A photographer has created a poignant project that captures the heartache of losing a child and aims to open up a conversation around the emotional issue. The Empty Photo Project features mums who have experienced child loss holding a mirror in front of their stomachs, alongside their stories in the caption.
The idea was the brainchild of Susana Butterworth, 23, from Washington, whose first son, Walter, was stillborn in March 2017. She founded it in April as a way to commemorate him. “As a photographer and artist, I naturally wanted to make something meaningful out of this heartbreaking experience," she told HuffPost UK.
"I want the viewers of the ‘Empty Photo Project’ to see that child loss hurts, it’s a little scary but it’s ok to face it.”
During her pregnancy, Butterworth and her husband Dallin found out their unborn son had trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can cause serious medical problems. The couple realised they had lost their son at 35 weeks when Butterworth could no longer feel him moving and were told their son's heart had stopped beating the next day. Butterworth delivered the baby, who was stillborn, on 8th March.
However, the reaction from those around Butterworth at her baby's funeral took the couple by surprise. “It seemed to me that those around me were patting me with emotional oven mitts,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Most would completely avoid the topic of children, family or my loss in general,” she continued – and so she started the Empty Photo Project to "open up the dialogue" surrounding the issue. “Those who have lost children can’t heal if they feel alone and have no one to talk to,” she added.
Butterworth acknowledges that child loss means different things to different people and that the pain is the same whether it occurred through miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, adoption, adult child loss, divorce or abortion. The women featured on the project's website and Instagram account recall their varying stories in painstaking detail.
In a post from April this year, one woman, photographed standing on a bridge, tells the story of her miscarriage and how nothing can prepare you for losing a child. "A miscarriage is every hope and dream you had for your child being crushed in 6 words," she wrote.
"It's crying and cursing in the doctor office. It's leaving your doctors office knowing that your little baby that you tried so hard to conceive is inside you and is no longer alive. Knowing your body failed you. Begging God to bring the life back into your child. Begging him to take you instead."