Still Lives

Through some strange shimmer in the space-time that governs the internet, an old Wired Magazine article that I was quoted in is apparently coming up high in the search engines for “stillborn photo.”

Women are emailing me suddenly, asking me to restore their images of babies, lifeless and dark, small errant angels out of place among the breathing grieving world of their parents, family, siblings, doctors, living beings.

I have not done this sort of work in years. When my miscarriage web site became too popular, averaging half a million hits a week, I had to take down the information about these services as I was too inundated with images. Every day, another ding of my inbox, another lost child’s picture affixed to another disconsolate message. I’d hardened myself after years of running the site, stories that could break down other people were common to me, it took something extraordinary to bring my well-worn tears. But the pictures. I kept looking at them, looking for something that might give me another clue, another small detail of what my baby would have looked like, had I the courage at 28 to see him face to face, to wail and push and painfully bring him into the world for an instant, to look at his features before they took him away. But I chose instead an easier route, a surgery, and recovered in less than a day. No tiny blanket bloodied by his umbilical cord. No child weighing mere ounces yet still completely formed. No searing memory preserved on delicate paper, colored crystals on a page.

I stopped accepting the images completely when I was pregnant with Elizabeth. I had lost her twin and the arrival of a stillborn image at the same gestational week as she was then sent me into a terror. I couldn’t open my inbox. I couldn’t load the picture. I remember stumbling through rooms of the house, holding my belly, sobbing to the point of throwing up. The sonograms of my first baby as well as Emily hung on the wall, and seeing them brought me to my knees, to my side, head on the carpet. They could not ask this of me anymore, to bring their babies on screen so that I might fix the color, repair the skin, take away the bruises. I could not do it anymore. Death was too close, between my heart and my belly, my oxygen and my blood. I found two other people who did restorations and sent everyone to them.

I shudder now when my inbox dings. I am not as hard as I once was, reading those stories every day. I have not looked at such images in a long time. And I’m afraid, once I do, it will all rush back, the crying, the fear, the memories of blood sliding across white tile, trying to catch it with my hands as if to stuff it back inside, make it stop, make it not happen.

But the internet has spoken, and I cannot control that. I look at these emails, both saying the same thing–they found the article about me, and would I please work on their baby’s picture? What do I tell them now?

I remember that article well–the one where they said I used the word gruesome to describe these babies. I would sue them if I could. These babies are not that, not ever, and to say I used that word is to say that my baby, the one never photographed, never documented, never held, is also that. How dare they.

I will sit here, my two little girls sleeping in their beds, as space-time shifts, as other mothers cry over their losses, and think of other babies, other lives, and of the night, still and black, black and still.

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