I hesitantly clicked the send button. I had just posted my first full picture of my son.
Most new parents are excited to post a picture of their sleeping newborn, nestled in a cocoon of blankets. The image is often greeted with comments of, “Congratulations!” or “He’s so adorable. He’s got your eyes.” I knew that such accolades would not accompany the picture of my son. Don’t get me wrong — he was beautiful. He was precious. But I know I am the only one who sees him as such. I’ve seen people cringe when I shared his picture with them. So, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous before posting his portrait online.
In the picture, my son is lying wrapped in a blanket, one of his precious hands resting on top of the blanket. His head peeks out from the top of the blanket. While all of his features were perfectly formed, his skin wasn’t fully developed and was a deep purplish-red hue at the time of his birth. All of his veins and developing bones can be seen through his translucent skin. To me, though, he is beautiful.
The pictures, along with some memorabilia, are all I have left of my son, who was born too early to survive. In the year since his birth, I have been involved in the Tears Foundation, which helps grieving families. My husband and I participated in a walk last year to raise money for the foundation and decided to walk again this June. As part of my fundraiser for the walk, I elected to post William’s picture on the fundraising page. When I advertised information about the fundraiser on my Facebook page, my son’s picture popped along with it. The decision to post William’s image was not made lightly or quickly. In fact, it took me more than a year to gain the courage to share my son’s picture.
Why did I share his image?
- He is my son. He is beautiful and perfect to me. When I gaze at his pictures, I see perfectly formed tiny feet. I see a peaceful expression on his little face. I see a cute, button nose. I see long fingers, much like my own. I see the perfection that love can create. In my eyes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with his tiny body, except for the fact that he was born too soon.
- Just one month before he was born, my husband and I shared an ultrasound picture of him. In the ultrasound, you could make out a head. You could see his legs. But he wasn’t as fully formed as he was when he was born. Why should it be okay for me to share that picture, but not the one of him outside the womb?
- I am proud of him. Why should I keep him in hiding just because people aren’t used to seeing such a tiny human being? He was once alive and he was my son. Other people share pictures of their children all the time. Would anyone dare question if parents shared a picture of their physically disabled child or a burn victim? Sure, the image may be shocking. But it’s shocking because we’re not used to seeing it. Inside, the burn victim is a person. A disabled child is still a person. My son was still a person.
- Guilt. I have felt so much guilt over the past year. Guilt that is impossible to describe. When your body betrays you and your child, you can’t help but blame yourself for contributing to your child’s death. I feel guilty, too, about not sharing William’s image. By refusing to post his picture, I feel like I am saying I am ashamed of him. Like I am not being a good mother to him. I can’t change the past — I will forever be haunted by the guilt that my body forced my son into this world too soon. However, I can change my refusal to share his picture. In turn, I have given myself one less cross to bear.
- I no longer care about others’ reactions. If people want to criticize me for my choice, that is their right. In fact, before William’s birth, I may have agreed with my critics, wondering why it is necessary to share startling images. But the ones who criticize have not cradled their child’s lifeless body. They have not gazed upon their son’s peaceful expression. The ones who criticize will never see my son as beautiful. That is okay. But I shouldn’t have to hide him just because they are uncomfortable. I won’t hide him any longer. Because I do love him and because, to me, he is perfect.