It is old news that the Duggars, reality-tv star family, recently went on the Today Show to announce that they were expecting their twentieth baby, only to find out a couple of weeks later that the fetus had died in utero. Last week they held a large public memorial for the girl they named Jubilee Shalom, and shocked a large part of the public by apparently including pictures of body. Somebody (not the Duggars, they say) released some of these pictures to the public. The leaked pictures are artistic, non-graphic renderings of tiny feet and hands cupped by parental fingers, but followers of Duggar news were still taken aback by the fact that the pictures existed and were displayed at all.
This subject has, however, been debated for quite a few years now on mommy blogs and Facebook and other venues where pictures of stillborn infants crop up. Unlike in previous generations, where the mother was told to try to forget about the miscarried fetus that was whisked away before she could see it, parents are usually encouraged to hold their baby, name it, keep momentos. There are photography organizations which specialize in these sorts of photos. The best know of these, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, is a volunteer organiztion which was involved in the Duggars' case.
Unsuprisingly, in an age of instant personal media, these pictures are not just tucked away in a keepsake box, but are being shared online as well. And for every picture of a stillborn or miscarried fetus that goes up on Facebook, there is controversy about wether or not those picutures are appropriate to share. On the one hand, it feels heartless to tell grieveing parents that pictures of their much-wanted baby are inappropriate to share with a public audience. On the other hand, many of those distressed by the photos are not just squeamish by-standers, but mothers who have lost thier own babies and are triggered by that kind of imagery.
Perhaps the culture is teetering on the edge of a shift in this area. The Victorian era is well known for its photos of dead loved ones: "Memento Mori" taken during a time when photography was expensive, and somewhat physically demanding, and so perhaps extravigant and unessceary for living children, but often the only visual record of a baby who only lived a few years, or even months. Not to mention that it was a time when people died at home, and were layed out at home afterwords, so pictures after death weren't particularly upsetting. Now, of course, death happens in hospitals, and is dealt with in funeral homes, and hidden away from daily life; photo documentation of death is shocking and taboo. But this is perhaps another area of life that is being shapped by the internet; all it takes if for most people to have a Facebook friend who posts a picture of their stillborn baby for it to become an ordinary and unremarkable thing.