Photographer Captures Heartbreaking Portraits of Women who Have Experienced the Loss of a Child
The pain and grief that follows a miscarriage is often experienced privately.
We’ve shared the stories of miscarriage from all walks of life, including celebrities, as it’s something that can happen to anyone. Many share their experience, in the hope that someone who is going through a similar circumstance, can relate and feel like they aren’t alone in want they are experiencing.
Susana Butterworth is passionate about sharing the stories of painful moments in a woman’s life, when she’s experienced the loss of a child.
The US photographer experience her own heartache earlier this year when her little boy Walter was stillborn. At 35 weeks, doctors found Walter had a serous genetic disorder.
Butterworth’s experience and seeing how family and friends withdrew away from talking about her loss, sparked an idea.
The Empty Photo Project was created, with the aim of each woman’s portrait and story could be presented in a way to remove the stigma surrounding child loss.
The 23-year-old photographer told HuffPost UK, “As a photographer and artist, I naturally wanted to make something meaningful out of this heartbreaking experience.”
“Those who have lost children can’t heal if they feel alone and have no one to talk to.”
Emptiness: emp·ti·ness noun 1. The state of containing nothing. This definition hits straight on of my emotional state most the time. I went from creating a life, to mourning it days later. My miscarriage occurred back in November 2016. This was mine and my husbands planned baby; as our first, our amazing son, was a surprise that the Lord knew we needed. My husband and I were gleaming sitting at my first doctor's appointment, knowing that we get to hear and possibly see our baby for the first time. I WAS SO EXCITED; up until our world came crashing down beside us. They couldn't hear a heartbeat; and when they did an ultrasound they couldn't find a baby. My miscarriage was a little different than most. It's called a blighted ovum miscarriage; where I had gotten pregnant, formed a pregnancy sac, but for some odd reason my baby stopped forming early on. I couldn't wrap my head around what was going on; why was it happening to me, to my family? What did I do wrong? If you know me; you'll know i'm research freak. I researched if there's some way I could still be pregnant, why blighted ovums happen, and most importantly why miscarriage happen to women all around. In my case, I read that blighted ovum miscarriages occur when the baby's chromosomes align, and there was something off. Whether it be a mental or physical abnormality, and our bodies stop the baby from forming. From there I felt some sort of ease as I knew that the Lord had a reason behind all this pain we were experiencing. But with that ease I still feel empty. Now that my due date is around the corner (June 5th, 2017); I feel it more and more especially when I see others who were pregnant around the same time as I, get ready to have their babies. I'm so happy for them all, but resentful, and once again empty because I don't get the chance to meet my baby, other than in heaven. […continue reading in comments]
The portraits are moving and the stories are heartbreaking, with the project featuring photos of mothers who have experienced child loss. Their individual stories are varied, yet have the same undercurrent of grief and pain.
"Losing a child is something that nobody wants to talk about. Even myself most of the time, if I’m being honest. I was a little over eighteen years old when I found out I was going to be a mom. I was still a kid trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. I wasn’t sure if I could handle the daily job that is being a mother. I had voices in my ear telling me to take the easy way out. But there was something inside me telling me I could do this. Even if I had to do it on my own. I had the support of a few family members and a couple close friends which made everything seem like it was going to eventually be okay and work itself out. I was just getting used to the idea of being a mother when I received news no parent ever wants to hear. My daughter Sophia Lynn had a neural tube defect which would keep her from being able to survive outside the womb. I was given the options to carry her to term or to be induced for early labor. What kind of choice is that? I didn’t want to make that decision. I wasn’t ready to play God and decide how she would enter and leave this world. But I had to move forward somehow, and the best choice I could think of was to deliver as soon as possible and save her from a difficult full term delivery that would most certainly cause her more harm that good. There was no doubt in the doctors mind that she would struggle for life as soon as she was born and that was something, as her mother, I couldn’t bare to watch. I was scheduled to be induced a couple of days later due to overcrowding at the hospital. I had to carry my daughter in my belly for 3 more days. I can’t even begin to describe the kind of pain I felt in those three days. Knowing those were the last times we’d spend together as mother and daughter. She was still physically attached to me but I had never felt so empty in my entire life. Time seemed to drag on and fly by all at once. I was ready for it all to be over and begging whatever God was listening to just let it all be a bad dream. The day finally came to deliver her and it’s honestly one giant blur. I don’t remember much of the time I spent in the hospital. […] (Continue reading in comments…)
As each woman holds a mirror in front of her stomach, their stories paint a picture of the pain and feelings that followed the loss of their child. The honesty and rawness of each woman’s story is powerful.
It’s Butterworth’s hope that those that view her photos and their captions can prompt conversations around child loss, but also provoke the public to love hard on those who have experienced this type of pain.
"27 years after your short life, I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was just a 24-year-old kid, newly married and excited to welcome a new baby into our family. I named you Brittany Dianne. You came early, 23 weeks along, without much warning and fought as hard as one could fight to stay here on this Earth with us. I had those 23 weeks with you and a short 4 hours of life. Those moments spent with you, my sweet Brittany, were the ones that made me into the person and mother that I am today. I keep a box with your things to remind me that you made me a mother. Your tiny little hat, handprint and footprints and even your hair are kept safely in your baby book. Two pictures are all that I have of you and that hurts. You are hooked up to machines in those pictures. I can’t help but think that you were in so much pain. I wish that I had pictures of when your dad and I held you in our arms. You were a perfect size baby doll, 12 inches long, with perfectly formed features. For years, I have searched for the reasons why you are not here with us. Now I know that God had a better and bigger plan for you which someday will make perfect sense to me. I am not the same person as I used to be and that is a good thing. I know that life is precious and should never be taken for granted. With every sad story of pregnancy loss that I heard after you were born, I know that many other things could go wrong. I have felt guilty and depressed that I could not help you. Incompetent cervix is the reason you came early which to me meant incompetent mother. I still to this day do not understand some of the reasons people gave me for your death, and I don’t think I ever will. Hurtful comments such as you are young, you can have more babies, just think of all the money it would cost to keep her alive, etc….. None of those helped work through my grief. Journaling, praying and trying again helped. Two more baby girls followed you, and they are terrific. However, you are still my first born daughter, Brittany, and someday we will be reunited. I know that reunion will be the best day ever. It will make my heart whole again." (Continue in comments…)
On the EMPTY Photo Project website, Butterworth writes, “Familiarise yourself with their unique expression of grief. Let’s learn to love those who have lost a child. Let’s learn what to say,” she writes.
“Now there’s no excuse; this is what it looks like.”
"Empty changes. My son, Joseph was born at 38 ½ weeks sleeping. Then they almost lost me too, a uterine blood clot spiked my fever to a deadly 109 degrees…they packed me with ice to bring it down…I remember looking at the clock before losing consciousness and thinking I made it through the first day, then a very alone week at the hospital. Empty at the time was the ache in my arms and longing in my heart to hold my baby. It was the loneliness of grief as my husband was too wrapped up in his own grief to see mine. It was being told I wasn’t “righteous enough” and that was why he was taken. It was a person telling my church family and friends I didn’t want their presence, and a good friend saying my experience “wasn’t that bad, easier than I thought”. It was going home to pack away the precious little clothes, the special “coming home” outfit, the tiny socks and shoes. Piling clothes on the bassinet so I wouldn’t have to see it, then sobbing in the darkest hours of the night. No celebration of a new soul. Empty was the anger, confusion, and sadness my kids expressed to me daily. Slowly life returned to our routine and the pain and sadness dulled to a quiet ache residing in my heart. 18 months later we welcomed a new little girl into our family who did much to push the empty aside with her Popeye grin and sweet patience. 8 years later the empty is still there in feeling someone is missing when we do head counts, the yearly trip to visit his earthen bed in remembrance, not celebration of my son. Watching as children of friends born around the same time as Joseph, pass milestones he never got to experience. Grief still visits, sneaking up, catching me unawares, and washing over me. Empty changes."
If you or someone you know has experienced the loss of a child, Sands Australia can help. They can be contacted by calling 1300 072 637 or visit sands.org.au.