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Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Photographs and other mementoes of the baby

There are many ways that parents can remember the baby and mark his or her short life. Some people planted trees and plants in their gardens to remind them of the baby, others collected everything connected with the baby, so that teddy bears, shawls, wrist tags and anything else which had physically touched the baby were saved and stored in a memory box. Several parents had collected poems and song lyrics and kept them in a special book, others had kept journals of their thoughts and feelings since the baby's death, a few women had written letters to their baby (see also 'Saying goodbye to the baby'). Some of those who had a surgical termination treasured photographs of the baby's first scan because they felt it was all they had left of the baby.

 

She has kept a special box for her baby's teddy and photographs.

She has kept a special box for her baby's teddy and photographs.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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You know, I wanted to, the least I could give her was to die in her mummy's arms and not, you know, in my stomach with no touch, no feel, no nothing, you know. So that to me was what comforted me really. It was having that special time with her. It did make an awful lot of difference, and I've got the box, I've got pictures of us holding her and you know, all the little... I took two teddies because I put one in and then I had another one that I cuddled up to her. So I know that that teddy has touched her so when I touch that. Little things like that that just mean a lot to me, you know, they may not to other people but to me it's made an awful difference. And when I feel a little bit low or it's, you know, like I often do or a little bit upset, something touches me, whatever, I'll go and go into my little box and I feel close to her again. 

And I, and I feel that I did the best that I could at the time for everybody involved, including firstly [the baby] and my eldest daughter. 
 

She decided to leave her photos of the baby in the kitchen so that members of her family could...

She decided to leave her photos of the baby in the kitchen so that members of her family could...

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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The only time I've thought that perhaps people might not want to know about [baby] and is when we had the photographs back. 

We took lots of photographs because we didn't want to forget. Although her little face and hands is imprinted on our minds forever. When we came home from hospital and when we'd got the photographs back, they were, were on the side in the kitchen, and we had lots of family coming and going for a few days, and we always said to them, 'We've got some photographs, you don't have to look at them'. 

I didn't want people thinking that, you know, we've got the photographs you must look at them which was why we gave them the option to say, 'Oh no'. But nobody did decline looking at them. Everybody looked at them and everybody sort of said, 'Oh she looks very peaceful,' and had tears in their eyes. 

And sometimes I think well would I like to look at pictures of somebody else's dead child?  But she's a part of us and part of our family. And if they want to look that's fine. And I have a few friends, close friends that every now and again will sort of mention something about [baby] or they will ask - not as frequently as they did in the early days - but every now and again. Some of them are aware that our youngest's birthday is [baby's] memorial and they appreciate that obviously when the youngest turned one it was quite a difficult day for us. But everybody's been very supportive. 

 

Explains why the scan photographs of her son matter to her and give her comfort.

Explains why the scan photographs of her son matter to her and give her comfort.

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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I can't explain this very well, I think, I have nothing to show for the fact that my son died, you know. I have a few scan photos and I keep them in a box, but in a way it's like a memorial I suppose. And that's very strange and I can't quite explain it very well, but it's quite comforting because I know that, that he existed I suppose. 

And I think that's quite important to me definitely. And I think when you don't have a headstone to go to, when you don't have a place to go to, you need a memory in your own way. And so when I get sad, I know it doesn't happen very often at all, I don't spend the whole time like this, [laughs] it's actually quite comforting because I think, 'Well, he did exist, and it does matter. I don't mind if it doesn't matter to anyone else but it matters to me'. And I think that's very important, it is, it is for me. 

When the pregnancy has been ended by induction, midwives routinely ask parents if they want to have photographs taken of the baby, just as they would if the baby was stillborn. Parents can also take their own photographs if they prefer. After the baby is delivered, and if parents agree, midwives will bathe the baby, dress her in baby clothes or a shawl, place the baby in a Moses basket and return her to the parents. Midwives will also take the baby's hand and footprints if parents wish. When parents decide they don't want photographs or foot/handprints, they can still be taken and stored with medical notes in case parents change their minds. 

 

Explains why she didn't want to see photographs of her baby though she was willing for...

Explains why she didn't want to see photographs of her baby though she was willing for...

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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It was expressed as an option, but it was expressed several times, and I wish they'd just asked once and then dropped it. But at several points it kept being raised, you know, 'Would you like us to do this? Would you like us to do that?' I mean I understand there are different stages in the procedure, and they did say, 'Would you like us to take a photograph and put it in the notes?' which I agreed because I never have to look at the notes. But I mean it was so tiny, it was only about that big anyway [demonstrates size of baby on camera] And there wasn't much to take a photograph of, because you know, it was all a bit of a mess anyway. And they, luckily when it, when it was born they just took it away.
 

Though parents realised that others might not understand why photographs were so important, many said that they needed to keen something tangible and real. Photographs were important as evidence that the baby had existed and been part of their family, and also because some thought that their memories of the baby might fade. 

For many people photographs were for looking at privately, and some stored the baby's photos and footprints in a memory box. Some women said they only looked at photographs when they felt sad or 'wobbly' about the baby. Several parents felt so strongly about the baby's photographs that they had given copies to relatives in case the originals got lost. 

 

The photos of her baby were vitally important to her in the early days.

The photos of her baby were vitally important to her in the early days.

Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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But they were, I'd say in the early days, like I say, when we left the hospital, we went straight into the local, nearest town where we'd been told to get them developed, and we had them developed straight way, I think it was an hour or 2 hour wait, because there's only one place that will develop them because of the nature of them so, obviously, I suppose, if they go through normal channels, the person who was developing them might feel distressed. So we had them done straight away and that was it - I was straight back home, got me photos, that was it. Right, I'll cut myself back off from the world now. And they were, they were, they were a real lifeline, they really were. And I know that a lot of Mums that have said that they took pictures but they've never had them developed, or they've left them at the hospital for when they're ready, and I just couldn't have done that, that was just my way. I needed them and I needed them there and then, and straight away. And they did come out really well, they came out really well. My sister holds the negatives and I hold the originals, just in case anything should happen to either or the other set, I've always got that back-up.
 
 

The photos of her baby are all she's got and even though they show some facial abnormalities she...

The photos of her baby are all she's got and even though they show some facial abnormalities she...

Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
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At one time they would have taken the baby away and whatever, and they used to do that with stillbirths, you didn't see them and no contact. Some of the people I've met through ARC (Antenatal Results and Choices) have had their babies photos framed, and the children all know about them and they're in the group of children's photos. I don't feel, I mean I don't feel my baby's photo is particularly nice to look at, she's very red and she's a not particularly well formed the head's quite deformed still so it's not something I would want to look at daily or to display. But it's nice to have it. To me she's still beautiful but to other people it might give them a bit of a shock. 

No, I just think it's just the way they cope with it. I just find it strange. I mean to me it would be like, I mean these babies at the end of the day, you know they are dead, when they're taking these photographs, so I wouldn't take a photograph of say my father as he died and put it on the wall - its too private, too personal. But, I can also see it's the only thing they've got. Because you haven't got anything that that baby's worn, or played with, or any, any history of them, that's all you've got. So I can see why they might want to do that. 

Photographs were also a way of introducing the baby to other members of the family and marking his/her life. Some people decided to leave the baby's photos in places where other people could find them and take a look at them if they wished. Other parents took a more direct approach and made a point of showing the baby's photographs to others -several parents had put photographs of the baby - and also scan photographs - on display in their homes. 

 

Explains how it helped her in the days after the termination to keep a diary of her feelings...

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Explains how it helped her in the days after the termination to keep a diary of her feelings...

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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With [baby's] diary in the first 2 months of going through her loss, I wrote in it quite frequently, maybe 3 or 4 times a week. 

The day I resumed work was quite stressful I guess. So I came home and wrote how I felt. And it was quite upsetting being back as I mentioned with the other new mums who had returned. I don't tend to reread bits. I tend to just... if I've had a good day I can say, 'Yes I've had a good day, I have still thought about you'. But most of it has been, 'Oh today has been a bad day. I've thought about you. My tears are falling like rain from heaven'. I remember writing that and it's kind of stuck in my head, and sometimes when it is raining I think it's tears from heaven. When the sun is shining I think, 'Yes all is well - life is great and I don't need to write today'. But the writing has lessened. 

My partner came home from work earlier than expected after a couple of weeks, and I'd left my diary on the table, and he read it and started crying and he just said, 'It's beautiful,' and I just wanted to have something so that I didn't forget. And now I know that you don't forget but it's reassuring to know it's all there. And I shall keep it. I don't tend to look at it so much now, and how it's sort of been a couple of years, but I do still think about her everyday, and sometimes I write the odd 3 lines, sometimes I write a little bit more, but it, the writing has gradually lessened and the looking at it has lessened, although the memory is still as vivid as it was when we lost her.

Not everyone wanted to have photographs taken of their baby, and several people who had agreed to photographs said that the quality was poor and didn't capture 'the essence' of the baby. People didn't always know how they would feel about taking photographs of the baby until it happened - some parents who had agreed to it wished they hadn't or disliked the end results. One couple decided not to look at the baby though the midwife had taken some photographs. Over time the woman found she became 'fixated' on seeing the photographs that her husband had kept hidden.

 

She had chosen not to see her baby but knowing that a photo had been taken she became quite...

She had chosen not to see her baby but knowing that a photo had been taken she became quite...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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And we were given some photographs and footprints and handprints. Well no, they told us that they'd taken photographs and footprints and handprints, and it was up to us whether we wanted to take them away or not, but that they would be retained on our file should we want to. And we decided that we would take them away with us but that we didn't, but we wouldn't look, we didn't look at them, we wouldn't look at them. 

So I then instructed my husband to put them somewhere but not somewhere that I knew because then I thought that I'd start peeking at them without him there. I think he might have suggested, even, I think he suggested that I agreed that it was a good idea that he would put them somewhere, but not somewhere that I knew, so that if I wanted to look at them, I'd have to do it in a controlled way. So I'd have to ask him he'd have to come with me and tell me. 

So they were hidden away somewhere in the house and then I became fixated of where they were, and spent ages looking for, you know, spent, regularly each day I would think I wonder if he put them there, I wonder if he's put them there. I don't think my husband knew I was doing this even. 

And anyway several months down the line, probably 2 months down the line, the day came when I decided that I was going to look at them next Monday and would he look at them with me and he said he would. And so we kind of pinned this day in the future, so it was about 3 days away, when we would look at the pictures and I can remember talking to my best friend about it at length and her saying, 'Do you want me to look at them with you?' And I said, 'No, it's a private thing, we'll do it together but we'll look at the picture.'  

And then all sorts of things, and the day came and all sorts of things spilled out then, that I'd named the baby which my husband would never get, again into the whole thing but I'd given her a name. And then he was quite cross that I'd named her and it wasn't his name and we'd never discussed it and, but anyway, she became [name], which was the name that I'd given her and he then was quite okay with that. And I asked him to look at them first and he looked at them and said, 'No, you won't want to see them. They don't look nice.' 

And as it turned out, they weren't very good pictures, the quality of the pictures was extremely poor and very distant and quite macabre. They weren't at all pleasant which, again, made me think I should have seen the baby because these pictures just didn't capture her in any shape or form. And I remember... and he stood a long way away at first, and held it up and I got closer and closer, I don't know why we just didn't... but the whole thing that we went through and I finally got really close up to it and then I just didn't think anything, I just thought it was awful. But they weren't, they didn't really look like a baby, almost so I wasn't really upset with them I was more upset that they didn't look like a baby. 

 

He and his wife didn't mind seeing their baby wrapped up in a shawl but thought it was...

He and his wife didn't mind seeing their baby wrapped up in a shawl but thought it was...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Male
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I mean another thing that neither of us particularly liked were some of the photos that were taken, dressing her up in a little pink dress... its... because, for a start there's no way we would've put her in a dress like that anyway, and [sighs] she wasn't born alive, she wasn't, it didn't matter, yeah, fine, have a photo of her wrapped up in a little blanket which is, which is how we held her. But don't, don't pretend that she's something she's not. 

So yeah, I mean we look at the photos every now and then, and I don't like looking at the one of her dressed up, you know, I didn't think that was right, it's not what I would do. 

Did anybody ask you if you wanted her to be dressed?

No, no-one asked us if we wanted her to be dressed. Thinking, thinking about it one of the midwives said, 'We're going to take a photo, we'll put a nice little hat on her and'. And but it just didn't register at the time, didn't register that that's actually what was going to happen.

Parents could become very upset when others made too many assumptions about taking photographs - sometimes people felt that staff had taken too many photographs, or had disliked flash being used - sometimes women were upset when the situation was handled insensitively particularly when they had just given birth and had not been given enough time to think. One woman felt her baby's privacy had been invaded when her aunts took photographs of her baby with their mobile phones without asking first. Another woman felt that staff questioned her choice not to have photographs taken of the baby. 

 

She had wanted one photo as a record but did not like it when staff took a roll of photographs of...

She had wanted one photo as a record but did not like it when staff took a roll of photographs of...

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
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Yeah I think I, while I had been relating to this baby because I was, I was carrying the baby I think that it had been a very big, it had been a big problem in our lives and so my husband had just thought of it in many ways as the, as a problem. And he was, he was just knocked sideways by the fact that there was this beautiful dead baby. I think we were both knocked sideways really.

The midwife had a camera, and she asked if we would like her to take a picture, and we said we would and she took a couple of Polaroid pictures. She then had another camera and she took what seemed like a whole film, and I found that quite upsetting, I didn't want a whole film of this baby, I wanted a record. I thought that it was maybe important for my other children that I had a record that, so they could see what, you know what had actually happened, but I really didn't like that feeling of the camera flashing on this little dead person.

That didn't really seem right at all. I remember thinking it was the saddest thing I'd ever seen. It was, it was almost like there is a depth of sadness and we were kind of on that bottom floor, there was a point you know if it had been a hundred babies it would have been equally sad. 
 
 

She got upset when her aunts took photographs of her baby to send to their families.

She got upset when her aunts took photographs of her baby to send to their families.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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Yeah that was okay, I didn't mind that at all. But what I had is - because then my Mum called all my family to come in and have a look at the baby, if they wanted to see him. And I did really mind because I didn't want anybody else to see him - like I didn't mind my sister and my mum and dad, like that, but when like my aunties and uncles came, you know, they're just all sitting there in the room and just, you know, comforting me and that and looking at the baby. And then my auntie starts crying and that got me more upset. 

And like some of my aunties, they started taking photos of the baby with their camera, that... on their phone, and that was upsetting, because I felt like, it's not that it shows anything, because they wanted to send it to their Mum so she can have a look, but I didn't like that at all, its just like there's nothing... you know. I don't know what the word is'

Parents valued having the chance to keep something tangible and real that would remind them of the baby, but most people felt it was important that everyone around them should respect their choices about what they did and did not want and not make assumptions. (See also 'Deciding whether to see, hold and name the baby'.) 
 

Last reviewed July 2017.

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