Last May, I (Rachel) had maternity photos taken as a Mother’s Day gift to myself. Looking at these photos, you would never know that our baby had a diagnosis that meant that he would not survive after birth. It’s eleven months next week since Aaron was born and passed away. I cherish the photos that I have from while I was pregnant and after his birth because they remind me that for a short time he was here and that he is so loved.
An article in Maclean’s from this week titled “Parents of Stillborn Children Find Solace in Photography” is a very good read. The article discusses the bereavement photographs and infant loss program that nurse and bereavement specialist Laurie Soares and other nurses provide at the Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ontario. The Beyerlein family lost their daughter Madelyn at 36 weeks and Laurie was their nurse during the delivery of their daughter. “I cried a lot when I held her for the first time,” Madelyn’s mom Krista said. “I wanted to know what her nose looked like and what her ears looked like. That was our only chance. She was beautiful.” Laurie and the other nurses took photos of Madelyn and her parents that the Beyerlein family now treasures. They left with a carefully constructed care package that included the photos on a CD, molds of her feet, and other mementos. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do and the best thing I’ve ever done. The photos and trinkets mean the world to us now.”
Although the majority of pregnancies end with the birth of a healthy baby, it is estimated that 1 in 4pregnancies end in miscarriage (loss up to 20 weeks of pregnancy), and approximately 7 in every 1,000 pregnancies end in stillbirth (loss after 20 weeks of pregnancy). With this level of frequency, it is very likely that either you or someone close to you have experienced this traumatic event in their lives. Other families and individuals experience the devastating loss of a newborn or infant. According to the article from Maclean’s, several research studies, including a 2014 study of 104 parents published in BMC Psychology, have advised parents photograph stillborn babies and save the pictures as mementos that can help ease a sense of loss. These photos give parents something to hold onto when their arms are empty due to the loss of their wanted and much loved baby.
I have a photo from our vacation to Newfoundland in 2013 that shows me proudly showing displaying my "baby belly". I was about six weeks pregnant and Rob took the photo to announce our news to our parents who would be grandparents for the first time. It's one of the only photos I have from that pregnancy as we found out at 10 weeks that our baby had no heartbeat at our first ultrasound. I was too flustered to ask for a photo at that ultrasound which was devastating when I realized it a few days later when we experienced the miscarriage. As Laurie stated in the Maclean's article: “People think attachment starts when the baby is born. But attachment starts way before that. You lose the dreams of what your child and family was going to be. You lose your future.”
This week I had the privilege of writing an article for Babywearing in Canada. You can read the full article here: “A Different Kind of Mother’s Day: Pregnancy and Infant Loss”. Lorraine Rigby-Larocque spoke at the first Babywearing in Canada conference that took place May 2015. During her session “Losing a child: Coping today, tomorrow and forever,” Lorraine shared her personal experience with loss. Lorraine’s son Kevin was stillborn at 29 weeks gestation over 20 years ago, and she also experienced eight miscarriages and survived cervical cancer.
Just like with our family, Lorraine has keepsakes that she treasures to this day: ultrasound photos, a clipping of hair, handprints and footprints tenderly captured by a compassionate nurse. These are the things that transcend time, things that bring us closer to our babies. These items we can hold and cherish remind us over and over again that our babies were here if only for a moment. In the Ottawa/Gatineau area, volunteer photographers from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS) do an amazing job of capturing these moments for individuals/families facing the loss of their baby at birth. Veronique Lalonde, the NILMDTS coordinator for Ottawa/Gatineau was contacted by the palliative care team at Roger Neilson House take photos when Aaron was born. She was so kind and compassionate and captured photos that mean the world to me. I look at these photos often and they help me remember what Aaron looked like – his beautiful lips and his tiny feet that danced so often while I was pregnant.
I often wonder what our family would look like now if Aaron were still alive. Our family photo this Mother’s Day would look so different. One parent would be chasing a very busy toddler and one parent chasing a very busy eleven month old. Though Aaron was not able to make me a lovely handprint craft for Mother’s Day like our older son Gabriel, his handprints and the handprints of our first baby will always be on my heart.
Thank you to Débora Rodrigues and Babywearing in Canada for her support and her sponsorship of Aaron’s Butterfly Run!