My heart is broken tonight after reading the news reports and predictable insensitive comments about Heather Walkers’ recent ban from Facebook due to posting photos of her terminally ill baby that died after only eight hours of life. What I am about to say may be off-topic for this blog, but this subject is not off-topic for my life. You see, I have lived and do live in Heather Walker’s reality. I too held my terminally ill baby close and watched him die in my arms. I too experienced watching his lifeless body being bathed, dressed, and photographed. I too have photos that many people would never want to see.
Perhaps, you think that Heather Walker’s photos are offensive or in bad taste. After all, you may think a grieving mother would never want photos taken of her baby. And (if taken), photos like these should be probably kept private and only shown to family and close friends. But, I challenge you to take a moment to set aside your opinions in order to understand why grieving parents take (and sometimes share) photos of their deceased infants.
When a baby dies, the nursery may already be decorated. A name might be picked out. The parents have dreamed for hours about their child playing with the siblings, having Grandma’s blue eyes, or loving sports just like Dad. Plans for Christmas and summer vacation are already rearranged since an infant will be needing constant attention. Maybe clothes lay neatly in a little dresser or closet waiting to be worn. A cute baby book sits ready to be filled with first tooth and words. But, then the baby is born too early or too sick. The baby will never play with the siblings. No one knows who he would have looked like in those cute clothes. No one feels like Christmas. And, the baby book sits empty. And the crib. And the mom. And her arms.
Often, that mother came to the hospital with excitement just like every other expecting mom. She too checked into a labor and delivery room and gave birth to a baby. She also has dreamed of that special day after birth when she would ride out of the hospital in a wheelchair with her beautiful baby in her arms that everyone would stare at with admiration. But, instead she leaves the hospital in the wheelchair her face streaming with tears while everyone stares, and all she has is a box. A lousy, horrible box. Flat and stiff, unlike the baby she once held. In the box, she holds all that is left of her baby. A couple photos, a blanket, and maybe an outfit the baby wore.
When she returns to work or church*, no one announces her baby’s birth. In fact, no one really wants to talk about her baby at all. But, she knows he was real. She held him and sang him a lullaby. She saw his eyes that shone blue like Grandma’s. And, she can’t forget him. His name is music to her ears, and she longs to hear it sung.
Bereaved mothers understand this. These moms have worked tirelessly to educate hospital staffs on how to help those who grieve. By taking photos, when no one can smile. By singing a lullaby to a baby that will never hear. By filling a box that no one ever wanted.
Memories fade, but the photos remain. People can pretend that the baby never existed, but the photos prove them wrong. And, some mothers find comfort in sharing the photos of their deceased infants. These photos prove to the world that their child existed and has a memory worth preserving. And these photos prove that beauty can be found in even the most tragic moments of life if you choose to take a moment to look for it.
Unlike the mass of gruesome images that pass for entertainment, photos of deceased infants represent the purest of lives and the greatest of motherly love. Not all bereaved parents choose to share photos of their infants, but those who do should be applauded for their act of love in remembering a child that many do not want to see.
Update: Facebook has now unblocked Heather’s page!
*Personal Note: My friends and church family were highly supportive of my family during our time of grief and continue to be so. This is written based on not only my personal experience, but experiences common to grieving mothers.