The 'Empty Photo Project' Is Helping Parents Talk About, And Cope With, Child Loss

"In order to overcome this stigma related to child loss, we must face it courageously."

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The month is focused on recognizing people who have experienced loss, providing resources to help cope with it, and opening up a discussion to help break the stigmas surrounding it.

There have been individuals and organizations who have been doing their part to create a dialogue about child loss throughout the year. Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared a post about his wife's miscarriage while the Miscarriage Association launched the 'Simply Say' campaign to help people discuss pregnancy and infant loss. Melissa Rauch and Glamour magazine recently teamed up for a PSA encouraging others to be more about about prenatal loss.

The latest to join the conversation is Susana Butterworth with her photography series entitled Empty Photo Project

Courtesy of Susana Butterworth/Empty Photo Project
Courtesy of Susana Butterworth/Empty Photo Project

On the Empty Photo Project website, it says, "'Empty' is a photography project created to shed light on child loss and pull back the curtain on what that grief might feel and look like. The goal for this project is to create recognition for the face of child loss and to build a community of families that can grieve together and find unity in emptiness." The project also highlights that child loss can take many forms, including miscarriage, abortion, divorce, adoption, and stillbirth.

Butterworth told A Plus via email that she was inspired to start the project after losing her son, Walter, in March 2017. She explained, "I noticed people started to treat me differently. Those around me avoided talking about loss, and the realities that come along with child loss. I wanted something to change." 

"I didn't want other parents to feel the same pains and loneliness that I was feeling because of the stigma related to child loss. 'Empty Photo Project' addresses that loss and challenges people to face it head on."

Courtesy of Susana Butterworth/Empty Photo Project
Courtesy of Susana Butterworth/Empty Photo Project

Participants in the Empty series have their portraits taken in a location that is meaningful to their story. Each one holds a mirror over their body which is later manipulated in Photoshop to reveal the background. The participants are then asked to share their stories and what their "empty" looks like and means to them.

Butterworth told A Plus she decided to use the mirrors for their rich symbolism. She said, "I felt like a mirror is not only symbolic as a reflection of myself, but also a physical metaphor to the weight of holding a baby when the participant is taking the image."

The stories so far have touched on miscarriages, fathers facing loss, hysterectomies, infertility, adoption, and infant loss.

Courtesy of Susana Butterworth/Empty Photo Project
Courtesy of Susana Butterworth/Empty Photo Project

"A lot of my participants tell me after the photo shoot, and submitting their writing, that the experience of sharing has helped them heal," Butterworth said. 

"Before the shoot, most of the time, I don't know the participant. I notice a distance or a guarding against being vulnerable at first. But after the shoot, and after a lot of hugs and consoling, I notice the participant opens up and feels more at peace with their situation. There is a small transformation in the short time I am with them. I think mostly it's a small spouting bud of a friendship. [It's] one of my favorite parts of this project."

Courtesy of Susana Butterworth/Empty Photo Project
Courtesy of Susana Butterworth/Empty Photo Project

The photographer hopes that the Empty Photo Project resonates with viewers. "I hope that people take to the challenge of facing child loss. This is not an easy task and I know that ..."  

"... I just know that in order to overcome this stigma related to child loss, we must face it courageously as parents who have experienced it, and as members of our culture who see it happen through our loved ones."

Courtesy of Susana Butterworth/Empty Photo Project
Courtesy of Susana Butterworth/Empty Photo Project

(H/T: HuffPost)

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