By: Angela Farley
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(A brief overview of taking pictures of stillborn babies and infants who have died)
NOTE: Some sections are intended for caregivers
It is my hope that this overview will help you to create and preserve a valuable memory for a family that they will cherish for a lifetime.
The best pictures you will get for parents will be using natural light. Be aware that fluorescent lights will give a greenish appearance and incandescent will give a warm orange hue to the pictures. A flash creates a harsh, flat light that can ruin pictures intended to be soft and gentle making them appear unnatural. Be aware of shadows that may be present due to the natural light, your angle to the natural light, or persons standing near the baby.
For the best natural light pictures with no flash use a 400-speed good quality film (Kodak, Fuji, or Polaroid). 400-speed film is an excellent choice for low light situations.
Developing the prints:
Most hospitals use instant cameras, but for those who use standard 35mm cameras here are a few tips on developing these special prints. You can develop the pictures for the family yourself preferably a one-hour photo lab. NEVER send the photos out to be developed as this can take a long time and you run the risk of the film being lost. Another option is to simply give the parents the roll/rolls of film for them to develop at a later date.
We think it is best to have verbal consent from the parent’s of the child, along with the disposition of the photos documented in the patients file. You can obtain consent by suggesting to the parents that the process of photographing their baby is helpful for capturing memories that will fade over time. Advise the parents that they can take the photos home with them or they can be stored in a confidential file that they can obtain later on. Of course you will need to let the parents know exactly how long their pictures will be available. It is best to discuss this preferably before the child’s birth (if possible) to allow for tender pictures to be taken right from the moment of delivery. Most of all be supportive of the parents and do not judge their decision, allowing them to change their mind at any time.
Talking to the parents:
Explain that you would like to take some special pictures of their beloved child. Ask the parents if they have any special poses (some parents who have surviving children would like the child posed the same way as the others for continuity in family picture displays). Find out if they have any special toys, blankets, or clothing they would like in the photos. Suggest that the parents be involved as much as possible in the photo session reminding them that you can never have too many pictures as this will be the only time they will be able to parent this child. These memories will have to last the family a lifetime. Most importantly, be relaxed and unhurried letting the parents have time to touch and view their child as needed, as this is obviously a very emotional time for the family.
Some pose suggestions:
1- Baby loosely wrapped in a softly colored fuzzy blanket (babies wrapped tightly in blankets will give the impression of a “mummy-like” image)
2- A close-up of baby’s face, hand, foot, or parents finger in baby’s hand (parents stroking the baby’s face or other area of the baby)
3- Baby on its tummy with hands by its face
4- Mom and/or dad cradling baby (only family photo they will have)
5- Special family members cradling baby (grandma/grandpa, special aunt or uncle, surviving child/children).
6- Baby undressed showing full body (showing that the child was not merely a face wrapped in a blanket).
7- Mom and dad looking down at baby laying on bed or in bassinet
8- Parents dressing baby.
9- Any feature that the parents comment on especially if they mention a feature that looks like a family members (he has uncle Steve’s ears).
10- Baby in the arms of a staff member, nurse, or doctor (some parents have the belief that the staff has qualms about handling their deceased child- this photo will relieve this fear) (this is also good for parents whose child may have lived for a time in the NICU, and a good way to remember a special staff member who cared for their child).
11- Pictures of the Chaplin baptizing the baby.
Taking care of the pictures:
Storing the pictures for parents who choose not to get the pictures until a later date is crucial as these pictures can never be replaced. Most families will take the pictures with them when they leave the hospital but of those who decide not to, well over 60% will return within a year for them.
1- Write the name of the patient and/or child on the back of each picture (or roll of film if using 35mm).
2- Store the pictures in a cool dry place (perhaps in a filing cabinet or in a drawer where the camera is stored)
3- Date the pictures/film with when they were taken, the date they are to be held until, and parents phone number (to make sure that film or pictures are not disposed of before the date the parents were informed they would be available until. The phone number may be useful to call the parents to remind them that the pictures are available)
4- Store the pictures/film in an envelope to make sure they all stay together and to allow for the patients confidentiality.
Taking pictures before, during, and after the death are all precious times and should be photographed. A lot of parent’s whose children lived for only minutes will cherish any photo you are able to get of their child before he/she died whether it is good or bad. Taking the baby's picture as soon as possible after a stillbirth delivery will give the best result. The medical facts show that if you wait until later the face will begin to darken from bruising and as a result of natural process of decomposition. Many parents I have spoken to stated that the pictures they have that were taken hours after the delivery show eyes becoming droopy, puffier, dark bruising, and sometimes even skin peeling. Don’t feel rushed but do keep in mind the sooner the pictures are taken the better the final result will be for the parents.
Photos you don’t like:
No matter how many pictures you have taken in your life you will occasionally get ones you do not like. This is a definite advantage to using an instant camera. With 35mm you should take a few shots of each pose so the parents will have some to choose from. If you are in a situation where you are only allowed take 1 or 2 photos any picture you take will be better than none for the parents. If you find yourself in that situation perhaps ask the parents if you can use their camera to take more explaining you are limited in the number of photos you are allowed to take (most people will bring a camera with to the hospital or you can suggest that they purchase one from the hospital gift shop).
It is possible to take pictures of babies who have died quite a while before they were delivered and babies who have birth defects at delivery. The parent will want pictures of both the baby’s “good and bad” features. For example, a parent who has a child with anencephaly will probably want a full face picture along with a few where the birth defect is disguised (this can be done by simply putting a hat on the baby). For a child who has bad skin peeling you can take more pictures focusing on the non-damaged area like a hand, ear, or foot or by turning the baby’s face. Another way to make pictures easier for the parents and their family to view is to consider using a roll of black and white film, which will mask any discoloration the baby may have.
Trick of the trade:
To create an even softer appearance to the picture you can take a piece of nylon or pantyhose and stretch it tightly across the lens area of the camera this will make the picture appear soft and hazy. Depending on the type of camera you are using you can secure the piece of nylon with a rubber band around the lens.
Step-by-step final checklist:
1- Camera is loaded.
2- You have a clear, clean, and uncluttered background.
3- Promote relaxation and even enjoyment of this special time allowing the parents to parent this child.
4- Make sure baby is clean (if possible) with hair brushed etc.
5- Make sure any toys or special items that the parents have requested be in photos are easily accessible.
6- Ask family members to help.
7- Position baby.
8- Check lighting. Is it natural? Are there shadows? (white poster board can be used to reflect light to any shadowed areas).
9- Look in viewfinder.
10- Remember what you see is what you get. Do not be afraid to get closer.
11- Check to make sure the baby is in focus.
12- Take the picture (don’t rush. Parents will often think of other poses while you are taking the photos).
13- Suggest to the parents that they can and should take some photos at the baby’s memorial service (they can also have another family member do this).
14- And MOST importantly – be proud of the fact that you are creating memories for a family that they may not have had otherwise.