Shining the light on child loss with The Empty Project

Sue Butterworth
Sue Butterworth

Losing a baby via miscarriage is one of the hardest things I have had to experience. I was only 9 weeks pregnant at the time but in that short time, the baby was far more than just an idea to me. It was a future that had never come to pass. I had a lot of feelings and emotions about it but I got through it, over it and I accepted it.

Some times I wonder about that little life and how very different our lives would be now. But honestly with two other kids who give me a run for my money I am often kept far too busy for those thoughts to surface. But in the quiet moments my heart aches.

Different women deal with child loss in different ways, it's what makes the human condition a fascinating one. Some women are able to move on easier than others and others feel a bit empty.

And again child loss can mean so many different things. According to Susana Butterworth who created the Empty Project, it can be via miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, adoption, adult child loss, divorce or abortion.

After the miscarriage of her son in March 2017, she felt alone in her grief. Something I understood only too well. My husband couldn't really understand though it was his loss too. My mother couldn't understand, she'd birthed both her babies. But my aunt could, she had experienced this loss too and she shared that with me. I wouldn't say I felt better but I didn't feel alone.

That was Susana's aim with the Empty Project. To make women who had suffered child loss (whether it be by miscarriage, death, stillbirth, infertility, adoption, adult child loss, divorce or abortion) feel that they were not alone in their grief. That there were others who understood the pain and that it was okay to talk about it.

On her website she says, "hoping to create a dialogue, I started the Empty Photo Project. I want to approach child loss head on. I want to give it a face and show the community that those who’ve lost children are all around us, often without our knowing. It’s real."

"Every portrait is taken in a location that has significant meaning to each story. The individual in the image holds a mirror, thereafter manipulated in Photoshop, to represent the emptiness and grief they feel after losing one or more children. The participants are then asked to describe in 200-400 words what their “empty” looks like and what it means personally."

Take a look at some of her portraits:

Today, August 15th, was Maddox’s due date. He came early on April 22nd, at only 23 weeks and 3 days. He was my 3rd baby, and 3rd child I’ve lost. It was discovered almost 10 years ago during the complications of my first pregnancy that I had a uterine abnormality, to which I was told I would more than likely never be able to carry a baby to term without corrective surgery. The first time I had the surgery, unbeknownst to me, it was done incorrectly. It wasn’t until 9 years later when we were ready to start a family that I learned my second baby too would not get a chance at life. After losing that child I would need a specialist to have surgery again. Maddox was our rainbow baby, I got pregnant 3 months after the second surgery. I cried in excitement when I found out I was having a boy, I had always wanted a little boy. I imagined his giggle, the hilarious things he would say as a toddler, and how much I would unconditionally love him more each day just as I had since the day I found out I was pregnant. But the complications came only 19 weeks into the pregnancy. My cervix was dilating and quickly, my water was leaking and I was put on strict bedrest for several weeks. Three days after being admitted into the hospital the contractions came on like a freight train and the medicine to stop them wasn’t working. He came into this world with the sound of a tiny cry that changed my life forever. He weighed only 1 ½ pounds. We thought because we made it past “Viability” of 23 weeks, that we were just in for a long NICU stay. Maddox showed great progress in his first week, we would hear from doctors and nurses how great he was doing. I even got to reach inside his isolate and hold his tiny hands and feet at times when his stats were stable. Our eyes were glued on him, he was our amazing miracle baby, so perfectly beautiful and strong. At 10 days old he opened his eyes, I have never felt love like I did when his gorgeous dark eyes gazed at mine, it was a feeling of complete, true happiness. Maddox’s health started to decline around 2 am on the 2nd of May, and at 2:15 pm I held my baby for the first and last time as he took his last breaths. (Continue reading in comments)

A post shared by Sue Butterworth (@emptyphotoproject) on

"[...]It was the best and worst moment of my life all at the same time. I held him 5 hours, I didn’t want to let him go, he was finally in my arms, but the heartbreaking reality was that he was gone. My body failed him, it wasn’t his fault, he fought so hard, his tiny soul could finally rest. He lived for 11 days, but will live in me and bring purpose to everything I do forever. Never has my heart truly felt the pain that the word empty can hold until now, my arms are empty as is my heart. An unimaginable pain I am overcome with a magnitude of sadness and anxiety I never knew could exist, and succumb to a permanent feeling of hopelessness. My whole being aches for him every single day, I would give anything for one more moment with him. I cry so often it just become a part of who I am, I will never be the same. It’ll never be understood as to why this had to happen, he deserved a chance at life, and I would have given him, and his two siblings mine, for them to get that opportunity."

"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. All the examinations and practices attempting to leave me with a bundle of joy left me instead reeling in physical agony. I had nothing to show for my efforts but destroyed dreams and a broken heart. Full of discouragement and shame, I began to doubt my defective body. 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. Tears caused either by the pain of the treatments or the crushed dreams left behind by an empty womb. The hope of adoption of a baby boy brought a breath of fresh air. After walking the journey of pregnancy and delivery with the young woman, I was once again left empty. The adoption fell through and I was left to walk the tiny baby boy I had named Kylar down the hall of the hospital. The baby boy I had fallen so deeply in love with would never know my love for him. I stumbled away broken and still very infertile. The infertility and pain went on for years until a questionable mass and extreme pain found me the recipient of a hysterectomy. No warning, just another dream shattering procedure. This one ended all my hopes that my miracle would ever come. My questions and doubts grew. I now discovered myself doubting if I had value as a woman. Would I be a “real” woman? Could I ever be a “real” mother? Am I enough? Will I be seen as a weak, broken and hollow shell? Now that I am “Forever Infertile. I felt this way until I surrender completely to my Lord. This is still the struggle I face, but I will continue to surrender daily. “After all my strength is gone. In you, I can be strong. I look to you. And when melodies are gone. In you, I hear a song.” (I Look To You by Selah) * Romans 12:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."

A post shared by Sue Butterworth (@emptyphotoproject) on

"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)

A post shared by Sue Butterworth (@emptyphotoproject) on

"(...) "Hearing that made me even angrier because it was meant to be, it was my baby boys. They deserved everything I had and more, but after the anger passed I just remember that Mason and I will always have our angel and Mason’s protector. Til this day I wake up at 2:15 am and I know that's when Maddox is with me because he heard my heart beat and felt my love with him. Maddox will always be watching us, we will celebrate him every day."

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

"[...] I still have hope for myself and my husband that we someday conceive another baby; and give our son a little brother/sister in the physical world; he would be such an amazing big brother. We have learned to accept what God has taught us with our miscarriage and are living life to the fullest; and are always keeping the memory of our baby alive. "I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the Lord." Isaiah 66:9"

Have you experienced child loss? Send us your stories to and we could share them with others who have also experienced this loss.

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