Sharing photos of your stillborn child on social media

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While you’re browsing through Facebook posts on your news feed about hangovers and the latest viral YouTube videos, you’ll no doubt find a few photos of your friends’ babies in the mix.

It’s an annoyance to some – endless pics of babies in new outfits, with banana smooshed over their faces, every milestone marked and shared from baby’s first steps to their first projectile vomit. Mostly, though, people will be happy and excited to see the first few photos of a friend’s gorgeous new bub.

But what if that baby photo was of your friend’s stillborn? How would you feel about seeing a gallery of photos dedicated to a dead little boy or girl? A couple of friends of mine have experienced this. One of my friends explained how she felt when a girl she knew from school shared a gallery of photos taken of her stillborn girl. While she understood it was her friend’s way of coping, she also admitted it was confronting.

"It was just unexpected, seeing the images, as they were publically viewable," she explained."A lot of people, especially those inexperienced in this awful situation, don’t understand why it wasn’t more private. Most people assume you grieve privately but social media has made those boundaries blurrier."

But it is becoming more common to photograph stillborn children and share those photos. Gavin Blue is the national president of the charity Heartfelt, a network of volunteer photographers from around Australia who specialise in stillborn and premature photography. They also take photos of children with terminal illnesses and all of their work is done for free.

"The demand for our work has doubled in the past year, we average 70 shoots a month across Australia and have just expanded into the UK," Mr Blue said.

"Everyone is different in how they share those photos, some families have them on display in homes and others may choose to share them through social media.

"The way we shoot the children is done in a way so they are not too confronting to share."

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Mr Blue began the charity in 2006 after he and his wife had a stillborn girl. It was important to his family to have birth photos of all their children in their home. "We want people to know there are four children, not three," he said.

There are people who question the work of his photographers. Mr Blue believes the topic of miscarriage and stillbirths are still taboo, though believes the stigma is lessening. He sees raising awareness as part of the job of Heartfelt.

"There will always be an ongoing conversation about it," he said.

"I was at a dinner party just last night where I explained what I did, and an 18-year-old I was speaking with couldn’t fathom why people would want it. What people so often misunderstand is that when people are expecting, they plan a whole future in their minds with this baby. They should be able to remember and acknowledge their stillborn child. I was very open about our own experience and the amount of older people who whispered to me that the same thing happened to them but they never spoke about it and they never got over it is amazing."

The Heartfelt photographers are on call at all hours to be there for parents going through stillbirth and miscarriage.

"When I’m shooting I feel remarkably peaceful and at home with the parents," Mr Blue said.

"We’re often the first non-medical people the parents see after it happens, and they’re usually touched that when their whole world is crumbling that a total stranger would come in the middle of night and do this for them."

The founder of the Stillbirth Foundation, Emma McLeod, said people were much more open about sharing their experiences with miscarriage and that it was very healthy for them to do so.

"I can appreciate sharing photos is an individual choice not everyone is going to make, but if someone feels comfortable sharing they absolutely should," she said.

"They’re proud of that baby it is a way of demonstrating how important their baby is to them.

"It’s incredibly important for people to be able to talk about it stillbirth because it is a life changing, enduring part of your life."

Only a few decades ago, stillborn children were whisked away from parents on almost immediately, Ms McLeod said, with some parents not allowed to see their baby or even told where they ended up.

"They never get over it," she said.

"Now, people are encouraged to spend time with their baby, people are willing to put photos up and talk about it. Personally, I am happy to post on Facebook my daughter's anniversary and am keeping her alive in that way. Another woman I work with posted a photo on the 12th anniversary of her son Callum’s death, of her family at his gravesite. It was a very important thing for her to do."

Every day in Australia, six babies are stillborn, while one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Death was still something western society did not handle well, Ms McLeod said, but she said making judgements about how people chose to deal with grief was the wrong thing to do.

"We all have our personal opinions about what should and shouldn’t be posted on social media but they are an individual’s post and it is ultimately up to them."

Melissa Davey is a health/medical journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald. You can follow her on Twitter.

 

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31 comments

  • What amazing people. We nearly lost both my sister and my nephew when he was born by emergency c-section at 26 weeks. The harrowing 9 months that followed while he fought for life have made us what we are as a family today. We are lucky enough 11 years later to be able to have our little boy still with us. For those who aren't so lucky I can't see a better way to keep their angel's memory alive that what these amazing people at Heartfelt are doing. I just looked up their website and donated. I would encourage everyone else to do the same.

    Commenter
    Kate
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    December 06, 2012, 8:44AM
    • I stumbled across a very similar phenomenon on YouTube not long ago. There are countless memorial videos dedicated to stillborn children, including family photos with older brothers or sisters holding the baby.

      On one hand, it does help create a sense that women who lose children are not alone and that other women and families have also experienced this sad event. But online memorials also threaten to turn what is a sad event into a kind of tragedy porn - tragedy for entertainment's value in a similar (but far more devastating way) than those can't-look-away videos of marriage proposal rejections.

      I just hope the families suffering from the loss of a baby are able to fully understand that they will never be able to completely remove what they post online. If they do eventually wish to move on and pull such an event into the shadows, it may be more difficult to do so.

      Commenter
      Siobhan
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      December 06, 2012, 8:46AM
      • It seems to be common to believe that parents should "move on" after the loss of a baby. As a woman who has experienced this I can say that there is no "moving on." My daughter will always be my daughter.

        I can understand why women choose to post photos of their precious babies online. It is important to acknowledge that their child existed and they may find a lack of understanding or support in other social networks.

        My own experience was that my boss (who is female) expected me to return to almost immediately. Forgeting that I had just given birth to full term baby (my stiches hadn't even healed). Others also commented at the time "why do you need maternity leave when there is no baby to care for?" Forntunately the law protects your rights but the level of insensitivity I encountered was shocking.

        Through facebook, grieving parents can find support and understanding with people who know what they are going through. And if you find their photos confronting, don't look at them.

        Commenter
        Mel
        Date and time
        December 06, 2012, 10:08AM
    • I think their grief trumps anyone else's discomfort at seeing those photographs. If you don't want to see it, there's a box up in the corner with an "X". That will make it go away for you.

      Commenter
      George
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      December 06, 2012, 9:38AM
      • Facebook is lame. Posting a picture anywhere that anyone can access is no different to us as society looking at a dead body in visual or print media. Yes, it may be a little morbid however it's something that happens everday in life. It shouldn't be a taboo subject, it should be embraced. Like any awful situation, take the positive out of it & use that for good use.

        Commenter
        Lovely
        Location
        At
        Date and time
        December 06, 2012, 9:55AM
        • I'm sorry, but I think posting photos of your dead relatives at all is a bit gross. While I don't think death is something that should be hushed up or kept behind closed doors, you don't see people taking photos of their other relatives cadavers and posting them on facebook. I have lost a baby to miscarriage. I would never think to have taken a photo of my baby in the toilet before I flushed it away. Likewise I would never think to take a photo of my mother when she dies and posting it on facebook. You don't need to exhibit things in order to grieve. I lost my father in a car accident when I was young. They never let us see his body. Did that stop me going through my grief? Heck no. In fact, I am grateful.
          I have no issue with people spending time with a stillborn or taking photos. Share it with close friends but for goodness sake don't share that all over the internet.

          Commenter
          Liv
          Date and time
          December 06, 2012, 10:26AM
          • I have had miscarriages. There is a huge difference between an early miscarriage and giving birth to a baby who doesn't make it. Huge.

            Commenter
            George
            Location
            Brisbane
            Date and time
            December 06, 2012, 11:20AM
          • There is, but as I pointed out, I didn't even get to see my father, I would never have taken photos of any of my dead grandparents and I won't be taking any photos of any dead relative to share them on facebook. I don't understand why anyone would willingly post photos of dead humans on facebook as part of a grieving process.

            Commenter
            Liv
            Date and time
            December 06, 2012, 12:15PM
          • People generally don't take photo's of their 'relatives cadavers' because they have photos from when they were alive to remember them by. Obviously parent's of stillborn babies don't get that opportunity. One of the the only things they will have to remember their child by and to prove that yes, they did have a beautiful baby, is the photo's taken after birth.

            Commenter
            Bolo
            Date and time
            December 06, 2012, 12:18PM
          • Fair call Bolo. I admit I hadn't thought of that aspect, but I still think it distasteful to post photos of lifeless bodies on the internet like that. I don't have any pictures of my father either. And I certainly don't feel the need to post my grief on facebook. I just don't think people understand that facebook is not private. It's public and many people don't realise just how public it actually is.

            Commenter
            Liv
            Date and time
            December 06, 2012, 12:32PM

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