A child reaches from the womb to take her doctor's hand

A remarkable photograph of a baby reaching out from the womb to grip the finger of the doctor working to deliver her by C-section has drawn a huge amount of attention on the Internet:


The baby is named Nevaeh (it’s “Heaven” spelled backward) and her mother, Alicia Atkins, is a professional photographer.  She didn’t take this particular photo, since she was rather preoccupied at the time, so the shutterbug duties fell to her husband Randy.

A report at Life News notes that such events are not unknown to hospital staff, but it’s very rare for such a perfect photograph of a baby reaching out from the womb to be captured.  The Atkins’ are reportedly surprised at the popularity of the photo, which Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon clocks at “over 5,000 likes and close to 3,000 shares” on Facebook as of Thursday.

While Mrs. Atkins professers herself gratified by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the picture, Williams was somewhat under-whelmed:

Maybe it???s different for cesarean sections, but if you???ve ever held a newborn, you already know that the grip is among a baby???s first parlor tricks. Sonogram evidence shows that babies can do all kinds of clever things with their hands before they???re even born. They can suck their thumbs, clasp their hands, touch their feet. Twins can even hold each other???s hands ??? or rowdily tug each other???s umbilical cords. And I can attest that halfway through pushing out my second child, my obstetrician said something surprising: He told me to take the baby. I reached down to grab her, and she dutifully wrapped her little monkey fingers tightly around me as we pulled her into the world. It was one of the neatest tricks I have ever witnessed, one of the most humbling, profound moments of my life.

So I fully understand the wow factor of tiny little fingers curled around a big grown-up hand. For a parent to capture that special event precisely as it happened ??? and for the Internet to respond with welcome and love ??? is a rare bit of sweetness. But while I???ll grant that her first photo is eminently more tasteful than your average visceral, full-color Facebook birth shot, I???m also willing to be the last spoilsport on Earth to ask if really need to share every intimate, awe-inspiring moment of our children???s lives with the entire world. Yahoo News says that ???Few lives will be as documented as Neveah???s??? because her mother is a professional photographer ??? to which I have to reply, have you been on Instagram lately? Our babies are public property while they???re still in the womb. And I???ll likewise be the one to say that Neveah wasn???t being eager, or polite, or grateful, or anything that any other human might be upon making a first out of womb appearance. She was just being born. She???s a spectacular miracle. In other words, she???s just like everybody else.

I can appreciate her point about the excesses of the paparazzi culture, in which digital images give everyone the easy and affordable ability to fill the equivalent of a thousand scrapbooks with the kind of photos the previous generation didn’t really want to see when they were pasted into actual scrapbooks – the sort of books whose appearance produced barely-stifled groans at many a family gathering.  Maybe there is a bit too much “sharing” going on.  It’s hard to be surprised that people take an awful lot of pictures, now that they’re packing cheap, tiny cameras that contain essentially limitless amounts of “film.”  And thanks to the proliferation of the smart phone, almost everyone is carrying such a camera, every hour of the day.

But it seems as if Williams is missing the significance of this particular photo, just as the importance of the sonogram to the pro-life movement was originally underestimated.  We are a visual culture.  We believe what we see, and tend to undervalue what is merely described.  The image of a baby reaching out from the womb is touching, beautiful, intriguing… and powerful.  If I might appropriate words Mary Williams meant in a different context, it’s not good that we view babies as “public property while they’re still in the womb.”  Seeing one reach outside, in the moments before her birth, is an unforgettable rebuke to that world-view.  Nevaeh Atkins eagerly enters the world, and it grows larger.