Why Parents Take Remembrance Photos After Pregnancy Loss And Stillbirth

Chrissy Teigen and John Legend shared their heartbreaking pregnancy loss news late Wednesday with an emotional message and remembrance photos taken at the hospital.

Teigen had been on bedrest due to pregnancy complications and was admitted to the hospital for excessive bleeding on Sunday. Following the loss of her son, she shared a series of black-and-white photos documenting the gut-wrenching experience, including one that shows her holding the swaddled baby, whom the couple named Jack. Teigen’s mother, Vilailuck Teigen, posted similar photos and a video on Instagram.

While friends and followers offered an outpouring of love and support for Teigen and Legend, there were also comments questioning their decision to share such personal photos ― and even take them in the first place.

“Why did you have a photoshoot? I’m very sorry for your loss but why did you have a photoshoot?” wrote one commenter.

What those commenters likely don’t know is that these kinds of photos are not terribly uncommon and that taking and sharing them can play a powerful role in the healing process for bereaved parents.

″‘A picture is worth 1,000 words’ still holds true today, and in times of grief, photos help us capture things that we only have one chance to get to remember,” Dan Reidenberg, a mental health expert and executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, told HuffPost. “In very painful situations like theirs, they have so many emotions going on. Photos will help them hold on to this over time, so when they are in a different place with their grief they will be able to look back at them and remember how real it all was.”

“In moments like these, life can feel surreal, but photos help remind us it was real,” he added. “Jack was here and, sadly for only moments, he was with them and that is the only time in their lives that they will be able to capture them.”

Gina Harris is the CEO of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep ― a nonprofit founded in 2005 to provide remembrance photography to families suffering the loss of a baby. She told HuffPost she first learned about NILMDTS in 2007 when she gave birth to a stillborn son she named David.

“I thought, ‘Is this taboo? Is this appropriate to be taking photos of my son?’” she recalled. “But when I saw how beautiful they can be, I decided to get photographs. I thought, ‘Even if I never look at them, it’s something I’ll never have the opportunity to have again.’”

Harris said her photos of David turned out to be her “most prized possession” and served as a healing reminder that he was real and what she experienced was real. She noted that there have been research articles about the healing power of remembrance imagery and other such rituals.

“Photos can help us remember details that we don’t remember because our emotions were so powerful and all-encompassing during the crisis period,” Reidenberg explained. “Photos can give us perspective on how we have worked through our grief too. When we look at photos of the first few days and then later we look at them we can see how hard it was on us while also how strong we are to have made it through some of the darkest moments in our lives.”

In our era of modern technology, capturing and sharing images has become an integral part of our lives and the way we tell our stories when words fail.

“I have seen that most parents immediately agree to remembrance photos because they are creating lasting memories,” said Carolina Villegas, a mental health therapist at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. “This type of loss can be a very lonely experience. Women in perinatal support groups have shared that finding the words and speaking about their loss is painful, and so sharing the pictures with loved ones and people they trust helps open their communication.”

Friends and family who want to support grieving parents often don’t know what to say either, so responding to a photo post can be a way in to start showing support and help alleviate some of the pain.

“The greatest way to remember a loved one is by sharing stories about their life,” said licensed marriage and family therapist Saniyyah Mayo. “Psychology teaches us that the way to healing is by talking about the pain. The more you talk about tragic events in your life, the less power it has over you. It is the same reason why people go to therapy. They talk about their pain, which allows them to take the power away from the pain and transition that power into strength.”

For parents who had very little time with their babies, the story can lie in the photos captured in that fleeting moment. Harris noted that remembrance photos are also a good way to document the existence of the babies, as most states don’t offer birth certificates in these instances.

“You had this pregnancy, you carried this baby for many months, you delivered the baby, hold the baby, know it’s real, and there’s no documentation of their existence,” she said. “That’s what photographs do.”

Over the past 15 years, NILMDTS has completed nearly 50,000 sessions. The nonprofit also offers retouching to families who took such photos themselves and train nurses to capture these moments if a photographer isn’t available or the baby’s condition would make the task difficult for a nonmedical professional. Additionally, the organization offers “remembrance walks” for families to honor their babies after miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, or any type of pregnancy or infant loss.

“I honor and recognize the babies I lost as my children, just as I do my living son,” Harris said. “I think it helps to acknowledge them and make people understand that you went through a loss. Oftentimes, people don’t really see it as a loss because they never met the baby.”

Harris emphasized that remembrance photography is not necessarily for everyone, and it’s important to respect whatever personal decision parents make for their families. Still, she added, she’s never heard of any of NILMDTS clients express regret over taking the photos, even if they choose not to share them or look at them very often.

Harris also noted she’s seen fewer critical and negative comments about remembrance photography in recent years, though as Teigen’s post shows, there’s still some judgment around this practice.

“For someone who’s never lost a baby, it may be hard to understand,” she said. “Hopefully they will never have to be in that position to photograph their baby who has died, but like anything in life, you can’t pass judgement on people, especially if you haven’t been in that circumstance. And I’ve certainly seen much more disturbing photographs online than pictures of beautiful babies.”

She attributes any backlash to Teigen’s post to her level of fame and the fact that people in the U.S. are not very comfortable with the subject of death, especially the death of a baby, which goes against the natural order of things.

“When somebody older passes away, people don’t usually photograph them because you have lots of pictures of them when they were alive,” she said. “But actually back in the 1800s when photography was new, often the only time someone was photographed was after they died. There’s a large collection of postmortem photography from that era, so what we’re doing isn’t necessarily a new concept.”

In our modern era, sharing remembrance photos can have a powerful impact, not only from a personal healing perspective, but also in breaking down the stigma around discussing pregnancy and infant loss.

“Many mothers that have had a loss expressed that listening to someone else going through the same thing they did validates what they have gone through, and it opens communication to shared feelings and thoughts they may not have had a chance to speak about before,” said Villegas.

Sharing the painful parts of our lives helps others feel less alone in their struggles, which can be very healing as well.

“More people have had losses than you realize,” said Harris. “There are so many hurting people who have lost a baby and a lot of people who don’t understand the depths of pain they go through. Maybe her post will inspire them to reach out for support, and maybe the comments from people who have experienced the same thing will help with her grief.”

Reidenberg said he applauds Teigen and Legend for having the courage to share something so intimate and painful, which is difficult for everyone to do but perhaps more so for celebrities who face extra scrutiny. He believes posts like these normalize grief and encourage people to be more open with their thoughts and feelings as they process trauma.

“I hope that by her doing this, others will see the humanness that we all have, that pain is pain no matter who you are, and that sad things happen to all of us,” he said. “I also believe that her sharing this moment will help others who have been in a similar situation to know that sharing what is happening in your life, be it in good times or in very sad times like this, helps keep you grounded and connected. The more connected we are to others through life’s experiences and more that we can share that with others, can build resilience.”

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