There was no blood flowing in her little baby body. There was no healthy glow. Her little skull was sunk down. Her eyes were closed. And the bruises were too devastating to even imagine. If you are the parent of a stillborn baby, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You can get to the point where you’re not even sure if you want people to visit you in the hospital. You’re afraid they may be traumatized. That’s how bad it is. But yet, he or she is still your baby. Despite all the pain and chaos of that fateful day, you miss your baby something terrible. You have hard memories. Really hard memories. But you still want to keep them. God keeps your baby now, and He gives you precious memories preserved in thoughts and pictures. Thanks to my parents, I still have a beautiful picture of my Ariana. And she is beautiful. Bruised and beautiful. How often do you ever see those two words put together? Yes, bruises and all. She was my baby. And I wanted to show her off.
As I continue with this series of articles dealing with parents of stillborn babies, we move to point #9.
Parents of stillborn babies want you to………………….
#9 We want you to ask questions about our baby (eye color, hair color, height, weight, did you get to hold the baby, did they look like mommy or daddy, do you have pics, etc.)
An Unforgettable Supervisor
“Do you have pictures? We want to see some pictures of your baby!!” These were nearly the exact words spoken from the lips of my supervisor a little over 15 years ago. It was a phrase so shocking that I never, ever believed that someone would ask it about my baby girl, Ariana. And although it was shocking, it was also a breath of fresh air in the midst of intense suffering. Shocking because……..well……..I didn’t think anyone would want to see pictures of another person’s stillborn baby. Too disturbing, right? At least this is what I thought at the time. I mean, according to the world’s standard of “cute”, a stillborn baby doesn’t quite pass the test. No soft, color filled cheeks. No developing facial features. No healthy glow to make people say, “Awww, would you just look at how beautiful she is!” In fact, sometimes your stillborn baby’s most noticeable features are the bruises and the blood red lips. Not exactly Facebook material, is it?
She Knew a Secret
What my supervisor said to me on that day was a breath of fresh air. I needed to hear that someone……anyone……. wanted to see what my baby girl looked like. Yes, my dead, already-decaying baby girl. Other than perhaps your immediate family, most people would never think to ask you for pictures. I suspect she had her fears about how disturbing the pics might look. Anyone would be apprehensive of such a thing. Not only that, but what if there was a really awkward reaction when she looked at the photos? You know, something totally out of her control. Like she might cringe, or look away really quickly, or even make a sound expressing her shock. I don’t know if she thought through all of these possibilities beforehand, but in the end her decision was to make much of my baby. And it is every parent’s joy to have people make much of their child. So just having the courage to ask me for pics was worth more than I can put into words. She knew how disturbing the pictures would be to look at. But it didn’t matter to her. She knew that my stillborn was created in God’s image, and that I loved her. She instinctively caught on to the fact that I wanted to show off Ariana, but there was no way I could ever initiate such a thing. She took the first difficult step, and did the work for me.
One Reason You Don’t Ask
You may not ask us for pictures because you’re afraid of what you will see. You may not ask us questions about what our baby looked like because you’re afraid it’s going to conjure up horrible images in our mind. Both may be true. Depending on how soon after birth the photos were taken, they may be extremely difficult to look at. Especially for those who are a little squeamish. And yes, when you ask us about what our baby looked like, our brains may recall some of the more broken aspects of his or her physical appearance. But guess what? We wish you would ask anyway. It would mean more to us than all the money and gifts that could ever be sent. It would mean more than a thousand words of good counseling. Often times, it is the simple things that mean so much. Simply asking me if I had the chance to hold my baby would run circles around all the books on “how to grieve the loss of a stillborn baby.”
We understand your hesitation. Really, we do. Well……..at least to a point. I mean, when our loved ones die, we typically don’t walk around showing pictures of what they looked like after they died. We show them when they were vibrant and alive! But there is something unique about our situation. We don’t have any pictures of our babies when they were vibrant and alive. The day of their birth is also the day of their death. Parents of stillborns have such a hard time with this. The day of our baby’s birth is a joyous event and a tragic ending all at the same time. It is a cruel irony.
Don’t Be Shocked
We only had one day we could take pictures of our little one. That’s all. And not even a full day. We are talking hours here. Maybe not even that much in some cases. So, why wouldn’t we want to take pictures of our precious time with them? Why wouldn’t we want to preserve whatever memories we possibly could? And why would we not want to share our pictures of them? We understand if you can’t bear to look at them. We don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable. But please don’t be shocked that we love our baby’s pics. Don’t be shocked that we want people to bring up the subject. Remember, the only living pictures we have of them are ultrasound images from inside the womb. But who shows off their ultrasound pictures after the baby is born? No one that I know.
There is another reason you don’t ask. It is because you think we will feel more hurt to be reminded of that fateful day of birth. Well, my response would be that we are already reminded of our babies every day. And we are ok with that! It is automatic. You don’t forget people you love. Nor do you ever want to. God has created such a beautiful bond between parent and child, that not even death can destroy it. As long as the memory centers of our brain are functioning, we will constantly remember our baby. That is why I believe Alzheimer’s is one of the most devastating of all diseases. To forget loved ones is such a heartbreaking thing to imagine for families. So asking us to see pics isn’t going to create any more pain that isn’t already there. It may bring tears, but that is what grief does. Tears are healthy. In a fallen world, grief is essential. So remember this: what hurts far more than being reminded of our baby is not being reminded of our baby.
Daddy’s Hair Color
“She has dark hair just like her daddy” was the first thing my supervisor said after I showed her Ariana’s picture. But it was the way she said it that I remember more than anything. You know that kind of teasing voice that someone uses when they are trying to make you laugh? Especially when laughing is the furthest thing from your mind. She said it something like this, “Jamie, I see dark hair on Ariana, hmmmmmm……..(with a slight smile on her face)………….I wonder where she got that from??!!” (I actually still had some hair at that time!) It is a moment I will never forget. She knew that Ariana mattered to me. And she gave me some precious few moments that I cherish to this day. She asked for pictures. She made a reference to my baby’s hair color. She personalized Ariana for me. Priceless.
Wish We Had Cuter Pictures
People go crazy over cute pictures, especially baby pictures. And now that we live in the age of social media, it is easier than ever to satisfy everyone’s visual itch. And this quest for “cuteness” starts long before the baby is born. Mommies all over the internet are taking pictures of their baby-filled tummies. Tummies at 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 20 weeks, 30 weeks, and on and on. And it is completely innocent too. It is all about the baby, a little preview of what’s to come. These mommies are giving everyone an appetizer before the meal. They are simply displaying to the world that an adorable, tiny human being hides just beneath the surface.
The anticipation of birth increases with every picture of her growing tummy. The day inches ever closer. Family, friends, and co-workers are all getting excited for that special day when the baby will arrive. They can’t wait to see the baby pics. And when that day finally comes, all of the anticipation is so worth it. The joy is overwhelming. Except, that is, if you are the mommy of a stillborn baby. Now, every time you see those old pictures of you looking preggers, you feel the pain of loss. The pain of what could have been. You never thought your only pictures to show off now would be ones that people would quickly scroll past- in horror – if you put them on Facebook. Tragic. My heart goes out to all you mommies.
Society places way too much value on outer beauty. Beauty that contains perfect skin, with no blemishes. No defects are allowed for. Even little babies do not escape these cultural thought patterns. No, blood and bruises are not beautiful. They are disturbing. Especially when you are looking at a baby. But here’s the thing. The beauty comes when you look past the bruises and realize there is so much more to your baby. The beauty comes when you realize how much love you have for your baby despite the bruising. The bruises are temporary. Love is not.
I saw Ariana up close and personal. I held her flimsy body tight. I saw her placed in a casket. I saw people lower her into the ground. But she is not just a dead body buried in a grave. She, and all other stillborn babies, are with God as living souls. And one day, when Jesus Christ returns, they will have their physical bodies join their souls. But for now, they live in our memories with the physical traits that we saw them with. Even as damaged as they were, they are the memories we have. They are preserved in our hearts, our minds, and in pictures. Would you consider asking us about them?
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