I have recently noticed a greater transparency in the media regarding pregnancy and infant loss. This gradual opening has not happened in a vacuum. As a bereaved mother, I am grateful for those who have done so much to enable parents to remember and document their losses.
Cheryl Haggard is a true hero of baby bereavement. The co-founder of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, Haggard has created a safe space for bereaved families to share the memory of their babies. The organization marks a decade of service this year as it works to provide free remembrance photography to bereaved parents both nationally and internationally. Using a network of volunteer photographers who go to hospital rooms to photograph deceased or terminally ill infants, NILMDTS has worked on behalf of more than 30,000 families since 2005.
The genesis of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep lies in the death of Cheryl Haggard’s fourth child, Maddux who died at less than one week old in 2005.
I asked her what inspired her to document her loss in photographs. In an e-mail to BabyCenter Haggard wrote:
“All my family was out of state as were most of my friends. They never had the chance to meet our son Maddux. I felt that he would be too easy to forget, because he wasn’t physically with us … [H]aving photographs that I could share made him real to others. His photographs allowed me to ‘mother’ him in ways I would never have been able to without him. They allowed me to be a proud though grieving mother. This is my child. Isn’t he beautiful?”
Haggard also found the photographs useful as ways to preserve the memory of Maddux for her three older children. Portraits of each child exist in which they are holding baby Maddux.
Researchers underscore that dissociation may occur in stillbirth, and it is for this reason that physical connection and documentation of the baby may have positive effects in the long term. The death of an infant born alive who dies soon thereafter produces similar effect.
My son was stillborn in 2005. I found dissociation to be a large factor in my son’s stillbirth although certainly by no means an absolute. There was great beauty in that labor room. I do not remember every moment because of the merciful tricks the mind plays in trauma. Memories become porous. The sharp edges of grief cut in waves.
When our baby emerged into this world, we did create memories however brief although as the years pass I cannot remember the details as clearly as I wish. These are the impermanent footholds of him now. I exercise my physical memory of him as a muscle, but it atrophies just the same. As I age, the specifics of his body in my memory break down and this is admittedly painful.
I have no portraits. My memory plays tricks. I have a single Polaroid photograph taken by a kind nurse. I treasure this and look at it from time to time. I wish I had more and lasting evidence of my son.
I wish that I had thought to bring a camera as someone advised upon learning I was laboring to deliver a child who would be stillborn. I often wonder what social more I was following in disregarding this excellent advice.
Writes Haggard to BabyCenter:
“These photographs created a legacy of a little boy who died when he was only six days old. One hundred years from now, someone, somewhere will see his photograph and ask who he is. Because of these photographs he will have a name and a story to share.”
This article originally appeared on BabyCenter.