I've been sitting here for awhile, contemplating, thinking, writing, rewriting, erasing and then sitting some more, trying to adequately write what is in my heart. I don't know if what I say here will truly be adequate.
So instead, my words will be few.
Last fall, I was sitting alone at my desk thinking about women close to me who have been through loss, discouragement, heartbreak and hurt of an acute kind. Specifically, women who have gone through infertility and/or infertility treatment, women who have lost children, who have been a part of adoption, who have children with disabilities and are often lonely or isolated, women who long for a child but have been heartbroken month in and month out and so much more.
I reached out to a photographer/videographer friend of mine, Gabby, and told her about an idea I had to bring these women together and give them a voice through photography and video. Together, we cried as we talked about and planned this project.
This year we reached out to our audiences on Instagram and gathered stories from deeply vulnerable women who trusted us with their stories.
My heart was shattered, rebuilt, shattered again, and filled with so many emotions as I poured over the messages and stories we received. Women from all over the country shared stories of hope, heartbreak, anger, frustration, tears and everything else in between.
Adoption, infertility, child loss, miscarriage, PCOS, disability.
Though there are countless other situations and circumstances outside of this realm, through our research and reading we saw a pattern of these 6 repetitive challenges over and over and knew that so many women would relate in some way to one or more of each.
With the project planned, our 6 women and their stories ready, and hair and makeup artists secured, we had a beautiful day together in March.
Our hair and makeup artists were phenomenal and it was so special for these women to get a chance to be pampered and focused on by women who love to buoy and lift those around them. Thank you SO much to Robyn (@beautybybobby), Pilar (@misspilarbeauty), Haley (@hmu.by.hmm) and Rikki (@beauty_by_nunley) for sharing their skills and talents with so many. Truly, we could not have done it without you. And a huge thank you to my dear friend, Maggie (@triplemboudoir) who provided an extra set of hands throughout the whole day in so many ways.
While planning, I felt very inspired and inclined to include the stories that were shared with us somehow in this project. I thought and meditated and planned and reorganized and replanned how we would be able to do that in a respectful and inclusive way. We decided to print these stories and make their words our backdrop.
These women and their stories were there that day with us.
The project went beautifully. Gabby and I often looked over towards each other with huge smiles or tear filled eyes or nods in agreement that it would be just as we imagined it so many months ago.
I am so thankful for the chance I had to photograph and hold hands with these women that day. I am inspired and touched by their stores and the stories of the women who were there also through word and by spirit. This project is close to me in many ways and I hope it brings peace to those who come across it. You are NOT alone and there is sisterhood available for you.
Though Mother's Day can often bring a sting to an already broken and healing heart, let this be a reminder that you are remembered, cherished, loved, understood, celebrated, included and never ever forgotten.
I will let these women and the women they represent tell the rest of story as I will share what is in my heart through what I know how to do best: photography.
Each woman wore a bralette and flower crown of the color she was representing.
Light Blue- Miscarriage
Pink- Child Loss
Purple- Children with Disability
I have PCOS and also Hashimoto Disease (which is a thyroid condition)
I was diagnosed with PCOS September 2019 and diagnosed with Hishimoto Disease in October 2020 but I’ve always had a bad thyroid condition since I was 18 years old.
When I found out I had PCOS was when I was trying to get pregnant with my boyfriend (of 6 years at the time). We tried for 5 months and when I went to the doctors, that’s when I was told that I basically can’t get pregnant because I have PCOS. On top of it, I have a thyroid condition that messed up my hormones, messed up my ovulation, making me gain weight, and also causing me to have depression and anxiety a lot.
When I heard I can’t get pregnant, I was devastated. I literally told myself “Ok Priscilla you’re gonna be that girl that’s never gonna have children and just going to have to live with that”.
I sadly kept that secret to myself for a little while and little by little got more depressed. Sadly, I also didn’t improve my healthy eating or working out so I gained weight and weighed the most I’ve ever been in my life which was 262 pounds. I felt ugly, depressed, very weak, disgusted, and sadly not loved.
I sadly ended my 6 year relationship in September 2020 and of course it got me even more depressed because he did cheat on me. Of course I had my moments of depression and sadness but a part of me also woke up. Something hit me saying it’s time to change Priscilla. Focus on yourself. This is happening for a reason.
Now, in 2021, I have lost so much weight(I am now 230 pounds), eating more healthy now, going to the gym 5x a week, feeling so much energy and glow, and taking my medication and focusing on myself and loving myself which I never knew what that felt like and I am loving it. I also surrounded myself by positive girls, read more books about loving yourself, even got classes from a nutritionist specifically for PCOS to learn what’s right to eat and what’s not. I also went to church more, volunteered with working with kids and the production team, and joined life groups to read the Bible more and have God in my life, and just making new friendships. I feel so happy honestly. I never focused on myself sadly in my life and never loved myself like I do now. Even people I haven’t seen in a while are telling me “Priscilla you are glowing and you look so much happier.” Because honestly I am. I am on this journey of self love and I am loving it.
And when my time comes when I want to have children, I know it will happen and just keep having faith.
For now, I am alone on the journey and I mean that by not being in a relationship, and of course sometimes it gets lonely and sometimes I do get sad. But at the end of day, I remind myself that life is so beautiful and we are not promised tomorrow so we have to live it up.
Lonnee's story is especially special and involves another amazing woman named Julie Smith, who sent her story from Washington State. These are Julie's words:
My name is Julie, I’m an adoptive mom of 4 beautiful children. I have struggled with infertility, ovarian cysts and adenomyosis. One of my kids lovely birthmothers, Lonnee, messaged me to tell me about this project and thought it would be cool if we both shared our stories with you.
Each of my children has their own amazing, miracle filled, joyful yet painful story of how they came to be in our family. I probably have enough stories to write a book by now. I'll try to narrow it down, but I think I’ll share some background info, my feelings about adoption and then tell some parts of Lonnee & my story.
A few years after my husband and I got married we decided we wanted to start a family. We struggled with infertility and began the process of infertility treatments. Infertility brings with it so many emotional struggles. Feelings of pain, sadness, unworthiness, despair and anger. Feeling like you are letting down your partner, unfounded feelings that you aren’t “woman” enough, even feeling like God is unhappy with you somehow. That you are less than because you can’t conceive. One of the hardest things to experience was seeing the start of your period each month, after getting your hopes up once again. Wiping that first show of blood is just gut-wrenching. And since we had “unexplained infertility” we didn’t know why things weren’t working, so we continued to have hope. These feelings continued every month, even through our adoptions, until I finally was diagnosed with adenomyosis (over a decade later)and ended up having a hysterectomy.
Before we got too far into infertility treatments, we felt strongly that we should pursue adoption instead. Even though we were fairly newly married, fairly poor and did not know much about it, we embarked on the process through the adoption agency run by our church. Adoption is not for the faint at heart. I often describe it as a rollercoaster. For example, the night before our online profile went live, I dreamed I was talking to someone, telling them that we had been picked by someone on our first day being live. I woke up and found an email waiting for us from an expectant mother in California. It was surreal. That situation didn’t end up working out, looking back it may have been a scam, but from that moment on it changed me. You feel like you need to be ready at any second for your life to drastically change. To be ready to fly somewhere and become a parent for the first time at a moments notice. I don’t need to explain how anxiety producing that is! It’s hard to live life knowing that things could change so drastically at any moment. It’s hard to plan for the future, or not plan. As time drags on you become more despondent that it will ever happen. And after you’ve adopted and are trying again, you feel like the odds are really against you, the wait almost feels futile. It’s hard to describe.
I want to talk a little bit about how I perceived adoption to be and what changed after experiencing it firsthand. There are two topics I want to address: the idea that adoption is all good and that race shouldn’t matter when adopting.
When you haven’t had direct experience with adoption, its easy to think about it in a Hallmark movie way. A frightened young girl, a loving family wanting a baby. They find each other and boom! Everyone’s happy. In reality, it is much more complicated and painful than that. Adoption is a traumatic experience for all sides of the adoption triad, this pain can last far longer than the initial moments of the actual “adoption” and can affect adoptees long into their lives. It can definitely also create joy and happiness, but at the core center of it is crisis and heartbreak. Having gone through this experience four times, I realize that I did not have the same amount of understanding, empathy and concern for this trauma in the beginning that I do now. Looking back, I wish that I knew what I know now. I know that I would’ve handled some situations differently. I would tell anyone pursuing adoption that your love and relationships with your child’s birth families is SO important to cultivate for everyone’s sake.
Secondly, as you fill out paperwork to be “approved” to adopt, you go through multiple “preference” worksheets. These worksheets ask very detailed questions about things like what ages you’d accept to what health conditions, drugs exposed to or races you’d be willing to accept. Most of these applications we filled out with the boxes checked that we’d accept ANYTHING. I thought we were doing the “right” thing. Not “seeing” race. That it shouldn’t matter. But I was wrong. Our two youngest children are biracial. Raising a Black child as white parents, you cannot be colorblind. (Nor should anyone be). But as we’ve learned in raising them, there are things you MUST think about, you must deal with and you must prepare them for. It’s not just about how to do their hair, or making sure their toys and books are showing diversity. It is a life change. For me it’s meant learning about things I’d never thought about before in my life. It’s been realizing that I need to be able to find ways to give them connections to their culture and pride in their heritage. Mostly it’s been about listening to what life is like for Black people living in my country and trying to understand how I can help in some way, and to raise my children to be strong and loving despite the challenges they may face. I didn’t fathom any of this as I marked my adoption preferences paperwork. And although I wouldn’t change a thing, and I believe I have become a better person having been through all of this, I would want to have those going through the process now, to go through with their eyes open to what will be expected of them as a transracial adoptive parent.
Ok, lastly, I wanted to quickly share my story with Lonnee.
Like I said at the beginning, each of my children has a miracle-filled, beautifully painful adoption story. We were in the process of trying to adopt for the 3rd time, and had been waiting for over two years, when Lonnee contacted us via our online adoption profile. We had been through over 30 possible situations that had either not worked out or turned out to be scams before she emailed us.
About six months into that 2 year wait I had a vivid dream. I dreamed that my husband and I were going to a restaurant to meet an expectant mother: the seat backs were high and she had long dark hair. It wasn’t til a year and a half later that we were contacted by Lonnee. Her email was so sweet and genuine. She sounded so excited to have found us. She really wanted to meet us ASAP, so we set up a time to meet at a restaurant in Phoenix. Although it wasn’t exactly like my dream, Lonnee did have long dark hair and some of the other details fit?!
A few days later she texted to officially ask us to adopt. We were overjoyed!!! Lonnee initially contacted us in July and the baby was due November 4th, so we had some time before the due date to get to know each other. We lived about 3 hours away, but were able to come over to visit and come to her doctors appointment and ultrasounds. We grew to really care about her and her family in that time.
Then in September a bomb got dropped. There were two potential birthfathers, and both had indicated that they were fine with the adoption going forward. Part of the process though, involves the birthfathers being served notice of the intent to adopt. This is so they can pursue their right to parent if they’d like to. When the papers were served to him, one of the birthfathers called Lonnee and had changed his mind. We talked to the lawyer who was handling the case and she said that there was nothing we could do. We were very sad and Lonnee was very unhappy with his decision. Lonnee and I continued to text a little after that, but she began the process of getting herself ready to parent again, and we basically gave up hope.
Then, by some miracle, at the end of October I got a call from the lawyer out of the blue. She said she was just randomly thinking about us and decided to look through the case dockets to see if the one potential birthfather had ever filed the paperwork to pursue his rights to parent. He had not filed, and the deadline to do so had passed. So she told us we were free to go ahead with the adoption. We were in shock, but we didn’t want Lonnee to feel pressured by us to change her mind, so we asked if the lawyer would call her with the news. A little while later we got a call from Lonnee saying she did still want to go through with things and that she was being induced in less than 48 hours!?!? We freaked out in joy and shock and immediately tried to get things ready for our two older boys and pack. Then the next morning Lonnee texted me that her water had broke!!! So from the call from the lawyer to going into labor was less than a day. Crazy!?! We immediately dropped kids off at friends houses and drove the 3 hours to meet Lonnee at the hospital.
I’m not sure how to explain the birth, other than Lonnee was amazing. My husband and I had never been able to be in the room together experiencing a birth of one of our children, but she graciously allowed both of us to stay the entire time. It was beautiful. After much debate on names, and throughout the process we all worked together, we came to the name: Kian Kanoa. He was just the cutest little baby boy and still is (although he's 4 now!). It was a heartbreaking time, there in the hospital. I look back on those pictures of us all with love and heartbreak. But knowing that Lonnee chose again to go through with things, even though she didn’t have to, made it easier to know that it was the right decision. She has also told us over and over since then that she knew and knows it was the right decision.
The months/years that followed weren’t easy for her, and I respect and care for her all the more because of that. Even though the law was clear, we ended up having to go through a court case with Kian’s birthfather. Thankfully everything worked out, and he has since said a few times that he’s glad everything worked out the way it did.
Since Kian’s birth, we have been able to get together a number of times to hang out and let everyone spend time together. We text, keep up through social media, and occasionally facetime. I feel like continuing this connection is so important not only for Kian, but for all of us. We are genuinely friends and I consider them family. I care about what’s going on in Lonnee’s life and pray for her success. Kian loves her, her family and her other children.
My favorite saying about adoption is “the more people that love them the better”. And I truly believe that. The more love the better.
We’ve been married for just over a year but have been trying to conceive for almost over two years. I have Endo- just diagnosed June 2019 and had a hysteroscopy and laparoscopy mid June to remove endo and polyps. I also have DOR- diminished ovarian reserve (I’m 32). My hubby has low motility and poor morphology. So we’re the trifecta of fertility issues. 🤷🏼♀️😂
We had our first consult in may 2019 with our RE and had our first IUI July 4th weekend - failure. Had our second iui August- also a failure. With each period it was another disparaging shot to my confidence level. But my RE was so convinced we needed to push forward with IVF. We had just dipped our toes in the water and hadn’t really decided to jump all in yet so we took a month off and just did a medicated times intercourses cycle. After that failure I resolved that we needed more help and we started meds in October.
As if the universe knew nothing was going to be easy for us- I had to stim an additional 5 days because while we saw 8 follicles my dr wanted to see more. So more pokes and prods to get us to 13 eggs retrieved in November. We were sad but excited at the prospect of so many chances to have a baby! Little did we know the law of averages and percentages that don’t make it. So only 7 of the 14 were mature enough to be paired with sperm. Out of those 7 only 2 made it to day 5 but only one made it to freezing and they were watching the other- which by day 6 had stalled. So 1 embryo. Just one. That’s all we had. One chance at making a baby. I was terrified. I had already looked into embryo adoption and fostering to adopt kids. I had resigned myself that it wasn’t going to work. No one really talked about the emotional roller Coaster we would encounter during this process.
So our RE had to reassure me multiple times that it was quality not quantity- that it only took one to take! So we went ahead and did the ERA to make sure we had the best possible chance to transfer that embaby in. Turns out I’m glad we did because I needed an additional 128 hours of progesterone!!! What!! So that ERA was done in December and by January 17 we had transferred that one embaby.
6 days later I took that at home test and it was positive. My first positive test ever. I was shocked - by the time we went for our first beta it was 859! Holy crow! I had to ask if i was carrying 6 babies in there!! By my second beta I was at 2200 something (I was so over the moon I can’t remember the exact numbers). We were ecstatic. We didn’t want to know the gender- in case it didn’t work. We work so hard to protect our feelings during this process it’s so hard to feel happy without a shadow of that doubt creeping back in.
So we went for that 6 week checkup and saw that little bean and I cried. It was the best sight I’ve seen. We went Straight home and announced that we were pregnant on social media. So much love and support kept pouring in. Unfortunately there’s always the people who (while caring in their own way) was very pessimistic about sharing so early. I was of the mindset that we had shared so much of this story so far online that if something were to happen that we’d still have all the love and support during the process of grieving.
Weeks went by and at our 8wks and 1 day ultrasound we saw that miraculous heart beat. So strong!! 168!! Such a strong heartbeat! I couldn’t believe it. We were pregnant- (seems silly because we had seen ultrasounds before and i was obviously pregnant) but we were having a living breathing baby- heartbeat and all. Little did I know walking out of that office that about 4 days later that little bean would stop growing and the heartbeat would stop. I was at my 11 week appt and we saw no heartbeat. I knew right away when i saw no flicker on the screen. It too my husband a few moments longer to process what we had - or hadn’t seen- on that screen. I couldn’t stop crying and couldn’t pull myself together enough to even remember what we scheduled - the D&C - because there was no way I was doing this at home- emotionally or pain wise. So I left that appointment with - my baby- still in my belly. Missed miscarriage is what they called it since I had no bleeding or symptoms or anything.
Only a day later i decided that I wanted to have that time to pass it at home and be able to process those emotions at home. I called the prescription in for the pills and waited from Tuesday until Friday - with my baby- to do the medicated miscarriage. Friday night came around and i was a mess- emotionally knowing what was going to happen. I had cramps all night long and started bleeding about 3am. If you know the process of miscarriage it’s gruesome and painful. I started to feel light headed with each clot i passed and eventually passed out Saturday morning and was taken by ambulance to the emergency room due to low blood pressure and high spiking heart rate. Turns out the placental sack (my baby) was stuck in my cervical canal and was causing the bleeding to continue and wasn’t healing properly. Once the dr removed that - he asked if we wanted it tested and we declined- I started to heal physically. Emotionally I had just had the most devastating weekend of my life. And it will be something I carry with me always. We found out that the baby was a boy and we decided to name him to help with the healing process. So our Saylor Ray Claflin will always be with us.
We decided to try again- doing a full IVF round again (as we had no more embryos to transfer) and we wound up with two embryos this time. We secretly transferred one this November and are 16 weeks with our rainbow baby. The anxiety of loss is always so heavy with me and as I try to navigate pregnancy after loss I am reminded to try snd enjoy this part of the pregnancy and joy of this baby. We are due late July and every day is a new day to celebrate this babe and our angel babe on this process.
I had two miscarriages back to back around 21 and 23.
My first one I was so embarrassed to tell anyone after I had to get my D & C. I felt like it was my fault. My 2nd pregnancy I was so excited even though I was sick as heck and miscarried the first time I thought this one will be my rainbow baby so I told everyone. I just remember not being sick and I had the worst cramps ever. I knew that pain and feeling from the first one so I took myself to the dr for them to them me I was having another miscarriage. I honestly wanted to just give up right there. I didn’t think my body was going to be able to carry children. But I put myself back together the second time.
To anyone who is struggling with the same, don’t let it beat you up. Your body is amazing and so are you.
Tara- Children with Disabilities
My name is Tara Porter. I am a single mother to 4 beautiful girls. 3 of my girls have special needs. People tell me all the time that I need to go out and meet others like me. Half of the time I don’t think anyone would understand me and there is no one out there that would understand. I don’t have many friends and just focus on my kids needs. I hope my story helps others who are going through something similar and know you are not alone.
My oldest is 16 and I had her when I was 19. She was the cutest little girl and so smart. When she turned 14 she started to struggle at school and with friends. Things just became harder and she started to act different and I did not know what to do. I reached out for help and got her into therapy and started to see a physiologist. She was later diagnosed with Bipolar, ODD, ADHD, anxiety and depression. She is also showing signs of having split personality disorder. She has been in and out of hospitals and we have 30 hours a week with people in my home helping me with her mental health. It’s been very hard to have this perfect daughter to now a daughter I don’t understand or know how to help. It’s really hard to not know how to help her. It has been so hard to sign her into a hospital and walk away and leave her. I have had to call the police on her so many times because she is just out of control and off her meds. Seeing them take her out of my home is so heart breaking. Makes me feel like I’m failing her. I know most days I’m doing what I am suppose to do and trying so hard to get her the right help.
My little 6 year old is so full of life and just so sweet and happy. I have been told from an early age something is wrong with her. She does have heart issues and two years ago she had heart surgery. She also has been diagnosed with developmental delay, speech delay, ADHD, tick disorder, anxiety and was just recently told she is on the autism spectrum but very high functioning. She is a runnier, I can’t let her out of my site or she is gone. You will always seeing me chasing her down the road as she is always half naked. Her ADHD is very bad and she can’t ever slow down. She is struggling with learning at school right now. She is very sensory seeking all the time so we are on a sensory diet to help her with that. She is a fun and sweet girl and loves to make everyone laugh.
My little one, my sweetest and youngest daughter. She is on the autism spectrum level 2. She needs a lot of support. She was diagnosed with Autism at age 2, SPD at 9 months. She does OT, PT, speech and feeding therapy every week. She was just recently diagnosed with selective mutism. She is very quite and to herself. She struggles with playing with other kids and having friends. She wants a friend so badly but when they follow her or sit next or her, she gets upset and just can’t handle it. We got her a service dog to help her with eating, sleeping and making friends. Her dog is amazing and helps with calming her down and making her feel safe. She also has a lot of health issues that she struggles with. Her dog is always right next to her during all of her visits. He is her best friend and might be her only friend she has.
My 14 year old is just wonderful and so pretty. She helps me out with all the crazy that goes on in our home. She struggles sometimes with it all and really has a hard time with her oldest sister. She wants to grow up to be a dr or a therapist to help other families like ours. I told her she will be an amazing dr because she already knows so much about mental illness and she sees it first hand. She loves school and has so many friends and is in all honor classes at school.
Olivia- Child Loss
Avery was supposed to be my rainbow baby after a missed miscarriage of a baby girl named Kody at nearly 16 weeks, a couple years prior.
Her pregnancy was filled with joy, hope and fear. At 20 weeks along we found out that she was most likely” incompatible with life” diagnosed with cloacal dysgenesis. Our hearts were beyond shattered. I spent the next 8 weeks of my pregnancy seeing specialists and doing everything I could to try to save her. Including an experimental in utero surgery that had never been tried before. At 28 weeks along I was told that I had to have an emergency C-Section that night if I even wanted a chance for her to survive.
Avery Faith Selin lived for 86 minutes after birth. She was held and loved dearly every second of her short life.
Now, 6 years later I have 2 healthy living rainbow babies. All four of my pregnancies were hard with hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme pregnancy nausea and vomiting.) Becoming a mother has been the most trying and amazing experience of my life. Losing my daughters shattered my heart and soul. I barely made it out alive... I am overwhelmed by the love I have for all four of my babies.
My hope is to be able to help as many loss mamas as I can make it through the hardest days of their lives.
Below is the video put together by Gabby Nagle, (@ginger_snapstudios) and it makes me tear up each time I watch it.
I am so so thankful for all those who submitted stories, helped out the day of the project and for you reading this now.
Happy Mother's Day.