Grieving Mom Says No to Photo of Stillborn, But Nurse Knew She'd Regret It & Took One in Secret


For many years, I had a hard time getting the full story of my birth. Little bits of it would dribble out from time to time, and I eventually assembled the whole tale more or less.

I’d been born premature and right on the viability line, one of those babies who shouldn’t have survived. Yet I did, and the most miraculous part of it was that I’d had no lasting negative health impacts.

But for every at-risk baby whose birth has a happy ending like mine, there are more whose families have to mourn them before they even draw their first breath. Vermont resident Rachel Whalen lived that sad truth.

According to her blog “An Unexpected Family Outing,” Whalen became pregnant with a little girl she would come to call Dorothy. She’d known prenatal tragedy before.

Prior to conceiving Dorothy, Whalen had miscarried twice. I can only imagine the excitement when she first learned about Dorothy.

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However, the festivities would soon turn into fear. At 28 weeks in Dorothy’s development, Whalen learned she had preeclampsia.

The Mayo Clinic defines preeclampsia as “a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. … Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious — even fatal — complications for both you and your baby.”

Sadly, the condition would cost Dorothy her life even though Whalen immediately sought medical help. Complications caused by HELLP syndrome, which is often linked with preeclampsia, meant that her precious little baby did not survive.

“On February 22, 2016, Dorothy Grace Helena Whalen was stillborn. Although she slipped into our world silently, her impact has been profound.”

Whalen chronicled her emotions after Dorothy’s death, and one of her most piercing tales involved the immediate moments after her baby’s stillbirth. “They asked if I wanted photos,” she wrote on Facebook.

“I said no. … I was certain that I wanted no memory of this moment — the day my daughter was stillborn.”

“I was wrong. I was so very wrong.”

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Later, Whalen would yearn for a record of Dorothy, any kind of record. Fortunately, a nurse had done exactly what Whalen had asked her not to do.

“I don’t know who it was,” Whalen continued, “but she took a photo of my daughter. She dressed her and wrapped her up.

“She positioned her hands so delicately and tilted her head just so. And then she took a photo — our only photo of Dorothy.

“I’m so glad she didn’t listen to me.” Beautiful and painful, poignant and full of joy — don’t your emotions run the gamut just thinking about it?

That wasn’t the end of tiny Dorothy’s impact on the world. Whalen has since dedicated herself to helping women who have lost children.

She’s also welcomed another little life into her family’s fold. Frances Michele Whalen was born on March 19, 2017.

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
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