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Mom Shares How ‘Underwater Photos’ After Miscarriage Lets Grieving Parents See Baby Better

Warning: Some Readers May Find This Story and it’s Images Distressing

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Christi Nelson celebrated the halfway mark of her pregnancy. This was a huge milestone after three miscarriages in the first trimester. She was beyond thrilled to welcome her baby girl, who she already named Noa, into the world. And Noa’s five older siblings were just as enthusiastic. Together, they imagined life a year from now, with Noa. However, at the next midwife appointment, she couldn’t find Noa’s heartbeat. “My heart raced. All this time I had been convinced Noa was fine and it turns out she wasn’t fine at all,” Nelson wrote on Love What Matters. “My baby was gone.

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Grieving After a Miscarriage

The whiplash of blissful joy to grief left Nelson in a depression for a couple of days. It took a lot of effort to make the phone calls to arrange the next steps. “I knew I needed to honor the life of my baby and deliver her naturally. I needed to see her, hold her, and take pictures of her.”

The morning before the induction, Nelson woke up in the wee hours and remembered a story she had read weeks ago about another woman’s miscarriage. In a passing sentence, the woman explained that they placed the tiny body underwater so they could see him better. Often when miscarried babies are kept in the open air, they “quickly become unrecognizable.” At the time, Nelson wished the woman had shared photos. But now she wondered if she should try her own underwater pictures

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As I lay in bed that morning, I wondered what my 18-week daughter would look like, how big she would be, and if it would feel barbaric to place her in water after she was born? Would it seem impersonal, like she was a specimen in a science lab? …Would I look to them like a deranged, grieving mom who frantically wanted to preserve the body of her dead baby? I pushed these thoughts out of my mind as I realized I NEEDED this for my grieving process, and if I didn’t find the courage to ask, I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

Read: Extraordinary Birth Photos Capture Dad Delivering His Baby on the ER Floor

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I had to try…

On the way to the procedure, she contacted her photographer Heathyr Harkess, who also runs a non-profit called House of Hopes, who donate photos to people dealing with some kind of devastation — in this case, a miscarriage. Harkless was supposed to come to capture Noa’s birth, but Nelson asked if she could come photograph that day. Being a photographer herself, Nelson and Harkess managed to figure out the logistics of such a complicated and delicate shoot. Harkless rushed to shop for fish tanks. “It was a lot of effort and we might look like complete idiots in the end when it flopped. But I had to try. I decided it was worth the risk.”

The induction stretched over a day. At 10 p.m., Noa’s body was delivered. However, Harkess wasn’t allowed in the room yet and the doctors worked on delivering the placenta, which took almost an hour. “…By the time I got her back, Noa already looked disfigured. Gravity had not been kind and her skin was peeling as it stuck to every surface that touched her. Tears welled up in my eyes. I had missed it. I had missed my window of opportunity to document her perfect little face.”

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Christi Nelson holds her angel baby's hand
Photo credits: Heathyr Harkless

Taking Underwater Photos After a Miscarriage

However, when Harless entered, they still decided to try the underwater pictures. The nurses supported this and offered to use saline instead.

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“To my surprise, it didn’t feel weird to place Noa in the water. As she became weightless and slipped gently out of my hand, it felt just like I was returning her to the amniotic fluid that had been the only home she ever knew.”

Baby Noa resting underwater
Photo credits: Heathyr Harkless

To their astonishment, the little body transformed, becoming recognizable again. Nelson even took her little hand and held her while Harkess took pictures. Nelson stayed up for hours looking at the baby and trying to memorize every detail of her. When Nelson finally fell asleep, Noa was still in the tank beside her when she woke. After taking some pictures herself, Nelson took the body home, where they were able to take more pictures “and have many precious moments with our children.”

Read: Baby Was Photographed with the 1,616 IVF Needles It Took To Conceive Her

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Christi Nelson holding Noa's hand in the tank
Photo credits: Christi Nelson

On the day of the burial, Nelson took one final picture with Noa in her hands. At this point, Nelson felt weak from the procedure and her husband had to hold her up. “But it was a perfect moment. The picture was exactly what I had hoped for. She looked so beautiful and peaceful, like a tiny little sleeping baby. I knew what my baby looked like and now I could remember it forever. Finally, I was at peace and ready to say goodbye.

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Christi Nelson holding her angel baby in her cupped hands
Photo credits: Corban Nelson

Starting a Movement

Nelson decided to share her story to help other grieving mothers after miscarriages. It has helped her process her tragedy and she’s not the only one who’d like to know what her ‘angel baby’ looks like. As Nelson said,

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It is a rare and wonderful glimpse into the secret world of the womb. It is proof of the personhood of all unborn children.”

Noa means ‘movement’ or ‘motion’, and originally, Nelson wondered how she would live up to name, perhaps by becoming a dancer or leading a movement. Now, Nelson hopes her story will inspire other women to have photos of their ‘angel babies.’

I want it to be the expectation instead of the exception,” she concluded in her post. “If pictures of these precious little ones will no longer be considered hideous and hidden away, but instead will be shared openly by every mama who feels the urge to do so, then Noa will have started a movement and lived up to the meaning of her name.”

Photo credits: Christi Nelson

Keep Reading: Local photographer captures spirit of love after groom dies

Sources

  1. “‘I NEEDED this for my grieving process. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed.’: Grieving mom uses saline bath to capture beautiful pictures of miscarried baby.Love What Matters. Christi Nelson.
Sarah Biren
Freelance Writer
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender.
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