How An Accidental Death, A Babysitter's Guilt, And A Dramatic Birth Resulted In A Viral Photo - CATEGORY Daily News: TITLE

The visit to England was healing for Francie. Together, Francie and Nadine watched the only video that exists of Catherine, taken three days before she died. Nadine had only found the courage to watch it for the first time almost five years after Catherine's death, while pregnant with her second son. What she found was both unexpected and comforting. "I felt watching it that somehow the light had already gone out of her," Nadine says. "She didn't ever look at the camera. … She was almost, sort of, on another planet. … Like something in her had already gone even though she hadn't actually died yet."

Francie and Nadine
Francie and Nadine Courtesy Francie Webb

Watching the video, Francie felt the same. It was as if "she wasn't meant to stay." Francie takes comfort from a belief common to many cultures about children who don't stay in this world, a sense that this is unpreventable. Some stay and some go. "I think…that was the first step in putting it all behind her, knowing we didn't blame her," says Nadine.

Francie Webb on her wedding day
Francie on her wedding day. Laura Bryan Photography

Francie flew back to the U.S. feeling comforted and reassured. But nothing prepared her for the fear and anxiety unleashed almost a decade later by her own pregnancy. Concerns about the baby's size forced her to see a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and kept her on bed rest for months. She lived in terror that she would somehow lose her own child. Francie reached out for support, hiring a birth doula and talking with her OB and pediatrician. Ultimately, she was able to have an un-medicated birth in a hospital. She was stunned by the "unfathomable pain" of labor, as she puts it, but she also felt empowered and transformed by the experience. She had done this thing. She had birthed her baby into her hands and held her before anyone else. "Next time, we do this at home," Francie told her husband. "I'm not afraid anymore."

Two years later, Francie was determined that her second pregnancy would be entirely different. She found a midwife. She planned a home birth. She chose not to have a single ultrasound scan of her developing baby, preferring to allow her child to simply be who she was. She worked to prepare for the birth not physically, but emotionally. She wrote in a journal. She began to operate from a place of trust.

"Next time, we do this at home," Francie told her husband. "I'm not afraid anymore."

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But Francie's home birth did not go as planned. While she had imagined laboring in a birthing pool surrounded by women—the midwife and assistant, the doula from her first labor, a birth photographer, her mother, and close friends—no one managed to get there in time. Less than an hour after she realized she was in labor, Francie found herself alone on her bed, her husband on the phone with the doula, getting ready to push her baby into the world by herself.

"The only thought I had was: surrender. Let go. Allow this to happen," Francie says. "When I felt an inkling of fear, I decided to pray. I said to the baby, I need you to be okay, and I need you to let me know you're okay. I pictured her coming out, looking healthy and crying. And that is exactly what happened."

Francie believes, as many obstetricians and midwives do, that there is a physiological relationship between a mother's emotional state and the process of giving birth. There are many approaches to this mind-body connection, ranging from meditation and visualization techniques to self-hypnosis and yoga. The process of working through past traumas or fears has been most famously documented by midwife and author, Ina May Gaskin, as an essential step in allowing a woman's body to physically open for the baby. By doing her own emotional work over the course of 20 years, Francie believes that she created the conditions for an empowering and beautiful birth in an active way. It didn't just happen.

Less than an hour after she realized she was in labor, Francie found herself alone on her bed...getting ready to push her baby into the world by herself.

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While Francie had planned to document her first moments with her child, she never imagined that the photo of herself in the act of birth would later go viral. She posted the photo on Facebook on her baby's first birthday—the day that children officially age out of the risk of SIDS.

Francie Webb giving birth
The photo that went viral. Leonardo Mayorga

Reactions to the photo, which Francie shared in a private Facebook group dedicated to pregnancy and childbirth in New York City, were swift and severe. While many group members responded warmly, within an hour the photo had been removed for violating Facebook's anti-nudity policy. Articles about the photo's censorship rapidly began to appear in the media. Some expressed outrage at Facebook for labeling the photo "sexually explicit" and pointed out that the site allows images of "women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring." Others questioned whether the photo was "over-sharing" or whether the ban on childbirth images contributed to a social media culture that shames and disempowers women.

Francie Webb with her younger daughter
Francie Webb with her younger daughter Courtesy Francie Webb

But for Francie, the photo simply represents her transformation. It marks the end of a 20-year journey of recovery from the life-altering tragedy that nearly prevented her from becoming a mother at all. "I need people to understand that this was not easy," Francie says. "This was not an isolated incident. This was not an accident. I started preparing for this birth twenty years ago when I thought I could control whether or not a baby survived, and I couldn't."

Even in the depth of her grief and guilt, Francie always had a feeling that she would someday use the experience of Catherine's death to help others. It led her to become a birth doula and to create a website,, dedicated to teaching mothers how to hand express breast milk. It brought her to that moment of total courage, alone on a bed, holding her newborn baby in her hands.

Courtesy Francie Webb

Catherine's parents donated her corneas after her death, and months later they received a certificate telling them that two children now had the gift of sight because of Catherine. "Initially," Nadine says, "I thought, maybe one of these children will go on to be an amazing doctor or an amazing artist. And then you think, wait a minute, maybe one of these children will just go on to be an amazing mother."

Sarah Yahr Tucker is a freelance writer and parenting blogger for She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

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