Photos of Stillborn Baby Comfort Parents, Touch Facebook Community

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
August 1, 2014

Photo by Lovesong Photography

A California mother and father have chosen to share their intense grief over the loss of their stillborn daughter, named Monroe, in a startling way: by having her professionally photographed in the hospital last Friday, and then sharing the heartbreaking portraits on Facebook.

“I wanted our family to have some way to show how beautiful our daughter was,” Emily McClearen told Yahoo Health about why she made the decision, with husband Richard Staley, to have baby Monroe photographed by Lindsey Natzic-Villatoro’s Lovesong Events and Photography. As for wanting to share the photographs with the world, she added, “I was proud of her, and I wanted to show her off and make sure her memory lives on.” She also hoped the images could help others who had experienced similar losses, to show that it’s OK to talk about death.

This sort of reaction can be “very healing,” according to Fredda Wasserman, clinical director of adult programs and education at the Our House Grief Support Center, a non-profit counseling organization in Los Angeles. “This was their daughter, a member of the family, even though she didn’t get to come home and live with them,” she told Yahoo Health. By sharing the photos, she added, “It says, ‘We need to be validated, and we deserve as much empathy and condolences as someone who lost a live child. We’re mourning her death.’” Stillbirths, Wasserman explained, are often treated in our society in a way that’s similar to miscarriages — with people wanting the sufferers to just move on silently. “It’s way too uncomfortable for other people, too scary, too much to look at,” she explained. “But people who don’t grieve really suffer.”

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Photo by Lovesong Photography

Natzic-Villatoro, a mother of three young children, specializes in photographing terminally ill individuals — called “Forever Loved" sessions — as well as the families they’ve left behind after dying. “You just want to make sure you remember that person,” she told Yahoo Health, adding that she’s conducted several other stillborn photo sessions, which she likened to taking open-casket photos at a funeral. “People think it’s morbid,” she said. “But at a funeral there’s just this fog, you remember nothing later, and a stillborn is the same thing.” The photos, she said, help people jog their memories later on, and they have images that “will bring comfort to them.”

So far, Facebook comments have been supportive and understanding, with many people sharing their own stories of infant loss. One woman had a particularly powerful response. “My son had died in my tummy six years ago and I wish I had thought about so many different things to do while we had him in our arms,” she wrote. “I was afraid. I didn’t even know if I wanted to see his tiny body once I had the chance to. I am so happy I decided to hold him. I have 1 picture they took in the hospital of him but I can’t bare to look at it. These pictures you took are beautiful and you are amazing for doing this for that family.”

Photo by Lovesong Photography

McClearen agreed to the photo shoot after a friend of a woman with cancer who had been photographed by Natzic-Villatoro made the suggestion. On her business’s Facebook page, Natzic-Villatoro described her initial, heart-wrenching phone conversation with the grief-stricken mom. “She told me that earlier that morning she was eating breakfast, oatmeal actually. She had a cup of coffee and was proceeding with her usual routine. Her husband had already left for work and she was just at home relaxing with her son and niece,” Natzic-Villatoro wrote. “She noticed that her daughter hadn’t been moving in her belly like usual. Normally it is her baby’s routine to have some fun in mom’s belly once she drinks her coffee. Considering that her baby hadn’t kicked all morning, mom moved her tummy a bit and after still feeling nothing went and got her heart monitor to check on her. Again mom heard nothing.” After rushing to the hospital and having an ultrasound, Emily was told her baby had been strangled by the umbilical cord.

Photo by Lovesong Photography

Doctors delivered Monroe by C-section the following morning, and Villatoro writes about the peaceful, painful photo session with the family. “At 7:52am I looked at that clock and sweet baby Monroe Faith Staley was born. I was the first to see her,” she wrote. “My eyes quickly filled with tears as I pulled my mask down, looked over to mom and dad and said, ‘SHE IS PERFECT.’ Together we all cried.” They all spent nine hours together in a hospital room, she said, and all the while, “Any image that came to mind, I shot. I wanted this family to have every possible memory of this child I could physically give them. So with that being said, I would like you all to meet this beautiful family. 26 year old Mother Emily, 29 year old Father Richard, and baby girl Monroe Faith Staley weighing 6 pounds 2.5 ounces, 19 inches long.”

McClearen and Staley also have a son, who is 5 and, who is doing “amazing, for the situation,” McClearen said. “He was very excited to meet his little sister.” The family is raising money online to give their daughter a proper burial. But in the meantime, McClearen said, “I’m proud of my baby girl and how many lives she’s touched.”