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Heather Miller lost her baby at 16 weeks. Here’s why she’s sharing ‘hard to look at’ pictures of him.

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Warning: This post deals with stillbirth and pregnancy loss and may be triggering for some readers.

I’ve written this post at least 4 times and have let it sit for at least 4 months. Why haven’t I shared my son’s photos online? Honestly? I am scared.

I am scared my son will be judged and I will be judged. I am scared of what people may think of me and him. I have worked in social media for years now and I know how it works. The internet can be harsh and placing my son at the mercy of trolls is my biggest fear.

stillbirth photos
"Chris looked at me very cautiously and quietly said that he wanted to hold him and wanted photos. I began to cry." Image supplied.

I am protective. I don’t want anyone to judge him, make their own opinions of our loss, or worst of all, brush him off as nothing. My fears even extend to the extreme that someone could take my son’s photo to use for their own political agenda. I have read several accounts of baby photos being stolen online and incorrectly labeled as an abortion to push pro life platforms.

If my son’s photos are ever taken and used without my permission, I will Liam Neeson your ass and hunt you down myself. You have been warned.

Miscarriage and stillbirth are taboo subjects, so naturally photographing your dead child is taboo.

One of the first questions we were asked in the hospital when I was waiting to be induced, was if we would like any photos of our child and if we wanted to hold our child. Without hesitation and explanation, I immediately said “no.”

I hadn’t thought about this before. A few years ago I came across a Facebook post with someone who had posted their stillborn child’s photo. I remembered thinking ‘how morbid’ and I kept scrolling. If I only knew back then what I knew now.

The thought of holding my dead child and having photos of him scared me. I wasn’t strong enough to see that. The logical side of me thought I would never look at these photos. It’s morbid and painful, I can’t subject myself to this. My conclusions I came up with were strictly to protect myself and made out of fear.

Chris looked at me very cautiously and quietly said that he wanted to hold him and wanted photos. I began to cry. I knew I could never deny my husband a moment to hold his child or to keep from photographing his child but I wasn’t strong enough for this conversation. I was too ashamed to respond that I was afraid of what our child would look like. I was afraid he would be deformed and I would be even more upset.

stillbirth photos
"Chris held our son first and wept." Image supplied.

Our nurse asked if she could share some advice, we nodded and listened. She explained that in all her years of working with stillbirth parents, not a single one regretted holding their child or receiving photos. The regrets came after when parents opted to not hold their child or have photos taken.

I thought about what she said and I called my aunt. She is the most level headed woman and I knew I could ask her advice and she would give it to me straight. She’s never been through a loss like this but she did offer up a solution: get the photos and don’t look at them. At least you’ll have them if you change your mind.

I changed my mind.

With each contraction, the more and more I felt so compelled to see and hold this little creature that we had created. My body was doing what it was designed to do and that floored me. Never once had I have seen my body in such a beautiful form. I made this baby, kept it healthy and warm for 18 weeks and now it was working hard to deliver my baby into my arms. The fact that my child was dead, didn’t deter me from wanting to celebrate my baby.

Chris held our son first and wept. I was being worked on and so exhausted from the pain I could barely see what was going on. Once I was strong enough to sit up, he handed me my sweet baby. He was less than a kilo and 20 centimetres long. I cried and stared and stared and stared. I memorised his face. His nose and ears. His face and eyes, just like his Daddy’s. His fingers and toes. His tiny little knee caps and little belly. GAH. So freaking cute and perfect.

stillbirth photos
"Once I was strong enough to sit up, he handed me my sweet baby. All 3.5 ounces and 8 inches of him." Image supplied.

Even with holding him and getting photos of him, I still have regrets. I wish I held him longer. I wish had more photos of him. I wish I had been looking at the camera. I wish Chris and I were together in a photo holding him. I wish I didn’t crumble in panic when I went to give him a kiss and saw that his forehead had began to bleed. Chris quickly took him from me and I never kissed him. I never kissed my child. That pain feels like a huge man sitting on my chest and I afraid it may never leave.

I know to some my son’s photos are hard to look at. His heart stopped at 16 weeks and 5 days.  He’s not a round, chubby baby. His neck and head were swollen from his umbilical cord wrapping around. He’s red, his ears and nose were still developing. The photos were taken about 4 hours after I delivered him, so the surrounding environment started to take it’s toll on his little body, hence the bleeding I saw.

We were very careful the first few days and weeks after our loss. We were told that his photos would be too hard to see by some friends and family. We were told that some people wouldn’t understand or if that if a child saw the photo it would be too hard to explain. We didn’t show anyone unless they asked. We understood why our photos would make someone uncomfortable. James was a dead, small baby.

But we don’t look at the photos and see death. We see our son, with his hands sweetly crossed over his belly. He’s our baby. Our son.

There is this hole that has been growing larger and larger over the last few weeks. The daily ache stings longer, more deep and breathing feels harder. I am feeling left out. I am feeling like I didn’t get my mom justice, my right to brag. I want everyone to see my son.

Because you know if you don’t post it on Facebook, it didn’t happen.

stillbirth photos
"But we don’t look at the photos and see death. We see our son, with his hands sweetly crossed over his belly. He’s our baby. Our son." Image supplied.

I have been too scared to share his photos until more recently. I had a brief Twitter encounter with reality star, Jamie Otis about 6 weeks ago. She also recently lost her first born, Jonathan at 17 weeks and had tweeted something about her son and photos. I tweeted and Jamie responded with her email and I shared photos of James with her. I never got a response, not sure she even got them but that’s okay. Then recently a photo of her and her husband with their son circulated and I felt this sense of admiration for her bravery. Just her Facebook post alone got over 17k views. That is huge. That is 17k more people in this world more aware of miscarriage, still birth and infant loss. Kudos Jamie.

Mary on giving birth to Stevie on No Filter. 

So I hope by sharing that this hole and injustice I feel, will be better after this. Who knows, I may feel worse but I am willing to take that chance. But there has been so much anger, jealousy and fear and frankly I am tired of feeling that way.

We have 6 photos of our son. Total. That’s it. We will never have a first Halloween photo, first time he tries solid foods, just these 4 that we are comfortable sharing.

This post originally appeared on Snarky Bird. You can follow Heather on Instagram and Twitter.

If this has post raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24 hour support line on 1300 072 637. Or you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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