A photographer is using a series of mirrored photos to document the incredible agony of losing a child.
Susana Butterworth’s son Walter, was stillborn earlier this year and she was inspired to create something that represented her loss and that of other mums.
The result was the Empty Photo Project which depicts mums of all ages and all backgrounds holding up a mirror in front of their stomachs to symbolise their loss.
Susana told HuffPost: “As a photographer and artist, I naturally wanted to make something meaningful out of this heartbreaking experience.
"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...)
“I want the viewers of the Empty Photo Project to see that child loss hurts, it’s a little scary but it’s okay to face it”.
During her pregnancy, Susana found out Walter suffered from a rare genetic condition and might have medical problems.
She had come to terms with this but sadly, at 35 weeks, Walter stopped moving and Susana realised he had passed away.
While mourning their loss, Susana and her husband Dallin found the reactions of those around them didn’t help them process their enormous grief.
"I lost my child November 16th, 2016. I found out at my 8 week OB appointment, at what was supposed to be an exciting moment for my family and I. I went into my doctor’s office so eager to see my new child and left it completely shattered. I was still having all of my pregnancy symptoms, so there was no sign of loss physically that could have warned me of what was coming. But when we looked at the ultrasound, there was no heartbeat. The baby was only a little over 6 weeks developed. My doctor told me to get blood work done and that it could still be too early to tell if my baby is alive. Another ultrasound and blood work results confirmed our worst fears. From there I was given medication to “jump start” the physical process of miscarriage, and sent home to let nature run its course. I was angry, depressed, drained and heartbroken. I cursed at life as everything and everyone around me continued to go on normally, while my family and I were knocked completely off our feet with this unimaginably painful loss. I struggle as it is to even become pregnant, and all I wanted was to be able to conceive on my own, without the use of fertility medication. I was so overwhelmed with joy when I found out I had become pregnant without meds. Then to have it all taken away from me so suddenly, it broke me. People kept trying to comfort me by saying, “God wanted that baby for some other purpose,” or “There must have been something wrong with the baby to not survive.” It killed me to hear this, to think that my child was less than. I would have loved that child with all my heart, flaws and all. I felt even worse for my husband; he kept such a strong face for me, and didn’t want to trigger me with his grieving. I felt disappointed in myself that I could not give him what he wanted, more babies to love. He is such a great father, and for him to lose a child was just as damaging as it was for me. The only thing that helped us keep our faith was our son, who showed me so much positivity and brightness during that difficult time. Without him, I might not have recovered as well as I did. My child was due the day after my first son’s birthday, [...] (continue reading in comments...)
“It seemed to me that those around me were patting me with emotional oven mitts”, she explained.
“Most would completely avoid the topic of children, family or my loss in general.
“Those who have lost children can’t heal if they feel alone and have no one to talk to.
“So, this project aims to help women tell their stories and to open up the conversation – to show people that they don’t need to walk on eggshells around bereaved mums”.
However, the Empty Photo Project isn’t just for mums who lost a baby through miscarriage. It is a platform for any woman who has lost a baby through any circumstances.
"Losing my son, Gabriel, is the type of pain I would never wish upon anyone. The moment the doctor uttered the words “missed abortion”, I was angered. I didn’t have an abortion. I actually wanted my child. I didn’t appreciate his correct medical terminology. I felt empty as my son’s body lay inside of me but his heart was not beating. My D&C was scheduled for four days later to remove him from my womb. My body failed me. I would never hold his hand, watch him grow up, or hear his voice. Never is a long, long time. I paced back and forth yelling at God. I needed answers but I received none. They didn’t exist. They still don’t. Not only was my heart broken, but my soul was crushed. Breaking the news to friends and family was a different, new pain. I cannot tell you how many times I was told “everything happens for a reason” **insert eye roll** The worst comment came from a family member: “You just aren’t meant to be a mother yet. You aren’t ready.” So what is emptiness? It is seeing other pregnant women and their happy little lives. It is forcing a smile through unwanted sympathy. It is sitting down to eat a meal and losing your appetite. It is feeling guilty every time you crack a smile or laugh at someone’s joke. It is seeing other little boys Gabriel’s age and wondering who he would’ve been. It is knowing that, as a mother, I couldn’t fulfill my #1 job of protecting my child. It was not allowing myself to form a bond with my second baby during my pregnancy until she was born because I was afraid to lose her too. She is now 1.5 years old. I often find myself wondering if she met her big brother before coming to earth. He is her protector. Her angel. For that, I am grateful "
The stories of these courageous women are heartrending but it’s important for their loss to be acknowledged and for their voices to be heard.
One mother’s story of giving her baby up for adoption is particularly heartbreaking.
“I knew my entire pregnancy that he was not mine to keep, and I could never begin to describe the feeling of carrying a child that I would only have to say goodbye to", her story read.
"Throughout my entire pregnancy, I questioned if I could follow through with my decision.
“In the hospital, all I wanted was a single night alone with Liam. Before they left the hospital, his family gave me a little wooden box.
"I opened it up and found a customised book with pictures of their extended family and a locket with a quote that said, “He is mine in a way that he will never be hers, and he is hers in a way that will never be mine. So together, we are motherhood”.