Sometimes staff are able to support a family after the death of a baby or child by taking photographs. This may be something which staff are worried about. This page contains information about, and things to consider when, taking photographs after a baby/child has passed away.
TALKING TO PARENTS ABOUT HAVING PHOTOGRAPHS
I would hope that the majority of parents that you care for have never experienced the loss of a baby or child before. You are the expert that they come to rely upon in this situation, you are the steady person who can guide them gently through all of the options. Many parents will be in shock, many parents may be frightened of taking, or having photographs of their child after their death. These fears may be about what other people will think, or say. They may be about what their baby or child looks like. You are the first person whose reaction they will see. You have the opportunity to make this a comfortable process which focuses upon recording that childs life – however short it may have been. Death is an important part of life.
The shock and fear may mean that parents are unable to take these photographs themself. It is important that you offer to take the photographs for the parents. There is a list here, which could be used as a discussion tool and parents could tick off what photographs they would like you to take. It is also important to ask parents when they would like to take the photographs. Perhaps the parents have not been able to cradle their child, and this is the first moment they are able to. It might be more appropriate to come back at a later time. If this is at a time you are no longer working it is important that somebody else can carry out this task. The sad fact is that there are no second opportunities.
Parents may not feel able to take the photographs with them immediately. Photographs can be copied to cd, or printed and stored in a medical record file, and the parents made aware that they can collect them later. I have known parents who have collected their photographs many years after the death.
This time spent talking to the parents about the photographs can also help you gain some idea about what their baby represents to them. Perhaps they share with you their sadness over not watching them play football, not holding them in their arms and kissing their forehead to say goodnight, them not wearing a special outfit. They may give you some ideas of poses that they have seen which they would like to recreate.
Talk to the parents about what you will need to do for each shot. Perhaps you will need to move the baby into a certain position, how will you do this.
EQUIPMENT THAT YOU MAY NEED
- A camera – many hospitals will now have a digital camera for this purpose. If your’s doesn’t you could discuss this with senior staff. It needn’t be an expensive camera. The hospital that we had Finley at had a digital camera, and printed the photographs for us straight away. The three photographs that they took were given to us in an envelope with his footprints, and spare hospital bracelets. We took many more photographs ourselves.
- A memory card – Some hospitals keep a store of small memory cards, which are used for one family and given to them to take home, or stored in the medical record.
- Photograph printing facilities – If you are to print the photographs immediately.
- CD’s – It may be possible to take many photographs, and to burn them onto a cd.
- Disposable camera – Some charities donate disposable cameras within their memory boxes for the families to use.
- Some simple props – things that can be used to create a nicer photograph. These can be stored in a small box and kept for this use.
- Leave the equipment outside the room while you talk to the parents.
BEFORE TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS
- Take your time. Take a few moments to plan each shot in your mind.
- Have a small box of things you could use for photographs – small teddies, bracelets, fluffy blankets, flowers, cars. Be prepared to give items used to the parents, they will make special mementoes in the future.
- Consider the backdrop carefully.
- Clear the area around the baby – in particular move as much clinical equipment, dressings, etc as you can. The parents will want to remember their baby rather than seeing the signs of their passing, or illness.
- Take a look at the baby, talk to their parents, find out which parts of their baby they really love (ears, hands, feet, toes, nails). If the baby’s skin is discoloured consider which view may disguise some of this darkening/bruising/soreness.
- Ask for the lights to be as bright as possible, to help your pictures not to be too dark. A small lamp can be softer, than overhead lights and is more flattering if your baby’s skin is dark, or patchy.
- When you move the baby around, cradle the baby and move it as you would a baby who is alive. Talk to the baby and explain what you are doing. Treat the baby with respect at all times.
- Don’t be afraid to move the baby. Position the baby in a position that you would usually see a baby in (hands near face, knees bent).
- Always look straight into the baby’s face when taking the picture. You can prop the baby in a sitting position – a beanbag or soft cushion covered with a blanket can help with this. Or you can lean directly over the baby.
- If you are wrapping the baby in a blanket for the photos, wrap them loosely. Show their shoulders.
- If the baby has discolouration, sores or brusing consider how you may be able to position them to disguise this. You can use shadows, arrange their clothing, take photos from a different angle, use the parents hands.
TAKING THE PHOTOGRAPHS
- Take a few shots of each pose, so you will have some to choose from.
- Get close to the baby if you need to. The disposable cameras don’t have zoom functions.
- Take photos of different parts of the baby’s body, such as their head and face, hands and feet. They may be important at a later date. Baby’s hands and feet are incredibly beautiful.
- It can happen that a baby whose skin is dark at birth, or patchy may become more even as time passes. Don’t be afraid to take extra photos later on.
- Sometimes a baby’s skin can be dark around the lips and mouth. Using a dummy can disguise this.
DEVELOPING THE PHOTOGRAPHS
- Never send the pictures out to be developed as this can take a long time and you run the risk of the films being lost. Print them there and then, or use a while you wait developers.
- When you develop any photograph you can choose to have them printed in black and white. Black and white can be more flattering, disguising skin discolouration.
- Remember that photographs can be digitally altered at a later date, for example to remove bruising. Artists may also make drawings from photographs for you.
STORING THE PHOTOGRAPHS
- Where possible staff should discuss how photographs, or media that contains photographs can be safely stored for many years should the parents wish to collect them at a later date.
- Parents should be informed how long they will be stored for, and how they will be stored.
- If possible parents could be contacted if they were ever to be destroyed, and offered to send the photographs to them.