On bulletin boards in our offices hang photos and birth announcements of many of the babies we have delivered over the years. Patients like seeing their children’s faces up there and most people smile and gaze at the cherubs in the photos as they pass by. At this point in my life, I avert my eyes when walking past. In the lunch room in one of my offices hangs the birth announcements of those who work there. I sent each of my offices a thank you card, telling them how grateful I am for the support they have given me through a difficult pregnancy and the death of my daughter. I enclosed a 4×6 photo collage of my favorite pictures of Mabel. There in the lunch room, next to the announcements that are now 9 months old and three years old is my thank you card and the photo.
I had suspected they would put it up and I am very thankful and warmed that they did. But seeing the photo there made me sad. It hung next to photos of two babies that lived. Their babies were smiling, eyes wide, gleeful. My photos showed either a baby that was sick, attached to wires and a vent or a baby that was dead or dying. The contrast was painful. And their babies’ faces adorned beautifully crafted birth announcements. Mine was a glossy photo from CVS. Another contrast- I didn’t get the professional photos or make a formal paper announcement. I would have, if she lived. But she didn’t. I know I can still make a formal birth/death announcement (I still might), but it feels a little silly now that I’ve mailed photos with all my thank you cards.
And then there are the feet. My baby’s feet were beyond cute. I would even venture to say, surprisingly cute. I was worried they would look funny because they were clubbed and the lack of fluid would make them even more distorted. But they were adorable- clubbed, yes, and still adorable. She had the kind of toes you just wanted to kiss and nibble on. My doctor took a photo of her feet, which have now because an almost iconic Mabel photo. It’s adorable. BUT I cringe when it’s the only photo used to represent her. When I made the sign for my office, I wanted to put a photo of her on it to make her more real. People suggested the foot photo, but I declined. I wanted people to see the face attached to the story. I also know a photo of her feet is hanging in my midwives office, which I appreciate greatly, but also think she deserves to have her face up there too.
She’s more than just those feet! When other mom’s show off their baby’s photos, you don’t only see the foot ones. My baby has a face. She was just as real as anyone else’s baby. When the feet photo is used alone, it makes me feel like people think my daughter was a monster. She wasn’t! She was not deformed. She was cute! When I want to show her off I show a photo taken after she died, when the vent was out, so you can see her whole face. I’m not totally out of touch with reality- I know looking at a photo of a dead baby, with the unusual coloring and slackness, can make some people very uncomfortable, so I show it in black and white. I may be fooling myself, but I think it’s hard to tell she isn’t alive.
The foot photo has its place. I love that I have it as a “safe” photo- when I want to represent her in a way to protect her privacy. The feet will show that she’s real, but I don’t have to give in to people’s voyeuristic impulses. I’ll show her face to anyone and everyone who wants to know about her. But I want to protect her from people who want to look at her, like they would look at photos of someone mangled in a car crash.
I am just like any other proud mother. I want to show you my baby’s feet and I also want to show you her face. Look what I made!