Monica Bielanko
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A Delicate Subject Matter

As you may or may not have heard, at a funeral for the baby she miscarried, Michelle Duggar (TLC's 19 Kids and Counting) handed out photos (of feet and hands) of the baby. A family member also tweeted out the photos and TMZ subsequently published them. In an article over on Babble I questioned several things: taking photos of a baby miscarried in the second trimester, handing out photos at a funeral, and tweeting them, particularly when you know the media will likely publish them.

I tried to broach the subject with as much sensitivity as possible considering the fact I've never had a miscarriage and I don't know how I'd react in such a traumatic scenario. However, I don't think I'd hand out photos of the baby at a funeral. Maybe I came off judgy instead of simply voicing my opinion, as I meant to do?

When I suggested I thought taking the photos felt to me, well, weird, dozens of people, including a colleague on Being Pregnant, accused me of being judgmental and insensitive. One person even suggested I'm trying to perpetuate our society's problem of sweeping miscarriages under the rug and keeping them secret. Not at all! But if it makes me uncomfortable to see photos of a dead person - whether it's an unborn baby or an adult - aren't you being judgmental right back by saying that I shouldn't think it's weird? I'm not into photos of dead people whether it's a baby or an old lady and I especially wouldn't hand out or tweet (Tweeting funeral photos of a baby? For godsakes) photos of my miscarried baby knowing full well the media would get their grubby hands on them.

I dunno. I realize it's hard to speak about it when I haven't had to deal with that particular circumstance, but Serge and I talked about it and discussed how even photos of sick people in the hospital are awkward and uncomfortable. Ever seen a photo of someone on life support? What's that all about? What's the point? That said, I think the tiny feet and hands in the photos the Duggars snapped are heartbreakingly sweet - and still. There's something about the whole thing that bothers me.

Anyway, if you have a few minutes to kill it's what I was babbling about yesterday and it's what everyone's still giving me The Business for over on Babble today. Am I way off base on this one? How do I come off in the post? Judgmental? I'm going to leave comments open here so you can comment if you don't want to jump in the madness underway over there.

Reader Comments (30)

I read your post over there yesterday and thought you came across as surprised more than anything else, not judgmental. And that's exactly how I feel about it. I hadn't heard about it until reading your post and I really think sharing photos of a corpse -- miscarried or otherwise -- crosses a certain line. Having photos present at a funeral has become quite common, and I think it is a lovely thing to do so that people can have a visual reminder of the person at happy points in his or her life. But pictures of a corpse. Those are private. In my opinion, those are for coroners and investigators and, under certain circumstances, families. That has nothing to do with miscarriage.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

I've had four miscarriages, and even I think sharing photos of a dead child is a strange thing to do. It puts people in an awkward position to respond to something they are not at all prepared to deal with. This can only make the situation worse since those close to the situation will probably get upset by the reactions of others. Those who haven't lost a child will never understand what it's like to go through something so traumatic. And those who have had issues with infertility and/or loss, shouldn't hold that against them.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather P

You know people go a bit mad with grief and it does all sorts of things to their heads. Which is understandable. I mean a friend of mine totally threw our friendship in the bin because she felt I did 'not change' after she miscarried at nineteen weeks. Thing is I didn't change or should I have. But like I say folks are weird when such tragedies happen. I find photos of anyone dead utterly creepy and disturbing. But this woman is only showing her baby's hands and feet because she wants her to matter. She wants her to count. It is her way of saying 'she was here.' She probably wasn't even thinking about the media. This is for her. isnt something I would do but having never miscarried I don't know. Let's not judge. People get by in whatever ways it takes. This is her way. So be it. Live and let live.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCrummy mummy

i think you were perfectly balanced, expressing your surprise in a very respectful and non judgmental way. i can understand wanting to take pictures of a baby who died as a way of holding on to some kind of memories when you had very little time. i think that commenter "heather" was obviously very affected by her own losses and took it out on you, and just the language she chose (a very finger wagging "shame on you!") shows how emotional and impulsive her reaction is. i would feel awful if someone said all those things to me after i made an effort to choose my words very carefully to be respectful and honest. don't beat yourself up over it. there was obviously no ill intent on your part, no intention to hurt anyone. imho, your article was on point and sensitive, some people reacted violently because it struck a nerve, and the usual trolls jumped on the self righteous bandwagon as per usual. you did nothing wrong!

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranother monica

When a baby dies, sometimes all you have left is a picture, and it becomes very precious.

I think that because the gestational age of the baby was over 20 weeks, what MIchelle Duggar had was actually a stillbirth rather than a miscarriage.

I lost a son at 20 weeks, he was born alive though and lived for about 5 minutes. A picture was all I had of my so longed for son. I didn't publish them, but I think the photos of the Duggar baby's hands and feet are in good taste.

Also, I've seen a beautiful picture of a smaller baby that was miscarried, and to me it wasn't ugly or bad. In fact, seeing the humanness of that baby at that gestational age was very helpful to me in how I think about human life. That can be found by googling "Blessing's photo adopted"

Smallest Wingless by Craig Cardiff on Youtube, please listen to it if you get a chance.

Dear son, we've been waiting for you
Thrilled beside ourselves that you've arrived
White coats came in, heads held low
Talked for a bit, shuffled outside

We closed the curtains,
Held each other,
And cried
We said hello at the same time that we said goodbye.

And smallest wingless, oh you came to us
Leaving as soon as you'd arrived
But sadness is just love wasted
With no little heart to place it inside

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeen There

I believe Michelle and the Dugger family posted the pictures where the media would no doubt get to them simply to stir up the abortion debate. There is no other reason to Tweet them. If she wants to share them at the funeral, it's her prerogative. But posting them to Twitter is a political move.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I don't think you came across bad at all. I think it is just shocking for people to think of those things. I personally have never had a miscarriage but I have gone through death ALOT in my family. I can understand why they might want to take photos of the baby and to have them and even give them out at the funeral to close friends and family but I don't really think tweeting them all over the world is necessary. I think that was just a move to get more attention.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMya Maternity

I've had a second trimester miscarriage and agree with you. There are some things that are better kept private than aired/viewed for the world to see. This certainly falls within the realm of different strokes for different folks, but frankly, I'm more than surprised that this is the route the family took.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarole

My first son was almost stillborn at 27 weeks. Like Michelle Duggar, I had severe preeclampsia (sudden onset), and my baby was severely growth restricted. He was born via emergency c-section (and I mean emergency, medical staff running down the hall as I was rushed into the operating room). He was born limp and blue with no sound weighing just under 700 grams with an apgar score of 1 (and he only got the one because he had a faint heartbeat). After a heart-breakingly long period of resuscitation, they got him intubated and rushed him into the NICU. He later died, never having taken a breath on his own. I consented to the withdrawal of life support and held him in my arms as he passed away.

TThe pictures were all I had and have left of my baby. At his funeral, I had a slideshow with pictures of him, his hands, and his feet. I chose not to share any pictures of my son after he passed away (the NICU took some pictures of my baby after he passed away--I still can't bear to look at these pictures). But if the pictures I did share made anyone uncomfortable or feel weird, well too damn bad. Don't come to a baby's funeral. If I was a celebrity or semi-celebrity and thought that my pictures might be publicized, I think I still would have made the same choices.

Until your baby dies or is born stillborn (as the Duggar's baby was), I don't think you have ANY idea of the choices you'll make when you're faced with such all-consuming crushing grief. If the Duggars want to have a funeral/service or not, their choice. If they want to share pictures of their dead baby or not, their choice. If they want to talk incessantly about their dead baby and grief, or speak to no one about the gaping hole in their heart, their choice. I judge them and no one else for any choice they make under such horrendous circumstances. May they find peace, and may their daughter rest in peace.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJill

To be fair to the Duggars @Jan, it is my understanding that they didn't Tweet the photos, a family member did. I do however agree with you that these pictures will be used in the anti-abortion movement.

I've tried reading the comments over on Babble twice but it just makes me frustrated - 3/4 of the angry responses are responding to things that were never said in the post!

I would like to give the people the benefit of the doubt - that their own grief has muddled their reading comprehension - but unfortunately, this type of commenting is common regardless of the topic. People seem to limit their reading to headlines, wait for an emotional response and let those fingers fly across their keyboards - facts be damned!

Personally, I don't find it odd that people take pictures and share them, don't share them, don't take pictures, don't want to see the baby, etc... Whatever people want to do is what's right. I also don't think the Babble post is the slightest bit controversial, disrespectful, judgmental, etc...

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreenInOC

I don't think you were judgmental at all - I completely share your point of view and I think that it's a valid one. Your writing seemed careful - as if you were trying really hard to express your point of view while not offending anyone or causing any undue hurt to the Duggars. I also have never had a miscarriage and don't know how I would respond if I ever did.

Personally, I think our society has an issue with what is private and what is public. To me, ultrasound photos, birthing photos and most certainly photos of a deceased baby should be private. I know most people don't agree with me - and that's fine - it's just my personal opinion.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

@GreenInOC - The Duggars also posted the photos on the home page of the family's very media savvy website.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Girl Who

I think the Duggars are terrible fame whores but when it comes to personal things like grieving, I wouldn't dare touch somebody's methods with a ten foot pole. I can see why you find the photos uncomfortable, but I totally understand why people lost their shit over at babble. Grieving is SO personal and to have somebody say 'your coping mechanisms make me feel weird' no matter how respectfully is just gonna seem like a personal insult.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnias

The point is simple: she does not have any other pictures of this child to remember him/her by. I am sure she would have rather passed around images of a living baby.

As a photographer/coordinator for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, I fully appreciate the value and meaning such images have for the family, in celebrating this child's life, however short. Just because the baby passed in the womb does not imply the family must be ashamed of him/her having ever lived. They are the ones in need of comfort for a real loss, not us for a mere self-centered discomfort.

They handed these pictures to people at the funeral, who no doubt were close enough to the family to be able to support their need for remembrance without judgment.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOana Hogrefe

I read your Babble post too, and I don't think you came off as judgmental. A little shocked maybe, but not judgey. I saw the pictures, I thought they were heartbreaking, and if the family needed to have them as a keepsake and wished to share them with the friends and family who joined them in mourning at a PRIVATE service, then they are more than entitled to. My issue is not with the fact that they took a picture of their little girl, or even that they put it on a memorial card and shared it with loved ones; my issue is with the person who violated all manner of trust and decency and tweeted what was very obviously a private and (some may say) difficult picture of a terrible tragedy in the lives of this family. I do think you were off base in suggesting that because the Duggars enjoy a level of fame that most people do not, they should allow that to color the way they grieve. That, to me, should be the last thing on their minds at this time.

I've been very fortunate to have never lost a child, but when my father died 2 years ago, while we waited for the funeral home, I took some photos of his hands, alone and entwined with mine, because his hands were one of the things I loved most about him. I'm so, so very glad I took those pictures. They're all I have left. I understand.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJayme

The weird thing here is this strange family and their weird show. I only know about them because of their exposure and 'the media'. Someone please make them go away... The issue that immediately comes to my mind, is not how they dealt with the miscarriage of their 20th, but how the fuck do they expect this poor woman (the mom) to keep having kids? It's like she only exists upon this planet for the sole purpose of having as many children as is physically possible. Make it stop.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I don't understand the critical comments to your piece over at Babble. I thought your tone was kind and balanced, and that you laid out perfectly reasonable concerns about their decision. Maybe this was one of those issues that evokes such strong emotions that some folks are going to get upset no matter how carefully you phrase your post.

And I agree with Jen that it may have been motivated in part by the issue of abortion, but (speaking of bringing up unpopular questions) I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. There's a real issue with pregnant women being denied information about what goes on within in the womb by abortion providers (Planned Parenthood, for example, does in-clinic abortions on babies about the same age as the Duggars' daughter). It's grizzly stuff, but a lot of people aren't aware of it until it's too late. If the Duggars want to try to bring good out of their child's death by letting more people see what a child of that age looks like, I think that's okay.

Anyway, your piece at Babble was great. Thanks for being willing to ask tough questions!

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer @ Conversion Diary

At one point in my life, my best friend suffered a miscarriage, and I can honestly say I said ALL the wrongs things and did all the wrong things while trying to comfort her. I had never experienced the pain, the utter sadness, and grief that comes from a loss. I was ignorant. Then I suffered my very own loss, and I too experienced all those feelings that she had felt, and I knew what AN incredibly big idiot I had been. People say dumb and ignorant things after a loss, because they don’t know any better. I know that now, and therefore I tried to be forgiving when it happened to me. I am taking this blog post, Monica, as being written from somebody that has never experienced a loss and hopefully never will because it is a pain that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Please stop writing about this until you know more about the situation. Seek out someone who has suffered a loss and maybe run by these kinds of post with them and ask if they are insensitive. It is extremely painful and hurtful to some to read these words about being “uncomfortable” about how parents grieve. Yes pictures of the deceased are uncomfortable, yes it is unfortunate that they were released to the media, but please don’t question whether their reaction to the loss of their daughter is “normal”. There is no normal when it comes to grief. Jubilee was a little baby girl, she existed in this world, if her parents want the entire world to know that, then that's ok.

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeny C

I read the post, as well as the comments. And as usual, some of the comments set me off and confirmed my feelings that often women who have had a child or a miscarriage think they are the only ones who have ever done it. (example: how dare you have an opinion unless YOU'VE had a miscarriage, or a child, etc.) It's condescending as hell. And for the record, I have had a miscarriage. I also work with Planned Parenthood and counsel women who come in after their miscarriages. (Yes, we take time out from being an "abortion mill" to help women.) I don't know, maybe it makes a woman feel better to judge others. I know I have to remind myself that I am generalizing even now.

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I honestly have no idea how you deal with people's comments. Shit. I would LOVE to know how the hell you were being judgmental or righteous in your babble post. Did angry commenters even read the damn thing?! You disclaimed not having been in that position and not knowing what you would do like five times. And you asked others for their opinion. I had to click out of Babble before I got all batshit judgmental on judgmental people who are angry because they think you're judgmental.

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermr

Jill, I'm truly sorry for your loss, but Monica makes that very point herself. And, apparently she does over at Babble too, except I haven't read it because I do not read babble any more after what they did with the letter from Michelle Duggar's uterus. I'm not entirely sure why you feel the need to make it again here.

I imagine this post has incurred more wrath than usual, Monica, and as I say I'm not going to read over there, but I do have to say, in the past I have noticed a pattern of you getting very upset about many people apparently 'giving you The Business' when actually it's just one or two people disagreeing with you. Maybe even four or five, but still, your reaction is defensive. I spotted this because it's a tendency I have myself, so don't feel like I am giving you The Business myself. Many people with the kind of issues which I suspect you and I share have a tendency to distort the amount of negativity which is actually going on in an interaction, with results which hurt you more than anyone else. Maybe it would be a good idea to think that through, because internet disagreement is not going to go away, and the internet is where you work now - you don't want it to keep making you miserable. Toxic workplaces are unhealthy for anyone. Anyway that is probably not even relevant in this instance, as you probably are 'getting The Business' on this subject. But do yourself a favor and think about it in other instances.

As for people who haven't experienced an issue not having the right to comment on it (which is something that gets hinted or openly said in many, many instances on many, many subjects) well, that's not something I agree with (see also: working with alcoholics/addicts if you are not one yourself, being a doctor treating a disease you have not had yourself, commenting on / working against racism if you are white, commenting on / working against homophobia if you are straight or are misread as such, etc etc), but I do think that in many instances those who have not should, wherever they can, respectfully listen to and possibly defer to those who have - or to those who have some other related experience, such as work / study / etc. and be very willing to self-examine and admit when they are wrong. As opposed to simply asking for validation about whether or not they sounded judgmental. That kind of question is far too subjective and is never going to yield a valid answer.

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterL

Maybe it's because I am British and therefore (maybe) I am more reserved, but the last thing in the world I could do is show my dead baby to the world. For all the Duggar's percieved innocence of the 21st century that are not so niave as to think that with their fame or should that be infamy, that to share a photo of their dead baby at the funeral will not get out into the media! To exploit their live children is dubious to say the least, to exploit their dead baby is beyond reprehensible.

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersaz

I would agree to publish the photos was in bad taste. I CAN see taking them after all - unlike when someone is born alive - this is all you have.

I experienced a miscarriage recently and I never would have predicted the reaction I had. When you are pregnant for a few months the picture of your future changes to include a new person and then one day it is taken away - painfully & violently I might add! PLUS THE HORMONES!!! You are really in an altered state. I passes a fully intact fetus in the emergency room that looked like a little soft person - my husband and I burst into tears. It was sad and frightening! Maybe if people were more open about it it would help others.

Thanks for the post - good thought provoking topic!

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

you were not judgemental in your post. Unfortunately & especially on parenting boards people respond as if you were speaking about them personally. They responded to their emotion of having a miscarriage instead of your opinon on photos of deceased being handed out at a funeral.

I have a very difficult time of looking at photos of people who are either deceased or very ill & obviously not going to live long. I would rather remember them as healthy & alive -- the way I knew them. Overall, I very much agree with you that the whole practice is wierd. That being said, I find the pictures the Duggars shared very sweet & adorable (it would probably be different had they showed her face or a full body picture & I'm not sure why I feel that way). I would not have been bothered by sharing or recieving those particular pictures.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrandi

@L: I "feel the need to" make my point here because I thought that was the point of a blog with a commenting section, to share one's point of view. I was posting about my experience on this horrendous, sensitive, and personal topic. I do not think that one needs to lose a child to be able to have or express an opinion of sharing pictures of a dead baby at a funeral. Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Unlike you, I did read Monica's babble post. It did touch a nerve. I had some people react similarly at my baby's funeral; they clearly felt weird or were uncomfortable with the pictures I did share of my critically ill, tiny infant on life support. As I said, too bad. I never said Monica was being judgmental. I don't think she was. She is entitled to share that she feels weird looking at such pictures. I am entitled to share that I suspect that having those pictures, and sharing those pictures with others, probably provides immeasurable comfort to the grieving parents.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJill

i think you are just fine. photos of dead people are best kept with those who loved the dead person, not the masses. i have seen photos of dead babies, fathers, cousins and all that just on facebook. ridiculousness. if you want photos then keep them to yourselves. i have some photos of a young man I was close with, who passed away, that were taken at his funeral and sent to us because we couldn't attend the funeral (we live in OR, the funeral was in CA). but for no reason have i ever sent them or shared them with anybody!! honestly, i read your post on babble and it was just fine. i'm with you girl, i'm shocked, i'm weirded out and i'm unsure as to what i would do in that situation.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradrienne ramirez

I don't think it was judgemental. I was as surprised as you were but then I was a lot suprised when I learned of the Duggars and their 19 kids. It is inappropriate to submit people to those pictures and I think that it's a way to get more attention.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTerry Elisabeth

Jill, my point was that you were telling Monica something she already knew.

On an unrelated note, I was not saying you should not post other things about this topic; of course you should if you want to. I certainly agree that if you wanted to share something at your child's memorial in the middle of your own personal loss, and someone was rude enough to say something derogatory at the actual service, then 'too bad' is putting it mildly. I'm very sorry you had to deal with any of that.

December 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterL

Monica, I think the reality is that you wrote about a topic that provokes many people have such visceral, emotional response in many people. I have never been pregnant--much less suffered a miscarriage. I have seen more than a few dead people in my years as a nurse, and I think I am more accustomed to the types of photos you address. I lost my mother suddenly at age 48 (just 2 years older than I am now). We did not have a good opportunity to take photos, but I don't think we would have. Of course, we had 48 years of photos to commemorate her life. I have come to the personal conclusion that people grieve how they grieve. There is no "normal" or right way. The celebrity of the Duggars does make it a bit trickier.
I think you addressed the topic openly--expressing your feelings and acknowledging that you don't know what your personal choices might be if faced with a similar situation.
My biggest concern is that it seems more than a few people think you had no right to express how you feel about what happened. You were asking for information. How can we learn about things we have not experienced without asking questions. I don't really blame the folks who gave you The Business--they are responding from their own grief and loss. However, it would have been far more productive for commenters to say, "I took photos of my baby who was stillborn/miscarried/lived only briefly, and this is why I found it comforting/helpful/right for me."
We all react so differently, and I don't think there is one "normal." I think that grieving families should be given as much latitude as they need. However, the fact that you personally felt uncomfortable isn't a judgement of what "they" did...just a description of how you felt. I truly wish we could use the available forums to help each other understand why something that seems weird to you felt perfectly right to someone else. That is the Utopia of interconnectedness I would hope for.

December 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersophie

well said, sophie

December 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOana

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