Duggar baby photo viewed by some as a model for grieving parents
The Duggar family's decision to post a photo showing the tiny hand of the baby that Michelle Duggar miscarried earlier this month reflects a growing trend among grieving parents to find way to openly deal with their loss.
The photo posted on the family's blog shows the little hand resting on her mother's finger, and accompanies an audio message recorded for the child that would have been the Duggars' 21st baby and the newest star of the TLC reality show starring the Duggars, "19 Kids and Counting."
Several grief experts said Monday that the family's unconventional decision could help others struggling to deal with a miscarriage or the loss of a child.
Too often, the grief experts said, miscarriages are largely ignored or swept aside by family and friends who mean well and are trying to soothe the mother and father. The parents, however, are often rocked by a profound sense of loss that follows months or weeks of anticipation -- thinking up names, preparing a nursery or wondering whose side of the family will their child will take after.
Acknowledging the miscarriage, like the Duggars' photograph, can often help the healing and grieving process, bereavement experts said.
The most important thing, they say: Friends and family should not judge the decisions of grieving parents and instead offer support even if they don't agree with how the parents are processing it.
"There are some people who will say, 'Oh my gosh, why would she do that?'" grief counselor Allison Daily said of the Duggars' approach. "I feel like no one should judge unless they have been in that situation. It’s one of the hardest, most awful things that can happen to a parent. They have to decide what is right for them."
She said she believes the Duggars are offering a powerful lesson for other parents struggling with their own pain.
"To me, she is a role model in how we should handle the loss," Daily said. "In the past, too many people pushed [news of a miscarriage] down and decided to make it go away and it causes depression and you never really finish the process of grieving. But this child was part of her life. I think it's a beautiful thing that she did."
Judy Blore, director of the Basis bereavement program in Pennsylvania, called the Duggars courageous for their unconventional approach and said it will ultimately provide the family closure and peace. "By showing this picture they are showing that this child is real, and if you have a real child you have real grief," Blore said.
Taking photos of an unborn or stillbirth baby, writing him or her letters or poems, or making audio or video messages are all actions that counselors suggest to grieving parents, along with giving the child a formal name and holding a memorial or funeral service, Blore said.
"I think we are dealing with things in a healthier way by acknowledging the existence and acknowledging it is a loss," she said.
Such steps, especially taking photos, might seem morbid to an outsider. But Daily said the process is anything but that. Much depends on the size and condition of the baby, who is typically born after birth is induced.
As part of her bereavement work at Aspen Valley, Daily said, she will gently wash the baby's body, dress and swaddle him or her in a blanket and then encourage mother and father to cherish a few private moments. Although it can be a heartbreaking, it is also incredibly cathartic, she said.
A photographer trained for just such sensitive sessions will take pictures, perhaps of the child's tiny feet with a family cross leaning against the tiny soles, or even of the child's profile.
"It sounds really rough, but it can be a beautiful moment capturing the child's essence," Daily said. "Parents can look back later at the photographs and say, 'Those are his or her feet.'"
Daily said she has worked with countless patients over the years, and many parents often regret if if they do not have mementos to treasure.
The Duggar family has not discussed the circumstances surrounding the image posted on their family website. But the nonprofit organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, made up of volunteer photographers that provide free images to families suffering the loss of a child, posted a news release saying it provided its services to the family.
The Duggars named their baby Jubilee Shalom because it means "joyful celebration of peace." Her name is in keeping with the rest of her siblings, whose names all start with J. The Duggars are devoted Christians who have been criticized in some corners because they no longer use birth control and say they have put God in charge of the size of their family.
Michelle Duggar, who suffered a miscarriage early on in her marriage, said in her audio message to baby Jubilee that she will proudly tell people that she has 21 children in all -- 19 on Earth, and two more in heaven.
-- Rene Lynch