I share photos of my children every single day on Facebook, on Instagram and here on my blog. I am so fiercely proud of all of my children, not only of how beautiful they are but also how sweet, kind and funny they are too. I take thousands of photos to capture the essence of their characters, their personalities shining through on each one, and I store them all away to look back on as they grow. And I will show photos of my children to just about anyone, to perfect strangers I meet at parties, to women I get chatting to in toilets on a night out, to random people whos paths cross mine. I have become that person! Because, and I think all parents will agree, there is nothing nicer than having somebody compliment you on your children, to reinforce what you already know. That they are utterly perfect.
So I guess the thing that bothers me the most is that whilst I am sharing photos of four of my children, there is one little boy whose photos are hidden away, never shared, never seen. And I really struggle with that. I may share a photo of his perfect little toes, or his tiny little hands, but never do I share a photo of the most beautiful little face you could ever see. And why is that? For it is certainly not because I do not wish to share his photos, I would happily show them to anyone who wanted to see. Ultimately, it is because it makes other people feel really uncomfortable, the look on their faces says it all, and that’s very hard to accept.
After Joseph first died I had photos of him all over our home, framed by the side of the bed and on the mantelpiece. And I noticed that when visitors came over they would quickly divert their eyes from his photo, looking anywhere but at my little boy, and that really hurt. When we moved house and packed away all of those photos, I didn’t unpack them in the new house to display again. They were kept in a drawer by the side of my bed, for my own personal viewing, as I didn’t want to make any guests feel uncomfortable. And it feels massively insulting to me, that a baby whom I am so proud of makes others feel that way. I can remember showing his photo to a family member, not long after he had died, who told me, “Oh you can tell there was something wrong with him!”. And comments like that made me feel so ashamed of his photos, as though he was so abhorrent that they should be hidden away and kept private.
A few years ago I shared a post on Facebook, not photos of Joseph, but a link to a photographer who had shared photos of stillborn babies. The photos were so beautiful and such precious memories for their parents to treasure. So to then see a passive aggressive post on a friends status, “Does not want to see dead babies on my news feed!!” had taken me aback and I was so shocked as, to me, these are not photos of dead babies at all. These are photos of our sons and our daughters. They are not harrowing images of babies cast aside in a gutter on the streets of China, nor are they grotesque images of babies suffering horrific deaths in war torn countries. They are babies in arms, lovingly wrapped in a blanket and cradled. They are the moments that you and I shared with all of our children, the first glimpse, the first cuddle. They are snap shots of moments that we will cling to for the rest of our lives. They are quite simply, all that we have.
And I do know of several ladies whose babies were stillborn who do not wish to share their photos with anyone. They believe that these thing are private, that those photos are special just for them, that there is no need for others to see their child. And I completely understand how some people may deal with their loss that way, but, for me, stillbirth isn’t something that should be kept a secret, packed away and never spoken about again. It is the stigma of stillbirth that makes us believe that we should act that way, that wants us to sweep it under the carpet and act as though our babies never existed.
A new friend recently asked me could she see a photo of Joseph and it absolutely made my day. For somebody to want to see a photo of my child, despite the fact that she herself was pregnant and it must have been hugely emotional, really made me happy. And I did show her, with complete and utter pride, and when she told me that he was beautiful, I felt like the proudest Mummy alive. Because that’s all we want to hear isn’t it? That’s all that needs to be said.
Because he was perfect, and I’m not ashamed of him, not in any way whatsoever. And as the years have gone on I feel I have got to a point where I have to say, so what if I offend other people? So what if they feel uncomfortable? This is my child and I have every right to share his photo just as the rest of you do with your own children.
But actually, when it comes down to it, I do feel a little nervous about sharing a photo of Joseph with you all. I have shared so much through my blog already, laid my heart on the line, bared my soul and my darkest secrets. But the thought that some of you may read this and feel uncomfortable, horrified or offended, that really is quite nerve wracking for me. I would hope that those of you who do look at his photo will realise that actually, there is nothing scary about stillbirth. He is simply a baby, sleeping.
I apologise to anybody who may find a photo of my son upsetting but if you do not wish to see, then you do not need to look.
This is my son.
And he was utterly perfect.