I would have felt compassion for this woman even without my own strikingly similar experience, but since I have, what I was feeling went far beyond empathy. I pictured her lying on the ultrasound table, holding her husband's hand, her excited smile slowly turning downward as the ultrasound tech struggled to find a heartbeat. I could feel the pit in her stomach grow deeper as she realized there was no familiar flicker on the screen. I could hear the staggering silence in that room grow louder by the second. I had been there, I had been in that room, and my heart broke knowing another woman was going through it too.
I pictured her and her husband having to tell their children, some the same age as my children, the news that their baby sister had died. I wondered to myself if they had trouble finding the words to explain it to a five year old, as Josh and I did. Did they find a quiet spot to sit them down and talk to them? Did they cry in each other's arms wondering how they would possibly say the words out loud to their children? Josh and I were picking ours up from Vacation Bible School after our appointment. We found a shady spot under a tree at the church to sit down and talk to them. What did the Duggars do? How did they answer their children's excited questions with news no child should have to hear?
This is where my mind went, where my heart went. I don't know this family personally, but I know they are believers. I know they are kind and loving and respectful to one another. I know they love their kids. My opinions on their family choices are really not relevant, and in that moment as I read of their grief, nothing but sadness for what they were going through crossed my mind. Until I read the comments below.
I should have stopped right there and walked away from the computer, but I didn't. Like watching a horrible accident, my eyes wouldn't turn away. I read comment after heartless comment absolutely ripping this family to shreds for their choices on birth control (or lack thereof). Saying things like "they were asking for it," that this was bound to happen, that they deserve it. People who were claiming to be Christians said the Duggars were giving Christianity a bad name by continuing to breed. That the death of this small child was blood on their hands, that God was trying to teach them a lesson, that He obviously wants them to stop. These were the kindest of the comments.
I was appalled. How could we? How could we as fellow human beings see a grieving family and have anything but sympathy for what they were going through? Was I the only one that wanted to find Michelle and give her a great big hug? Did I only feel this way because I had been in her shoes?
I continued to think about the Duggar family all week. Then, yesterday, my dad mentioned to me that he had seen pictures online of the Duggar baby and how the photos looked strikingly similar to Lily's photos. I went home and attempted to search for the photo he was talking about. I found them easily. But on every site that posted them, the baby had been blurred out. As if she was some obscene image not appropriate for the internet. The internet!!! One gossip site posted blaring warnings on the blurred out images of little Jubilee's hand before you could click on them and see the actual photo. Really? I don't remember being warned the last time some celebrity accidentally showed off their entire butt getting out of a car. But not only do they blur out the image of this child's hand, I also get a stern warning before I can view it? So this is where society is at now.
If I thought the comments last week were bad, I was in for a rude awakening. People who had seen the black and white images of Jubilee's tiny hand and feet were in an uproar, calling the Duggar's "sick," "twisted," "morbid," and a whole host of other names more suitable for serial killers than grieving parents. Others were saying they had gone too far, photographing the "corpse" of their dead baby and sharing the images with the world. I read one comment saying it was "ridiculous" that they were going so far as to hold a memorial service for "it".
As I sat reading these heartless comments, I looked up on my desk and stared at my framed photo collage of my own child. The photos I was staring at on my desk of my baby and the photos that were being torn to shreds by the world on my computer screen were incredibly similar. Anyone but the family of the children in the photographs would have a hard time distinguishing between the two. The hands and feet were the same size, the skin the same translucent color. The comments I was reading were suddenly directed straight at me. They were calling me sick, they were calling my baby's sweet feet morbid, they were calling my family ridiculous. And it hurt.
Where was the voice of the mothers and fathers of these children among the loud and unsympathetic shouts of this mob? Why, in all of these hundreds of comments, were there maybe one or two brave souls carefully defending the choice of the Duggars and other grieving parents? Where was the voice of reason? Why was no one standing up for this family? Standing up for my family?
So this is me standing up. I am the mother of a baby born dead at 20 weeks gestation. I am the mother who fell in love with, named, and cherished my little girl. I am the mother who was given the devastating news that my child's heart had stopped. I am the mother who had to tell my children they would never get to meet their baby sister. I am the mother who had to go through three horrible days of pushing my body to let go of the baby it should have held for five more months. I am the mother who held her tiny baby girl in one hand. I am the mother who saw nothing but beauty in my child's incredibly small hands and feet. I am the mother who asked for a photographer to come into the room and get as many pictures as they possibly could of my baby, knowing they would be the only photos I would ever have, the only way for my sister to meet her niece, as she was half a world away at the time of her birth. I am the mother who has nothing left of my child except the blanket she was wrapped in and the photos I took with her. I am no different than Michelle Duggar, and the thousands of other mothers in America who face this kind of loss every year.
So many mothers face this kind of loss, in fact, that an organization called "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep" is used all over America to give something tangible to families facing the loss of a child. It is completely dedicated to taking beautiful photos of babies who have passed away. They are one of the few organizations who support and encourage bonding and making memories with your deceased child. It is only in the past twenty or thirty years or so that mothers and fathers have even been allowed to spend time holding their stillborn baby. So maybe I shouldn't be surprised that most of America still seems to be stuck in the fifties when mothers were knocked out only to have their baby ripped from them and disposed of before they were even able to see their child. And yet, I am still appalled at a society who deems pictures of a tiny baby's hand to be so horrific it should be blurred out for the masses.
When a young child passes away, it is a tragedy. No matter who the parents are or their religion or walk of life, the world mourns with that grieving family. Pictures of the child playing and smiling and laughing are no doubt cherished by all who see them. It is a reminder to the family and friends of the beautiful person that has left them, of the happy times you had with them, of the heartbreaking loss of a young life. Yet, what about the families who only had one opportunity to get photos of their child? Only one chance to record what their baby looked like, how small they were, how miraculous their hands and feet were? What if you only got to hold your baby once? Wouldn't you want pictures of them? Wouldn't you want something to go back to in the moments months and years later when you felt yourself forgetting what they looked like, what they felt like in your arms?
Unless you have been the mother or father with only hours to spend with your child, you have no right to judge how these parents deal with their grief. It breaks my heart that this family is being beaten down by the public for valuing the life of their baby, for seeing her as a precious and beautiful miracle, for treating her like a child. What breaks my heart even further is how few people will stand up next to these families, next to my family, and defend their right to grieve.
So this is me, speaking on behalf of so many other grieving mommies, and saying this: I had a child. She was beautiful, she was meaningful, and she is gone. I am so thankful for the memories I was allowed to make with her in the hours following her birth. I am grateful for the photographs I have of my child and the opportunity I have to look at them whenever my heart is missing her. I am proud of my baby girl, and I will proudly show off her miraculous features through the photographs we cherish. And I will never, ever blur them out or warn you before doing so.
You are not alone, Michelle. There are so many mommies who have been where you are and support you whole-heartedly as you stumble your way through this grieving process. The pictures of your baby are beautiful, and I thank you for sharing them with the world, even if the world won't.
|The tiny hand of Jubilee Duggar|
|The tiny hand of my Lily|