No one wants to see your C-section!

An image of a baby emerging from an operation goes viral. Can we please stop sharing our intimate moments?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published January 3, 2013 8:36PM (EST)
    (Facebook/Alicia Atkins)
(Facebook/Alicia Atkins)

It's only fitting that the first viral star of the new year should be a newcomer. On Dec. 26, Arizona photographer Alicia Atkins posted an arresting image on her business Facebook page. But it wasn't a photo she had taken.

"I can FINALLY share this!" she wrote. "This was 10 weeks ago when I was having my C-section. Dr. Sawyer broke my water and my daughter reached up out of my stomach and grabbed the doctor's finger and my hubby caught this special moment. Truly amazing."

It is indeed a special moment. In the black-and-white photo, you can see an attending hand pushing Atkins' belly up as a small hand reaches past an umbilical cord and around the wet finger of the delivery doctor. It's an arresting image, one that captures baby Neveah – that's "heaven" spelled backward -- at precisely the instant she made her Oct. 9 entrance into the world. Her first human touch.

Since appearing on Facebook, the photo has become a sensation, garnering over 5,000 likes and close to 3,000 shares so far. And in a world full of trolls, it's heartwarming that Atkins says, "We didn't think we were going to get such positive feedback. We thought we would get more negative 'that's disgusting …' [Instead] everybody just thought it was the best thing in the world."

The appreciation of the photo seems all but unanimous. The local Arizona ABC news affiliate has called the image "stunning." The Daily News has declared that "Baby Neveah couldn't wait to say hello," while Yahoo has cheekily pronounced Neveah "the most polite baby ever" for shaking her doctor's hand. And as one sentimental Facebook poster wrote, "Amazing that this little angel was so grateful to come into this world that she grabbed the doctor's finger." Atkins told reporters this week that the hospital staff "had possibly heard of it happening but they had never seen a photo of it." 

Really? 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.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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