The importance of perinatal bereavement photography
By: Kristen Samuelson, Founder & Executive Director
The majority of people, myself included, are unaware that perinatal bereavement photography exists, let alone it be something of tremendous value. But, just as those who come to know, I too was shocked to find this is a service available to (some) families, until I became one. However, unfortunately in my case, I was not in the know about it until after I had returned home from the hospital, empty armed and brokenhearted.
Historically, perinatal bereavement photography is not new. In fact, at the turn of the last century, when the infant mortality rate was 22% and cameras were the newest technology available to the common man, families found a lot of comfort in photographing their loved ones after death. Chances are, there was no photographic evidence of most individuals at any age at this time. While large and clunky, usually with a drape, being able to document people, places and things was the equivalent of having a smart phone...just not pocket sized. My, my how we have come!
Now, I'll admit it...some of those old Victorian era bereavement photos are a bit...creepy. Most subjects, whether living or passed, had to sit posed for an extended period of time as shutter speeds were not as advanced as they are today. There is a tremendous number of advances made to where now, we can provide these photos in a softer manner, which bring remembrance and validation to the one in four families who unfortunately walk the journey of pregnancy and infant loss.
As someone who was thrust into this chaotic and misrepresented world, I can tell you how valuable it is simply because...I don't have it for myself in the loss of my daughter Jimmie.
No one from my medical team offered me the option of bonding or memory making, despite being in perfect condition...10 little fingers, 10 little toes, a cute button nose, light blonde hair and the most perfect red lips. No tangible photographic evidence of it.
We were so grief stricken and overwhelmed, we didn't think to take a photo of me and her. No evidence of my motherhood other than the unfamiliar physical and emotional anguish and grief we were navigating. We did get one of her and dad and a few solo shots. But its not what it could have been. What it should have been.
Since being blessed in meeting Desiree Miller, together we are working to make sure every family has the option of taking advantage of these services if they wish, or to decline, if they wish. But at least they had the option. We provide our services at no cost so families are able to receive this gift in healing for themselves and their families. And while I may not have the gift myself, being able to give the gift to others is the closest I can be to my baby girl. To parent her. To learn from her. To share her love with others.
Looking back at my life, I am equally parts surprised and not surprised I am a perinatal bereavement photographer. I went from being a young girl that would hold her breath as she rode past cemeteries and afraid of anything death related to a confident mother seeking to support and empathize with others on similar journeys.
Being able to gently walk alongside them honoring and validating both joy and sorrow has become the fuel for my life. Sure, I get remarks from people that say what we do is morbid. Or instead of saying it out loud, their face or reaction does. But we don't photograph death. We capture love. And that, especially between a parent and child, is priceless.