“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
Last June, I received an inquiry from Kristin about scheduling a newborn session for July, when her little girl, Abby, was due to arrive. She and her husband, Dan, had two little boys and were thrilled to be adding a girl to their family. Kristin and I met over a decade ago and are connected through social media. As June turned into July, I watched her Instagram feed fill up with pink dresses and bump photos as she joyfully anticipated Abby’s arrival.
And then, in late July, instead of posting a photo announcing their beautiful baby girl to the world, there was a captionless photo of the sun breaking through the clouds.
At 39 weeks, Abby was stillborn. Shortly after her birth, Kristin posted a photo of her holding Abby. It was heartbreaking. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to walk through such an unexpected and deep loss at a time when you were anticipating great joy.
The CDC defines stillbirth as, “…the death or loss of a baby before or during delivery…after 20 weeks of pregnancy.” It reports that, “Stillbirth effects about 1% of all pregnancies, and each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States. That is about the same number of babies that die during the first year of life and it is more than 10 times as many deaths as the number that occur from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).” Other sources say that rate is about 1 in 160. The numbers are much higher than many realize (myself included); high enough that it’s very likely that you know someone who has experienced a loss like Kristin and Dan’s.
Before I was a photographer, I spent two years working as a Pediatric ICU nurse. At 22, I was faced with the harsh reality that children can die before their parents. It’s devastating to witness a parent lose their child.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the why of death. What are we grieving when we lose someone? We rejoice in the memories of what we experienced with that loved one, but we ultimately grieve the loss of what could have been. We grieve the meals we will never eat together, the hugs we will never feel, and the milestones we will never share. This is why the loss of an infant or child is particularly brutal; the memories you’ve shared are far fewer and you will never stop thinking about what could have been. What would have made her laugh? What would she have studied in college? How beautiful would she have been on her wedding day?
The continual questions remind us that grief is not a line with a beginning and end. It is a journey; a ray with an endpoint that extends infinitely. Grief is a common part of life that is rarely talked about; even less often when it involves an infant.
In the months after Abby’s death, Kristin continued to share about her daughter and her grief journey. From afar, I admired her vulnerability, courage, and faith. It’s much easier to retreat from our pain. But facing it, walking through it, and making ourselves vulnerable by sharing it with others takes great courage.
Seeing how brave she was, I asked Kristin if she’d be interested in creating a series of photos about Abby and their family’s loss. I was very humbled and honored when she said yes. I believe that in sharing her own pain, Kristin is helping the other 48,000 parents who will lose a child from stillbirth this year.
I hope that as a society we can become better at recognizing and talking about grief; that we can get over our feelings of discomfort and learn to mourn with those who mourn; that we can speak of the deceased by name; that we can honor the losses around us and give friends and family time and space to grieve in their own way; that we can remember that when someone loses an infant or child, while healing can happen, you never truly “get over it,” and we need to stop expecting that of the bereaved.
If you are reading this and have experienced loss, I pray that you will be comforted in your mourning.
Thank you to Kristin and Dan for being so open and vulnerable in letting me share about Abby.
A few months after her death, the Naylor family planted a tree in remembrance of Abby. Abby’s tree is a beautiful memorial and a place where they can remember and celebrate her life.
“You who mourn will be comforted
You who hunger will hunger no more
Oh the last shall be first, of this I am sure
You who weep now will laugh again
All you lonely be lonely no more
Yes the last shall be first, of this I am sure.”