• Stillborn photographers look for how they can shoot images that aren’t too confronting so they can be easily shared. (Flickr)Source: Flickr
Six babies are stillborn each day in Australia, yet society’s perception of stillbirth is still archaic and very much taboo. But is photography helping to change that?
By
Jo Hartley

15 Aug 2016 - 2:52 PM  UPDATED 15 Aug 2016 - 2:52 PM

Warning: This article contains an image that some may find disturbing.

 

For Trish Mohren, 17 October 2015 will always be ingrained in her heart.  It was the day she gave birth to her third son, Finnley Jack Adams.  Tragically for Mohren and her family, Finnley was born sleeping.

“Finnley was actually alive and bouncing around during the labour, but in the final moments he passed,” says Mohren.

“He was born at barely 21 weeks, but he was perfect, and we'd been talking to him for almost 5 months.  We’d planned for him in our family for the rest of our lives - just like our children at home.”

After Mohren gave birth to Finnley, she and her partner, Luke, were left to hold him.

“I remember apologising to Finnley repeatedly. I remember how warm, little and fragile he was as I kissed him, and I tried to inhale every feature because I was worried I’d forget,” she says.

In the haze of the situation, Mohren didn’t even think to take photos on her phone, and it wasn’t until the midwife came in to take foot and handprints that there was mention of a photographer if she wanted.

“We considered it, but thought, ‘I'm sure a photographer wouldn’t want to come in the middle of the night, let alone take photos of a dead baby’.  So, in our shock and grief, we declined,” she says.

However, as soon as Finnley was taken to the morgue, Mohren regretted her decision.

“I stayed up all night listening to other mothers giving birth and their babies crying, and all I wished for was a photo of Finnley’s sweet little face,” she says. 

“I stayed up all night listening to other mothers giving birth and their babies crying, and all I wished for was a photo of Finnley’s sweet little face."

Two days later when Mohren was at home arranging Finnley’s funeral, she came across Heartfelt’s website. 

After reading about the volunteer photographers who take beautiful photographs of infants and children who’ve passed or cannot stay, Mohren immediately sent an email.

“Adrienne met us at the cemetery for Finn’s funeral and cremation and took photos of him snuggled in his small white angel box with his Paddington Bear, as well as photos of our butterfly release,” she says.

“She made us smile through the tears, and she gave us the most precious and priceless gift - photographic memories of our beautiful son.”

These photographs of Finnley now hang amongst a collection of family photos at Mohren’s house, serving as a reminder to keep his place in the family alive and a talking point for friends and family.

Mohren also shared a picture of her son on social media in a fundraising event earlier this year.

“I know some people weren’t comfortable looking at the picture, but mostly people were amazed at what Finn looked like at such a young gestation, and I think that’s a good thing in raising awareness of stillbirth and pregnancy loss,” she says.

The photos are gentle and the photographers look for how they can shoot images that aren’t too confronting so they can be easily shared.

So why is there still a taboo surrounding stillbirth?

“Largely the taboo comes from lack of awareness of the statistics of stillbirth,” says Victoria Bowring, General Manager at Stillbirth Foundation Australia.

“Six babies are stillborn each day in Australia, yet the general perception of society is one of stillbirth being archaic.”

Bowring says that this taboo causes extreme isolation for parents and families who experience stillbirth, which often leads to increases in depression, self-blame and relationship breakdowns.

Whilst Bowring believes that stillbirth photographs are very much a personal choice, she notes that there’s been an increase in those parents who do have them choosing to share them online.

She thinks this could go some way in helping to break the taboo and increase awareness around stillbirth.

Heartfelt has had requests from all cultural backgrounds, and they've not noticed any particular culture having any resistance or reluctance.

“More and more parents are determined to show the world that their baby was just as real and just as important as those families fortunate enough to be spending each day with their child,” she says.

“These photos can often help reduce the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude that can surround stillbirth by showing that it is a real, loved baby that has been lost.”

It’s something that Heartfelt’s President, Gavin Blue, agrees with.

After losing his daughter in 2006, Blue knows only too well the pain associated with this. However, in setting up Heartfelt, he’s seen firsthand how photography can help families heal and how sharing pictures can bring greater care and understanding from others.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the requests for our services, and in April 2016 alone we looked after 198 families,” he says. “Over time we’ve looked after over 7000 families.”

Blue says that the organisation has had requests from all cultural backgrounds, and he’s not noticed any particular culture having any resistance or reluctance.  He notes, however, that there’s more urgency for the photographs to be taken for Muslim families, as the baby needs to be buried quickly.

Regardless of culture, Blue says that the photos themselves give the family an opportunity to share their baby with their loved ones so they can understand that their child was here, was loved and mattered.

“The photos are gentle and the photographers look for how they can shoot images that aren’t too confronting so they can be easily shared,” he says.

“When grief is shared and a family’s community is given an opportunity to support and care for them, it helps immensely with a family’s journey through the grief.”

This taboo causes extreme isolation for parents and families who experience stillbirth, which often leads to increases in depression, self-blame and relationship breakdowns.

Subsequently, he also believes that this helps to break down the taboo that surrounds stillbirth.

“Many people are especially confronted when it comes to baby loss, and we hear time and time again that friends disappear when a family needs them the most,” he says. “But, having gentle photos to share helps the conversation grow.”

And any way that gets the conversation to grow is good as far as Bowring is concerned.

“Only by breaking down the taboo can we have the open conversations that are required to implement prevention and start reducing the incidence of stillbirth,” she says.

This is something that Mohren wishes for too. 

“I can never in all my life thank Adrienne and the Heartfelt volunteers enough and want everyone to know about them,” she says. “I just wish that no one else ever needed them.”

 

Stillbirth Foundation has a website iamthatstatistic that was set up on 15th October 2015 on Pregnancy Loss Remembrance Day, to provide a supportive and understanding community where families can display photos of their babies and know that they will be received with love and respect and be forever remembered.

 

Image from Flickr.

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