Why Facebook Removed Photos of a Baby
When Time's July 2010 cover featured a portrait of a disfigured 18-year-old Afghan woman whose nose and ears had been cut off by her Taliban husband, the magazine was awarded the World Press Photo organization's 2010 Photo of the Year.
When Heather Walker posted pictures of her newborn anencephalic son, Grayson, on Facebook, the web site took the photos down and temporarily disabled her account.
Grayson James Walker was born in February. Just weeks into the pregnancy, the Walkers had learned that their unborn son had anencephaly, a disorder that occurs when the neural tube fails to close, resulting in the underdevelopment of portions of the brain, skull, and scalp. Anencephalic babies who survive birth usually don't live for more than a few hours.
The Walkers never considered having an abortion. Instead, they spent the months between their son's diagnosis and his birth preparing themselves and their two older children for the baby's impending death. Heather Walker started a blog to chronicle her family's journey before and after Grayson's birth and short life. Not knowing how much time, if any, they would have with their son, the Walkers did as many families do in such situations: they arranged for bereavement photography, a service that offers families with stillborn or dying children the opportunity to capture what few memories time will afford, a tradition that goes as far back as the invention of photography in the Victorian age. At that time, taking post-mortem photographs—usually of infants and children (a genre called "sleeping baby" pictures), but often of adults, too—was a common practice. If it's a custom viewed now—certainly not then—as morbid, it is seen so only with the luxury of living in less daily proximity to suffering and death than those of most ages and cultures.
Grayson's photos were taken not in death, but in anticipation of a death that would come quickly. The pictures taken in those few moments of his life capture him in time, surrounded and held by various family members, dressed in darling outfits, kissed by a big brother, tucked gently between an infant Bible and a cloth lamb. In some photos, Grayson wears a knit cap; in others he does not. Because of his disorder, his skull is partially open, and while one eye squints in sleepy newborn style, the other looms large, gazing heavenward. If the eyes are the window to the soul, the photos depict this serene soul caught midway between two worlds, not long for this one. Within hours, Grayson departed for the next.