could have offered this to my friend.
That right there is another nuance that those of us who have not experienced a stillborn will never know the pain of enduring: signing both a death and birth certificate. Seriously?! I’ve talked about better care for new mothers, and to me, this seems like something that goes hand in hand with it. The amount of paperwork we are required to sign and go through for the birth of a child is insane. It is also insane for the death of a loved one. Combining those two with a grieving family that can’t even think straight? That sounds worse than a prison sentence. There has to be a better way to help them grieve and ease up on the paperwork!
There’s also the way we talk to people who have lost a child. I did a bit of research on this too, because I think those of us who want to help tend to jump to the “at least…” phrases (at least you still have your older children or at least you can try again, etc.). While logical, they are incredibly insensitive. Of course I had to research this further because I don’t want to come off as insensitive, and I think for those of us who haven’t bereaved a child, it’s easy to fall into that. I included a few links to some solid blogs posts, books, and grief websites that broach this subject.
Aside from bringing my friend food and flowers and simply listening to her, I feel helpless. The harsh reality is that I am. I can’t change her situation and there’s no magical cure for me to take her pain away. It’s that thing we all hate hearing when we experience loss and hardship: time heals all. I do think we can come up with better ways of accepting and grieving the death of our loved ones though. I think “Being Mortal” should be required reading for everyone, we should lessen the tidal wave of paperwork for birth, but even moreso for death, we should have some sort of volunteer organization or extension of Heartfelt here in the U.S., and as a second extension to Heartfelt, we should provide meals and listeners to families who have recently lost a baby to help them grieve and go through the process of healing.
Be kind to one another. You never know the battles each of us are fighting. Time doesn’t heal, but each passing day helps to lessen the pain. And for those of us not bereaving, ask how you can help them heal.