Empty Photo Project highlights the pain of losing a child
(Picture: Empty Photo Project/Instagram)

A photographer has been capturing the agony of losing a child via a series of mirrored photos.

The Empty Photo Project features mums of all ages and backgrounds who have experienced child loss – each holding a mirror in front of their stomachs.

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Susana Butterworth’s first son, Walter, was stillborn earlier this year and she began the project as a means of commemorating him.

She’s hoping that the Empty Photo Project might widen the conversation around child loss, and everything that goes with it.

‘As a photographer and artist, I naturally wanted to make something meaningful out of this heartbreaking experience,’ she tells HuffPost.

“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…)

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‘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 discovered that Walter had a rare genetic disorder that might cause medical problems.

And at 35 weeks, she realised that she’d lost him after she stopped moving.

The reaction from friends and family at the baby’s funeral took Susana and her husband Dallin by surprise.

“June 30th is a day that I will never forget, the day that I lost a part of me. I never imagined or thought that becoming a mother would have been the hardest time I would ever face. I just remember thinking the day I was being prepared to go into surgery that I hoped God would let them both live and be healthy. I got the facts and let reality sink in that they could possibly not be okay. When I got back from surgery and was told they were critical but stable, all I wanted to do was rush to them. I didn’t get to spend time with them their first full day of birth. Maddox was the more stable twin at the time and didn’t seem to be having any trouble. So that night I was confident and sure that I would see him later. It was the first night that I went to bed early, at around midnight I got woken up by my nurse. At first, I was confused and the look on her face made me panic. She whispered, “Brenda one of your babies needs you right now can you get up and come with us.” I got transported by a wheelchair to the NICU, and I’m being surrounded by all of these nurses, it was all a blur. Then they sat with me and explained that Maddox was having problems and they couldn’t stabilize him. I just remember staring at the ground and just not knowing what to say or do I was just numb. Then they asked if I wanted to hold him, he was still alive. At first, I was too shocked and just speechless I didn’t give an answer, but when I saw him in there and the numbers on the machines were dropping, I just asked to hold him. I held him and thought that I was in a dream and that it wasn’t really happening to me. At 2:15 am Maddox Gray Ursua took his last breath, I know he felt my love until the last second. I felt angry with God, why did this have to happen to me, why my son, why my family? I couldn’t come to terms with it for a long time. I would see others with their kids and would just get so mad. Having people come up to me or even text me things about how sorry they were would make me mad because no one understood my pain or anger. The worst was the comments I would be told, everything happens for a reason this wasn’t meant to be for you.” (…continued in the comments)

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‘It seemed to me that those around me were patting me with emotional oven mitts.

‘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 egg shells around bereaved mums.

1 in 3 women… this is the statistic that my doctor gave me for women who have miscarried. Little did I know, I would be 1 in 7,000 with a molar pregnancy. Before this news, I went in for an ultrasound to see the heart beat of the baby. Come to find, I had twins and possibly a third with an empty sac. Both with no heart beat, the doctor left me with no hope or answers. I was devastated. I didn’t understand and it all felt so unreal. I felt like someone ripped out my soul, punched me in the gut, and crushed my heart before my eyes. I wept for almost 5 hrs after the knowledge, just completely speechless. I needed an answer and I needed the truth. I turned to a friend and got a second opinion which took me in a day after. The doctor then performed a 3-D ultrasound and what my husband and I saw could not be unseen. There lay my twins completely obliterated and a blood red clot growing rapidly in size. I didn’t know that my low energy was from my pregnancy slowly killing me. Yes, my babies were thriving on my blood until the molar state attacked both fetuses and then prepared to take over my body. I blamed myself and felt unworthy of a mother’s heart. After undergoing surgery, a year of lab tests, and a visit to the cancer center, I had a clean bill of health. However, the emotional pain and hurt was still unable to be healed. I was left empty and I still am. I know God has a purpose and that included me living today to tell and share my story. The hurt is real, our stories are real. As a teacher, I have the privilege to influence children in life lessons and choices they make daily, to hopefully one day become successful well-mannered adults. Year after year, it’s hard to see them go and it’s especially bittersweet this year since I’m teaching the age group of my twins (4 years). I put 110% in what I do, I love, live, and breathe my job. The hardest part is going home and knowing they’re not your own. My husband has been a wonderful example of strength to me, and I can’t wait for the day we can become parents again.

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But it’s not just a project for those who had rainbow babies or miscarriages.

The platform is for all women who once had a baby and now don’t – be that through stillbirth, abortion, surrogacy, adoption etc.

‘It’s been three years since I placed my son Liam in the arms of his forever family,’ writes one mum.

“It’s been three years since I placed my son Liam in the arms of his forever family. I knew my entire pregnancy that he was not mine to keep, and I could not ever begin to describe the feeling of carrying a child that I would only have to say goodbye to. 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 customized book with pictures of their extended family and a locket with a quote by Desha Wood 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.” In that moment, I knew that I would rather shatter my own heart a million times over than break theirs just once. I spent a week with Liam’s family, mentally preparing myself for the day I would return home empty-handed. When I got home, the town I spent 20 years of my life was no longer familiar to me. I took a walk along the river and sobbed. A stranger stopped and sat down next to me. We talked as we watched the beautiful hues of red, orange, and purple fall below the horizon. He told me his story about how he had lost his wife and kids, and I remember for just a moment, I didn’t feel so alone. We said our goodbyes and went on our way, never to speak again. Over a year later, my boss told me that the cable guy had left an envelope for me at her house. When I opened up the envelope, I pulled out an 8×10 photo of the sunset from that night, and I was reminded, once again, that I was not alone. I still speak to Liam’s family often and the adoption is still very open. I receive flowers on Mother’s Day, invitations to Birthday parties, and a Christmas card every year. I may be empty-handed, but my heart has never been so full. I will never regret my decision to place Liam for adoption, because in giving away everything I had, I gained more than I could ever need.”

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‘I knew my entire pregnancy that he was not mine to keep, and I could not ever begin to describe the feeling of carrying a child that I would only have to say goodbye to. 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 by Desha Wood 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.”

‘In that moment, I knew that I would rather shatter my own heart a million times over than break theirs just once.’

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