(I’m departing from my normally cheerful blog posts to talk about a subject that is often not discussed but is in my heart. Shared with permission from the family. This blog post is about term stillbirth.)
When I first met Sharon it was where we meet so many people these days…on social media. I had listed some artwork that I was selling and she responded about purchasing it. She saw that I was a photographer and mentioned that she was expecting soon and might want to get some newborn photos done as this was going to be their last baby.We discussed the process, I sent photo samples, we made plans. I was excited to capture their newest family member.I thought we would meet prior to the session as she was going to be picking up the artwork but, as things would have it, a fender bender and life in general got in the way until the weekend that we finally had a firm time. She never showed up.By Monday I was thinking about her so I dropped her a note to see if she didn’t come because the baby had arrived. I had no idea that my jovial little reminder might be anything but that. Until I received her reply…
“You have been on my mind to contact! Unfortunately she was born still yesterday morning. “
My heart sunk….my eyes welled with tears…I didn’t even really know this woman but, I immediately felt her pain. There were no words….I wasn’t sure how to respond. I hope that I said the right thing. As a mother myself who had worried about this same thing many times, I couldn’t even imagine how she found the strength to write back to me. Growing up I never knew anything about stillbirth. No one every talked about it. In fact, I distinctly remember a day in my teens when I was talking to my Dad and he casually mentioned that he had had a brother. What?!?! How did I not know this? Apparently his brother Charlie had died as a baby. I don’t know if he was stillborn or not (because no one ever talked about it) but I knew that he had been born and died and there was no record of it. My Dad didn’t even know what happened to him. When I mentioned this to my Mom, she told me that she had also had a brother (eerily also named Charlie) who had died as an infant. Again….no idea how it was that I never knew this. Somehow the idea that these two babies had been born and died and no one ever talked about it seemed unbelievable to young me. I asked a thousand questions and got no answers. Both of my parents told me that their Moms didn’t discuss it because you just didn’t back then…end of story. Fast forward to my adult years….I now have several friends who have lived through similar losses and I have seen the difference in their experience. They have openly discussed it, joined support groups, comforted each other and, most of all, celebrated the children that they have lost. What a difference from my Grandparent’s generation! Sometimes they would post articles about how this topic is still so taboo in our society and I would read them to learn more. According to the March of Dimes, stillbirth is the death of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy or during birth and around 23,600 baby are born still in our country every year. Sometimes the reasons are obvious and sometimes they are considered unexplained. These parents are left with the difficult task of telling everyone that their happy day has turned suddenly sad, and forevermore figuring out how to answer the common question “How many children do you have?” without feeling a sense of panic.So…what have I learned…unlike other deaths where there are shared memories, stillbirth is different. When a child is stillborn, those shared memories don’t exist, so they are robbed of the opportunity to talk about and remember their child with others. Death is hard to discuss – particularly the death of a baby before it is even born. I feel strongly we need to challenge ourselves and be more comfortable talking about stillbirth. As one mother said…”I found people not mentioning her the hardest thing of all.”Sharon bravely shares her story on her personal blog, where she explores her feelings as she has been moving through the grieving process. You can read her story here… Ivy After I expressed my condolences and we talked a bit about how she was doing, our lives went on. Me, dealing with my own busy family and her learning to cope with her new normal. But my mind kept going back to her…wondering how she was doing, thinking about baby Ivy. I wanted so badly to be able to offer comfort, support, anything to this woman that I had never met but felt such a connection to. And finally, it hit me, I could offer something. I sent Sharon a note checking in and letting her know that I would love to offer a special photo session for her sweet family. Something to make them smile, to capture them together, to offer hope. And she responded with a big YES! Not only was she excited to do the photos but she also wanted to include Ivy. I was thrilled. The hospital had taken photos of the baby while they were able to spend time together and she had hoped to include one in our session. When the day of our session arrived, I was excited to finally meet in person. Happy to meet her husband and her cute, feisty children. To see the love that they had for baby Ivy and each other. I have to admit to tearing up a bit when posing them with Ivy’s photo. I hope that my photos will bring Sharon and her family joy. I hope that writing this article and sharing her story will help others in similar situations and will dispel the taboo that surrounds this topic to this day.I know that I will never forget baby Ivy.