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These touching images show the pain of losing an unborn child



Jola Szymanska - published on 07/17/18

The project has helped people open up about their loss, and achieve healing.

Susana Butterworth found out about her son’s illness in March 2017. He was her first child, and for 36 weeks had been growing inside her, below her heart. Then, he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease: Edwards syndrome.

Sadly, a few days later, her son was stillborn.

The trauma that Susana and her husband Dallin experienced caused them to act. They created a project called Empty Photo, showing the stories of life and death of unborn children in a beautiful way, full of peace and hope.

In each of the images, a mother or father holds a mirror at the level of his or her abdomen. The mirror reflects the outside world and is a symbol of the emptiness they feel in the place of the lost life. The photos are accompanied by stories full of sorrow, gratitude and hope, and also incredible longing.

Miscarriage, and the consequences for parents

More than 40 percent of women who miscarry, especially those who found out about the death of their child brusquely and who regard their hospital stay as traumatic, develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to psychologist Izabela Barton-Smoczyńska.

When people around them are unsure how to react, they sometimes avoid the topic and pretend nothing happened. But that only deepens the parents’ trauma, because they starting loving their baby long before he was born. People who lose a child can’t heal their wounds if they feel abandoned and unable to talk about it, explains Susana in an interview with the Huffington Post.

That’s why the words the parents in this campaign speak to their babies are so important. They include messages such as, “I am your father. Mom and Dad love you. I love you, sweetheart.” Even if they died many years ago, they are still remembered and wanted. They are still members of the family.

Can we learn to talk about them?

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"I tried to convince myself we were done having kids for years. That adding another would only make life more difficult, but 5 years into that self-conversation, I couldn’t deny the feeling that we needed to try again. “Our first 2 kids were so easy to conceive, why would that change now?” I thought. After 2 years of trying to add that 3rd sweet babe to our family and the deepest desire to expand, we experienced our first miscarriage. There’s no history of miscarriage in our families, no reason to expect that type of loss, but we DID experience it. I was heart broken. We had just told our kids and close friends and family that we were expecting 1 week before. It was confusing. My husband was strong but didn’t know how to process the experience either. I didn’t know who to talk to or how to talk about it because I hadn’t known anybody who had experienced and spoken openly about the feelings. My body started miscarrying when we were at the construction site of my parents’ new house. I summoned my kids and told Dave I needed to get home where I lay in bed with a blank stare and tears streaming until things passed. My sweet little boy brought be flowers from the yard and with no words spoken, tenderly hugged me after he placed them in a plastic cup beside my bed. Another year went by and we finally decided to accept our lives as they were. We’d been so blessed with our 2 kids as it was. We accepted that it just wasn’t meant to be, but the next month, I found myself nearly hyperventilating in the bathroom as a pregnancy test showed ‘+’ again. “How could this be? We stopped trying! I’m not mentally prepared for this anymore. What happens if we lose this baby too?!” These thoughts were racing through my head as I frantically reached out to Dave who had already left for work. We decided this time that we wouldn’t tell anybody. I needed to guard my feelings and tried hard to not get my hopes up but quickly returned to the undeniable feelings of the sweet and protective longing for our precious babe. 12 weeks later, we learned once again that we had lost our 4th baby. My husband was leaving the country a few days later, " […continue reading in comments]

A post shared by Sue Butterworth (@emptyphotoproject) on

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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]

A post shared by Sue Butterworth (@emptyphotoproject) on

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KNOX WAYLON ZOHN. You are perfect. The story of your life isn't. When pressed up against our own ideals, reality sometimes falls far short of our expectations and if we let what is in this world predicate our dreams, our lives will never be as beautiful as they could be. You taught me that. When I learned about you and your twin Decker, my imagination raced! I was so excited to think of coming home from my workday to see matching bookends in the front yard playing ball, or wrestling, hide and seek. I would imagine over and over how you two would hear my truck and come running for hugs, eyes lit up and yelling Dad! Then a little later I  learned that your little heart was going to need to be fixed but that it was a simple procedure and it would be ok. As a guy that fixes things for a living, it was hard not to want to do something about this, so I fixed you guys cribs and an IKEA light shade with clouds on it for your room.  It took a while being in there, thinking about you and your heart, and you guys playing ball, and it was harder than I thought it would be. Sometimes life is harder than you think it will be. You taught me that. You fought so hard and were so brave, And I'm glad I got to read you Winnie the Pooh, share my favorite song "Little Wing" by Stevie Ray Vaughan early in the morning before the hospital got filled with people, just you and I. Sometimes I have trouble focusing on just one thing and making it last and be pure and simple, but that time with you, I remember it so clearly that I can bring myself back to that room, how it smelled and everything in it. Sometimes minor details make all the difference. You taught me that. I try really hard to be a good father, I get plenty of practice with your brothers Decker and Avery, and your twin sisters Eleanor and Mable. We practice holding on to our dreams as much as we can and we try not to let the world and its disappointments get in the way. Whenever things get to be trying for me and for a second I want to break, I remember looking into your eyes, how strong you seemed, how perfect and it makes me more proud than ever that you are my son, and I am your Dad.

A post shared by Sue Butterworth (@emptyphotoproject) on

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"My story is so hard to explain. The emptiness I feel is unexplainable. I knew that it was possible. I knew that what I went through was a possibility. But I never ever thought that it would actually happen. It all happened so slowly. Finding out that my beautiful son was affected by this horrible disease that is carried by me made my heart stop. It took the breath right out of my lungs. I instantly blamed myself. I fell straight to the floor and screamed. No tears even came out at that point. It was so unreal. I remember laying in the hospital bed while they induced me thinking, "Why is this happening to me? Why my baby boy?" It wasn't very long before my water broke and I was holding my little boy. He was so beautiful…. So peaceful. He looked like he was sleeping. He had the cutest little nose the cutest little toes. I couldn't believe that I created such a beautiful baby. When the nurse came up to me and told me that they needed to take him I lost it. I begged them not to but they said it was time. He was only in my belly for 17 weeks. I felt him kick. I felt him move. They kept me in the hospital for another day and I didn't sleep at all. I just remember feeling so empty. I remember looking down at my stomach and not feeling anything. I remember pushing down on my belly hoping by some miracle this was a dream. I went from him moving around in my stomach to nothing at all. My whole life stood still. I will never see him grow up. I will never see him take his first steps. I will never see his smile. I saw my mom blame herself because she passed the gene down to me. I saw my grandmother blame herself because she passed it down to my mom. I watched my whole family cry. Emptiness is so much sadness and so much pain. Emptiness is feeling like you failed as a mom because you couldn't protect your first child. It has been a long painful healing and I know that someday I won't feel this empty anymore because I will hold him again someday. And I really do believe that. It gives me relief knowing that Emmy has her brother looking after her. I know he knows how much he's loved. Emmy loves her brother so much. Landyn Gabriel, mommy's little penguin, you are so loved."

A post shared by Sue Butterworth (@emptyphotoproject) on

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"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…)

A post shared by Sue Butterworth (@emptyphotoproject) on

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

October 15 is observed annually as the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Many churches offer a holy Mass for the intention of the parents and children. You can see more photos and read more stories on the webpage.


Read more:
Celebrities speak publicly on finding hope after miscarriage


Read more:
How a mother’s miscarriages prepared the way for joy in adoption

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