Sunday, November 25, 2007

Photographs & memories

(Isn't that the title of an old Jim Croce song?)

I spent 12 hours yesterday in one of the bastions of modern mommy-dom: a scrapbooking store. I have been scrapbooking for about five years now. As soon as I learned about it, I knew it was something I would like. I'm a writer by trade, & have kept journals on & off all through my life. I have a passion for genealogy and for preserving family stories for future generations (even if they are not my own direct descendants). I love taking photos -- my grandmother (whose favourite line was "Get the camera!") gave me a Kodak Instamatic for Christmas when I was 15 & I've been snapping away ever since. Up until the last few years, I've even been fairly meticulous about labelling the backs of all of my photos with who-what-where & when information. And I've long had a weakness for pretty paper & coloured pens. ; ) Scrapbooking brings all of those interests together in a really neat way. It's a creative outlet. (Some people paint. Some knit or crochet or cross-stitch. Some bake bread. I scrapbook.) It's a way of documenting my story and that of my family, which appeals to the genealogist in me. And it's fun!

Some people are surprised when they hear that I'm a scrapbooker. It's a hobby that's associated with &, admittedly, dominated by mommies. Layouts of adorable children doing cute things dominate the scrapbooking magazines. I have had people ask me what I scrapbook -- and WHY I scrapbook -- if I don't have children. (!)

Well, there's other people's kids, for starters. I am currently working on albums for both of our nephews (dh's brother's sons, 15 & almost 19). They've been my favourite photo subjects since they were born, long before we ever realized there would be no kids of our own for me to scrapbook. I have probably taken 95% of the photos of them that exist. BIL & SIL are great people, but they do not take photos as a matter of habit. It makes me sad sometimes, because while I've been there to document most of the boys' birthdays & events like baptisms, first communions & confirmations, there are no (or very few) photos of their first days of school, Christmas, Easter or Halloween. And that makes me sad.

Someday... someday... I will make a scrapbook for my stillborn daughter, about my pregnancy, her delivery, and the years since then. From the first time I heard about scrapbooking, I have thought about it, but I've put it off, "practicing" on other subjects. This, of all albums, of course, must be perfect!!

I always thought that when I was pregnant, I would keep a pregnancy diary & take lots of photos. I didn't, and I can't explain why. The whole "belly shots" thing was just taking off then, but even so, you would think I would have at least a few photos of myself pregnant. I don't. I have exactly two -- one taken a few days after we announced our pregnancy to the family & came home to find a balloon bouquet tied to our front deck railing (from dh's cousin, who lives nearby). I am pregnant in the photo (me holding the balloons), although I don't look it. And one taken two days before my fateful six-month checkup, when the doctor could not find a heartbeat. Our then-six-year-old nephew took it at his birthday party. I was taking photos (which is probably another reason -- I'm usually the one behind the camera, not in front of it!), & he said, "I want to take one of you!" So dh & I posed for him and thank God we did. We are facing the camera head on, so my pregnant belly is not totally visible, but I do look bigger than normal, and it's a nice photo of the two (three) of us. My mother was coming to visit and I was going to get her to take some photos of me in my maternity clothes that she could take home & show to my grandparents. Never put off until tomorrow....

I have exactly six photos of my stillborn daughter -- only three in which she is visible, and even then, just her wee face. They are Polaroids taken by the hospital -- horribly taken, not just in terms of quality, but set up -- and I think they make her look even worse than she really did.

But they are the only photos I have and for that reason, they are infinitely precious to me. In the brief space between the time I learned that my baby had died and the time I went to the hospital to deliver her, a hospital social worker called me at home to offer comfort, answer my questions, explain what was going to happen at the hospital, and ask about our wishes with respect to having a chaplain visit us, funeral arrangements, etc. She suggested bringing a camera.

I didn't. I couldn't even bring myself to put it in my bag, just so that we'd have it there. Me, the so-called "family photographer," missed the one and only opportunity to take a photo of my one & only child. It's the one major, major regret I have about the whole experience. The very idea of taking photos of a dead baby seemed so incredibly morbid at the time.

Since then, I have seen many, many photos of many, many other dead babies. Very few of them bother me in the least anymore. They are heartbreaking, yes, but I don't find them morbid anymore. And I've envied other parents for the wonderful photos they have as precious keepsakes of their children. Thankfully, hospitals seem to be catching on to the need for better photos to give to bereaved parents. (It's something that our pregnancy loss support group stresses & provides training in when giving workshops to medical professionals, funeral home directors, etc.). One couple we know was so distressed by the poor quality Polaroid photos they received from the hospital that they donated a digital camera. Subsequently, another bereaved couple arrived at our group who had used the camera. & have some of the best keepsake photos I've seen. There is even a group of professional photographers, called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, who donate their time and talents to photographing stillborn and dying babies with their families. Some of the parents in our group have created beautiful scrapbooks in memory of their babies. I'm sure some people would find this morbid, as I once did, but experience definitely has a way of changing opinions.

But children (dead or alive) are not the only reason to scrapbook. With more than 30 years worth of photos in my albums, I have plenty of fodder to keep me scrapbooking for years & years. I'd like to think my life is interesting enough to scrapbook on its own, thank you very much. OK, so my albums won't be passed on to any children of mine. Maybe they will provide enlightenment to other relatives of the future about me & other members of my family. Maybe not. At any rate, it's my time, my money, my life and if it give me enjoyment, isn't that reason enough to do it?

Sometimes, surrounded by mothers talking about their children non-stop as they scrapbook them, I definitely feel like the odd woman out at these store gatherings, or "crops," as they are known in the industry. I usually go solo, which makes me an even odder duck still -- most women come with at least one friend. I do have a few friends who scrapbook. In fact, a group of bereaved moms whom I've met through our support group and stayed friends with over the years have been meeting one night a month to scrapbook together & catch up on each other's doings. I haven't been able to convince any of them to join me at a store crop yet, though. For one thing, most of them have had subsequent children and are busy dealing with toddler playgroups and swimming lessons, if not 2 a.m. feedings still. Maybe someday...

6 comments:

  1. what a great post Loribeth. I am a scrapbooker on and off, but I tend to do even better at shopping for scrapbooking :) When in the groove, it flows - but when I've fallen out of the habit it seems so hard to start in again. Any tips for "getting back on the horse" as it were? Do you have a scrapbooking room? There are some amazing ideas in "dream scrap rooms" at http://barrenwheatfield.wordpress.com/category/scrapbooking/

    I hope to get really inspired to s/b some of the traveling dh and I have done. It seems such a struggle to get my head in the right place, but once I'm there I love it.

    There is an amazing, powerful, beautiful, sad "slideshow" of photos of a precious little boy who was stillborn. The link is:

    http://www.blairblanks.com/james/

    It wrenches my heart every time I see it. It is so beautifully done. There is music with it.

    Andie

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  2. "I am a scrapbooker on and off, but I tend to do even better at shopping for scrapbooking :) "

    Ha!! Don't we all?? lol ; )

    I go through droughts as well... I find that taking a class or going to a crop often helps me get going again! I find it hard to make time to scrapbook at home -- seems like there's always something else that needs doing that seems more urgent (sigh). I tend to get most of my main work done at crops & the finishing touches & journalling at home.

    I don't have a dedicated scrapping room -- my stuff shares space with our office/computer room. I like scrapping downtstairs at the kitchen table anyway.

    I have seen Blair's video slide show. It is AMAZING. Totally heartbreaking (I sobbed uncontrollably all the way through it), but absolutely amazing.

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  3. I'm sorry you don't have pictures of your daughter. Your support group's work is very meaningful.

    I've only made a couple of pages, but I admit to being put off by the seeming "mommyness" of scrapbooking. My SIL has asked me over for crop parties with her friends (small rural town moms), and I always make an excuse. I do like looking at the stickers and embellishments, but the vast array of cutesy baby-related items never fails to bring me to tears. D. and I once joked about an IF scrapbook:

    http://southcitysadie.typepad.com/miss_e_musings/2006/08/scrapbook_this.html


    PS. If you do find an Amsterdam embellishment, please let me know -- I'm still looking!

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  4. For many years, I kept things, ticket stubs, travel brochures with the intention of scrapbooking some travels and such. I can't believe there are people who think scrapbooking is only for mom's of the living. How limited. I did start one for M, however, almost 2 years later, I am ashamed to admit I have exactly 7 pages done. It just isn't something I can work on whenever, I have to let the right mood strike. After starting his, I did become frustrated at the lack of supplies for scrapbooking a more serious topic.

    I wish you had more photos, I think no matter how many anyone has, they wish they had more. I know I do, and I have a few. I too, did not want to take pics of M, but my mother basically ignored me, pulled out her camera and shot away. Why she knew to do this, I don't know, but I will be eternally grateful. The ones from her camera are not the best, and some I probably would not share at all (she took some right after he was born, before he was cleaned up) but I love them.

    Have you scanned and reprinted your polaroids? Just wondering, as I know polaroids don't last forever.

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  5. Our son was stillborn a few weeks ago, and I'm grateful that we have some really nice pictures. Even though I couldn't look at them for a few days after the delivery, I kept asking my husband, "Are you sure we got a picture of his full body? Are you sure?" Someday, I will scrapbook those pictures. But I feel the same way you do--it has to be exactly right.

    I have stayed away from scrapbooking for most of my struggle with infertility, and now, I'm afraid, I don't see any time in the near future that I'm going to want to scrapbook. My SIL is a new Creative Memories rep, but I haven't gone to any of her crops because I'm insanely jealous of her mommy scrapbooking friends. I simply can't relate to them. I prefer to scrapbook alone.

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  6. I have a scanner & have scanned my Polaroids. I also took two of the best to a photo shop to have them copied -- I didn't want to do them all at once, just in case...!Without showing the photos, I asked the girl at the counter if they could make a copy from a Polaroid & how much it would cost, etc. Then I cleared my throat & said, "You see, I lost a baby recently..." She put her hand up and said, "I understand. I haven't been though exactly the same thing, but I had a really bad miscarriage experience. Don't worry, I'll take good care of these." And she did. I was just so, so grateful for her kindness.

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