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Mum and Dad

Empty Photo Project shines much-needed light on loneliness of child loss


Melissa Willets

posted in Parenting

As a someone who is grieving the loss of a child, it’s easy to feel like you are suffering completely alone. As moms around you seemingly go on with their perfectly-happy lives, unaware of the pain you carry with you every step, and breath, you take.

That’s why when I came across the Empty Photo Project, I felt a sense of relief. Here were other women who were opening up about losing a child, and sharing the very thoughts that bang around inside my head day after day.

Feeling empty after child loss

The Empty Photo Project was created by a mom named Susana Butterworth, who, like me, lost a baby late in pregnancy. As she writes on the Empty website, “After losing my son in March of 2017, I felt alone in my grieving. I thought that no one could understand what it was like losing a child. It seemed like all of the newfound hopes and dreams I had died right along with my son’s little body. The emptiness was heavy.”


Butterworth’s inspiration for her photo project, that features others who have suffered loss, was, as she writes, “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 photos show women holding mirrors to reflect the emptiness they feel after losing children to miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, adoption, adult child loss, divorce, abortion, and in other ways. But no matter the how or the why, as Butterworth says, “The pain is there. It’s real, and it hurts.”

Each participant also shared their thoughts on what empty looks like, and what it means to them. Their words are real, raw, and for anyone who is living with child loss, so relatable. Here are some of their thoughts:

“Emptiness: emp·ti·ness
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.”

“Empty. Lost. Alone. Sterile. Barren. I found myself sitting in the cold and impersonal rooms of many doctor offices, where I completed countless tests and procedures all alone… Time and time again I would walk in and wait, surrounded by women with growing round bellies. Each time I would walk out fighting back tears of despair…”

Child loss feels empty

“Empty changes… Empty at the time was the ache in my arms and longing in my heart to hold my baby… It was going home to pack away the precious little clothes, the special ‘coming home’ outfit, the tiny socks and shoes… Empty was the anger, confusion, and sadness my kids expressed to me daily… 18 months later we welcomed a new little girl into our family who did much to push the empty aside with her Popeye grin and sweet patience. 8 years later the empty is still there in feeling someone is missing when we do head counts… Empty changes.”

“I remember laying in the hospital bed while they induced me thinking, ‘Why is this happening to me? Why my baby boy?’ He was only in my belly for 17 weeks. I felt him kick. I felt him move. 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. 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.”

Empty after child loss

“June 30th is a day that I will never forget, the day that I lost a part of me… 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.”

“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.”

It’s mind-numbing to scroll through the photos of the many women who are suffering through the pain of child loss. As one of them, I find the Empty project both uplifting, and sad; because I feel less alone, but I also know how bitter and lonely the daily lives of these women are, and I ache for them.

Ultimately, I love how Butterworth channeled her grief into something that is reaching other women. That is what I hope to do with my pain: use it for good, through sharing my story, and those of others like me. So that we can inspire one another, comfort one another, and just know we aren’t the only ones walking the path we’d never wish on another human being on earth.

Can you relate to the emptiness of child loss, and if so, what helps you cope?

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