Last week, the editor of my book emailed to tell me that they were going to have an art department meeting about the book’s cover. She wanted to know if I had any suggestions, or preferences. The book’s title is Roadmap to Holland, and it’s about motherhood, so you might imagine windmills, or tulips, or roadmaps, or even babies.

From what I know, and what I’ve read and heard, it’s very unusual for an author to have a say in cover development. I took the email as another sign of how terrific my editor is. But I also had nothing more that the obvious suggestions for cover art. (I’m still finishing up revisions on the manuscript, and even thinking about the words becoming a real book requires a leap of faith). My only request: if they chose to put a baby on the cover, could it be a baby with Down syndrome?

They had the meeting, and I received another email asking if I had any photos of Avery as a newborn or an infant. My heart sank. I was almost certain that we did not. The early weeks of the babies’ lives are a blur of tangled wires and tubes and gauze. Avery came home on a monitor; a short while later, Bennett returned to the PICU for surgery. Photographs were the last thing on my mind, then.

I wish it weren’t so. I wish I had a stack of photos of newborns, and another of chubby, healthy infants. Our photos begin at about five months, which was when our lives began to untangle. I don’t know what the lesson here is: other than to say we all did the best we could.


23 thoughts on “Photographs

  1. When my twins were in the NICU in Japan, the nurses took photos and kept a diary for us. While I guess it’s nice to have the photos, and to marvel over how incredibly small they were, they are not particularly inspiring. Depressing, more like. Go with the older photos.

  2. I understand the no photos dilemma. When we adopted our youngest he had such medical/physical problems and we were still dealing with medical problems with another son, there was also our toddler son and a teenager in the house. Sometimes just trying to live and keep the kids alive has to be all consuming and photos come later.

    Can’t wait to read your book!

  3. Congrats on the book – I can’t wait to read it. I know what you mean about photoes. When Hannah was in ICU after her heart surgery it was Christmas time so there were lots of volunteers and celebrities around to try and spread some seasonal cheer. A nurse came around to see if we wanted Hannah’s photo taken with someone from Hi 5 – it took her but a second to pause, look at Hannah and then at my face before heading off to ask someone else. I don’t need a photo to remember that image – it is still so vivid and emotional for me today. A 2/3 month old baby – not mine surely? – unconscious, lying with tubes everywhere and at least 20 different drugs lined up to go through her tiny system. DId I want a photo of my baby when she was dying? NO. Sometimes now though I think it might help her and her brother understand what it was like – on the other hand why do they need that memory – it is for their father and I.

    I am sure that Avery looked pretty cute at 5 months – I hope there is something there that you can use.

  4. Wow – I can’t wait to read the finished product. When Hannah was very sick and in PICU after her heart surgery – it was leading up to Christmas so lots of volunteers and ‘celebrities’ were lurking around to do their bit to help make Christmas in hospital bearable. One of the nurses came around – someone from Hi 5 was coming round – did I want his/her photo taken with Hannah? – she took one look at my face and nodded before leaving – a memento of the scariest time in my life? A baby that wasn’t mine unconscious and with tubes coming out of every possible bit of her with about 20 different drugs lined up to go into her? A baby that death was standing over? No thanks. Sometimes I regret that decision but only because one day I may want her brother and her to understand – for her father and I that picture is burned onto our eyelids – mementoes were truly the last thing on our minds.

  5. How exciting….I can’t wait to buy a copy of your book…..and don’t worry about the photographs, I [the snap-happy Momma] don’t have many pictures of Emma Sage as a baby, as I only shot in film at the time and with film you are very ‘conservative’ with how many images you shoot.

    I’m so very excited about this journey of yours…….how cool!!!!!

  6. yes! a picture from five months! that still qualifies as infancy, no?

    i love the tulips at the top. so hopeful and vibrant!

    and i LOVE that you were asked about the cover image.

  7. I wish we had _someone else’s_ photos, or a different experience to photograph, because really, I couldn’t stand a stack of images from those days…

    Thank you for the encouragement, again. I really apprecaite it!

  8. I’m so looking forward to your book and I know you’ll find a great idea for a cover.

    Strangely enough I find both my boys’ firstborn photos hard to look at – Loren’s start at about 3 days of age. The memories of their births are almost too much that I can bear having a visual of how they looked.

    But it is probably important to them to have those photos too.

  9. It must be a bit bizarre to be talking about book covers, to be at that point in the project. Bizarre, in a good way, of course. Congratulations!! I will definitely, happily get a copy of your book when it is out. I do have early pictures of Polina in the hospital. I even have a few of her mean rock star looking doctor who told me that Polina had Ds while I was alone. I hate and love to look at those pictures. Like you said, we do what we can. Your work must have really brought you back to those early times and I am sure there are pictures, though not on paper, vivid and lasting in your mind.

  10. How exciting that your book is getting closer and closer to to being published! I hope you/they are able to figure something out about the cover.

    My situation isn’t the same, but I understand about photo guilt. When we arrived at the hospital we left everything in the car – I just wanted to get checked into my room and then Joe could go to the car and get everything afterwards. Didn’t happen that way – I was already a 10 when they checked me so Joe had no chance to get the camera from the car. I was so upset that I didn’t have pictures from the delivery room.

  11. PS Yes, you all did do the best you could at the time and when you were able, you brought that sweet little bundle home and cherished him.

  12. I agree that five months would be dandy. I’m so glad you’re having a say in the cover — a friend of mine’s new book got the TITLE changed (to one she hates) without her input. It shows their commitment to this project and to YOU!

  13. Thank you for the comments, everyone. Cate, I love the idea of the throw away camera. As hard as it was, I wish we had some photographic record of those times. All we have is one blurry Polaroid taken by a night nurse, in the half-light of the NICU. It’s not much but I treasure it.

    I haven’t heard any more about the cover, but I’ll be sure to report any new developments. My hope is that if they decide to go with a newborn, it will give some other, lovely baby a chance to shine.

  14. I understand photo guilt. Sigh. And yes, all we can do is all we can do.

    that said, I can’t resist saying this: I’m so excited for you!!! I can’t wait to see the book!!!

    I would love to see a photo of you with Avery, even one taken at the latter end of the book’s timeframe, since (from what I’ve gathered) the book centers around your relationship. I love the map-on-palm idea too. I’ve often thought how the lines on a map remind me of our body’s network of veins and arteries.

  15. I’m in agreement that the 5 month old pictures would be great. It must be hard not to have the earlier pictures, but I’m sure you have so many wonderful ones now.

  16. Go with the older pictures…why not!!! Or one with the twins together. Or one now. Or maybe even a little picture of Avery’s palm with a map superimposed on it or oh there are so many cool ideas. I LOVE that kind of thing!

  17. The best you can do is all you can do. I agree that a picture of a five-month-old would be fine, too; most people can’t tell how old a baby is in a picture. Infant = up to 12 months, right?

    I managed to take a couple of picture of Abby’s first day, and honestly, I wouldn’t show them to people. We all look shell-shocked. It’s one of the sadder things to me, to compare her photos to my son’s. Sometimes photos serve as reminders of things you’d rather not remember. I am glad I have them, even for myself, and I would probably want them if I didn’t have them.

    Our NICU nurses did suggest we leave a throwaway camera up there, and they would try and get some snapshots. I never got around to doing it, but I think it’s great advice and worth passing on. Not that I want anyone else to have to need it.

  18. I think a great cover would be to have the background be a map of Holland (you know a Rand McNally-type driving map that you get at AAA) and then put the photo of Avery holding the camera in front of his face sitting in the middle of the map. He is looking out at the world as much as the world looks at him and in a way he is remapping the territory. I am into cartography metaphors–might not work for everyone.

    Good luck!


  19. I agree with Vicki…a photo of an older, but still infant, Avery would be great. Even if he was 10 or 12 months in the photo; he was still a baby!

    And don’t beat yourself up about not taking photos of the early days…instead, congratulate yourself for making it through that time in one piece!

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