The following is a summary of the Group Discussion, written by Hannah. To read the individual stories, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the thumbnails.
As I sit in front of my computer and attempt to write the summary of everyone’s story for the fifth time, I find myself feeling as if my words fall short.
Because they do.
In reality, nothing I say or write is going to adequately describe the sense of camaraderie and support I felt while sitting with these brave men and women who were sharing their stories and children with us. Ultimately, I want to provide these parents with comfort and help ease their pain, but at the end of the day no amount of words is going to do their losses justice or take away their grief. I know all too well that no matter how hard we might try, we cannot undo these experiences or take away their pain. So I’m not going to try. Instead, I’m going to tell you about what I learned.
Through Jacquie (click HERE for Jacquie’s story), I learned that even though I am looking at perinatal loss through a well informed lens, it isn’t that way for everyone. There is still so much that needs to be done when it comes to teaching women about their own bodies and how to advocate for themselves. During our meetup, I could hear remnants of the shock and dread she experienced when she underwent a D&C on Christmas Eve 2016 after her missed miscarriage. “… I was very surprised, I guess I didn’t expect that. I was about 3 months along, but it had happened sooner and I was just walking around thinking everything was fine. I didn’t even know that was something that could happen to be honest, before it happened to me, because no one ever talks about it.”
When it comes to how many medical personnel treat losses, it’s as if they losses the dirty secret of the childbearing process. Rather than educating women on all possible outcomes and put the reality of possibility of loss out there, they choose to let patients remain ignorant out of fear of causing them unnecessary anxiety.
But as all of us who have experienced a loss know, no amount of half-hearted attempts at comforting you after you’re told your child has no heartbeat works. We spend weeks feeling symptoms and imagining a future for our little baby and our hopes are crushed. “I went in around 11 weeks, or whenever they give you your first doctor’s appointment which to me seems really late. When I went in and she did the doppler, she didn’t hear anything but kept telling me it was fine and was probably no big deal.” Jacquie said while sitting in our intimate circle. “I could tell it wasn’t fine. From her reaction, it was obvious it wasn’t fine.”
While Maria was sharing, I noted how detailed her recollections were. Even after so many years, you could tell how profoundly she was changed when she lost Joseph (click HERE for Joseph’s story) . But what was even more striking than the vividness of her memories was not only how short her time with Joseph was, but the fact she almost didn’t have any time with him at all. “So I give birth to my son and the nurse comes next to me and like “do you want to hold him?” and I was like “No.” at this point in Maria’s story, she started to get choked up. “She looked at me and said ‘I don’t normally do this, but you’re gonna want to hold him.” […] She brought me Joseph and I held him for a little bit and everything, then afterwards they took him away and I had to stay there because I had to be stitched up. I don’t even know how quick everything was.” While Maria was undergoing medical procedures to save her life, her husband was introducing their families to Joseph and making life-altering decision about what to do with Joseph’s remains all on his own. “They asked him what we wanted to do and he said “get rid of it.” I had no choice in whether I wanted to bury him, or cremate him, or keep remains… it caused a lot of friction afterwards. It was harder for me to [deal with] the loss.”
After being discharged from the hospital, Maria would be told by her then husband to dispose of the box the hospital provided to them which contained mementos to commemorate Joseph’s brief time on earth. She didn’t. Upon their return home, they both struggled to cope with the weight of the loss they were carrying virtually alone. Through facing hardship after hardship, Maria developed postpartum depression (PPD). She and Joseph’s father eventually parted ways, the strain of their grief and the aftermath proving to be too much for their relationship.
Through Maria’s story, I grew even more determined in my own personal mission to provide loss parents with better support during their time at the hospital to help ensure each parent walks away from their child’s birth with as many memories and mementos, which are crucial to the grieving process, as possible. In all of her unluckiness, Maria was both fortunate to have a nurse on staff to encourage her to bond with her fragile son during those few fleeting moments and unfortunate to not have been provided with better resources to help her and her family cope with living with the gaping void that is child loss. The type of training needed to ensure nurses and other hospital staff adequately guide families through the process of making the decision on what to do with their deceased infant, what to expect in the coming weeks, and what resources are available to them in the future is severely lacking. Having a nurse who encourages you to hold your newborn should not be left to the luck of the draw, having staff who ensure that both parents are in agreement with how to proceed with remains should be standard practice.
While we might be inclined to think ill of Joseph’s father, both Maria and I want to emphasize that he too was suffering and was processing his grief in the only way he knew how. Fast forward to current day, he and Maria now have a wonderful co-parenting relationship and remain good friends. They have made amends against great adversity they should have never had to face in the first place.
Since the shoot in October, my interactions with these women and their families has extended far beyond the realms of this project. I have had more than one of them over to break bread in my home, my living child Cyan has befriended their children, and I have grown to know them as so much more than loss parents. Because of their willingness to share, I have been able to coordinate this project which I hope will bring comfort to someone in their time of need, shed light on and humanize the alienating and soul crushing experience that is perinatal loss, as well as help us realize that we are not alone in our sorrows. Though our subject matter is heavy and hard, I have gained so much and am so touched that I have had this opportunity.
What I have learned most from this project is no matter what I do, no matter how many good things happen in the wake of my tragedy, I will always want Senna Lynn (click HERE for Senna Lynn’s story) back. And that is okay, because no matter how much time passes or how many laughs I have, I am still her mother and she still won’t be here.
Thank you for taking the time to read about these families and their children.
Say their names: Joseph, Senna Lynn, Ivy*, Luca**, Ryker**, Samuel**, Michael**, Hadley**, Nati**, Leah**…
*Names have been changed at the request of the family, their images and story are currently private.
**Names of other babies who have been lost, but who have not yet been a part of the Infant Loss Photography Project.