Okay, some of you may have read it. I know Annette commented on it. I'm referring to that blog posting written by a young woman who thinks us babylost mothers are not being respectful by posting photos of our dead babies and can't understand why we create 'online shrines' to their memory. I'm not going to post the link to it because I know it upset a lot of babylost bloggers.
However, I bet that woman's opinions are not all that original. I bet there are lots of people out there who would not understand the desire we have to connect with one another over our lost children. They would not understand the need to 'cling' as they say, to our babies. They wonder why we don't 'move on', 'try again' and wonder if 'continuing to focus' on the loss is really in our best interests. I've been thinking a lot over the past little while about how other people see us babylost moms.
Perhaps it's because I'm about to go back to work with sick children, including babies. Maybe not the same type of sick children I was used to to looking after, as these ones will weigh more than a honey dew melon, but still, not the type of children that make it into theme park ads, or commercials for frosted cereal. And really, those are the types of children people are familiar with. Children that run, jump, play, pretend. Children that don't have needles stuck in them, whose youthful bodies are not giving out on them, children who don't know what a blood transfusion or a lumbar puncture is. Babies who eat with their mouths, and not via a tube through a hole in their stomach.
Those who do not live in the land of the sick and the lost see baby and childhood death as a very foreign concept. One that does not get brought up in polite society. Even the Foundation website (where you go to donate money) of the hospital I work at glosses over the struggles children must endure to 'overcome' their illnesses. There is NO mention that sometimes no matter how good the care, no matter how much money, time and effort or prayer is put in, babies and children still die. There is no mention on this website that these babies and children have undergone more invasive tests, surgeries and medical procedures and spent more time in the hospital than your average 90 year old. That they have been brought back from the brink many, many times. Maybe more times than they should have. Death and illness are portrayed as the enemy, not a natural event that will happen to us all...some of us sooner than others.
To avoid thinking about baby or child death, people like to shut it away, not see it, pretend it doesn't exist...that it is too "precious" to view or talk about. That it should only be mentioned in the most reverential tones at a funeral and even then, done in euphemisms and innuendo. Soften it, smooth it out, gloss over it.
I remember, over a year ago, when my husband and our two best friends were on our European vacation and I was describing to them the recent events of a shift I had worked prior to going away. I had arrived at work to find that my patient had already died, and all that was left to do was to wash and dress the baby, finish up some paperwork, and then take him down to the morgue. I would have to wait awhile though because his parents were still holding him. So I waited. I checked in on them, and waited some more. Then, when they were ready, I took their son and did his bath and dressed him in the outfit they had chosen. I packed up his foot and hand molds, and his other special mementos. I showed his parents the folder of information that is given to the babylost. Got assurances from them that they had a ride home. Then they said goodbye to their son. Mom cried. Dad held her. Afterwards I wrapped him up in baby blankets, nicely positioned his arms and head so it would look natural for his funeral, put the identification tags on him, wrapped his little body in a baby sized body bag and took him down to the morgue.
As I was describing this, my friend was looking at me in horror. He said "I could never do that...I would be a mess". Now I've had many versions of this comment over the years I worked in the NICU. I appreciate that people were trying to tell me that I was 'strong' and 'brave' for what I faced in the NICU...but I always felt a little like it was a backhanded compliment. More like what they were really saying was "I'm much more sensitive and caring than you are. I could never watch babies die and then go back to my regular activities", or more likely "I'm glad it's you and not me". Really, there were very very few people that could listen to a full account of what I did on a regular basis. They did not like to hear about it. They did not like to face baby sickness and death. Most people pretend it does not happen...and they like it that way.
We were out last night with these same friends for my husband's birthday dinner. They had their 6 month old with them. They were telling us about a joke that involved labour, midwives and musing about a funny things to say during the delivery of their next kid. I'm sitting there smiling and going along with the joke...but I just couldn't stop the following from running through my head: "Wow. They assume that their next delivery will be peppered with funny moments. Stressful ones, painful ones, too...but also a celebration...a cause for joy. They are assuming they will have a midwife deliver their baby and not a high risk OB, and that it will be a vaginal delivery. And...they are already assuming there will be another child".
I no longer make assumptions about these things. I hope for them. I wish for them. But I do not assume. The only reference point I have is my own labour and delivery, and it was not full of joy, or cause for celebration, and definitely had no funny moments. It was painful in away that did not end when the baby was delivered, the muscles healed and the uterus shrunk back to normal.
So, I'm thinking all these thoughts about my own baby and baby death.
Then I see this on Esty:
It's a post mortem photograph of a baby named Willard who has died at age 4 days in the summer of 1911 of 'innard spasms' (whatever that is). This photo is selling for $60 US ($63.32 CAN).
And, at first glance, I am creeped out.
Here I am, immersed every day in baby death and I cannot fathom why someone would want to have a 99 year old photo of a baby who they never knew and had no relation to (for over $60 no less). But then I think, Emily, who are you to judge? Why be creeped out? That was someone's loved little baby and wouldn't you be impressed if one day someone thought Aidan was so cute and beautiful that they would pay $60 for a picture of him? Hell, I would save the one perfect photo we have of him in a fire over any other possession, even over his urn. So, who am I to judge an antique enthusiast who finds joy in collecting old photos. Some day all our photos will be old.
So, while I cannot and do not agree with the website I mentioned at the beginning of this post or its view of us babylost, I also can understand why the writer would feel that way. Why she wouldn't get a blog devoted to a lost baby, or why photos of dead babies would fall under the definition of 'freaky'. Really, her opinions probably fall with those of the majority of humans out there, she just expressed it in an offensive manner. Same with my friends...who view pregnancy and birth as a time for stress surely...but ultimately of happiness and joy. They have never experienced anything else. Just like those people who view the NICU as a foreign world, full of things they do not understand and cannot imagine...and like it that way.
But I can understand, and imagine, and accept. And I hope, in time to view it as a gift, rather than a curse.
Have your views of illness and death been affected since the event? Do you find yourself more accepting of others and their world view? Does baby Willard freak you out? Or can you see past his dead-ness to the cute little guy he would have been?