Tomorrow, Hannah and I will be rolling out the full set of images and stories from the first Infant Loss Photography Project, held in Montréal on October 27th, 2018. We began the project roughly 9 months ago (what an appropriate and ironic span of time for such a project). We started out with a vague idea that we wanted to cull a set of stories and images to humanize and de-stigmatize infant loss. Through getting asked questions – and asking ourselves lots of questions – we developed a more concrete idea of what the end result would look like. One thing that we said all along with this project was that we didn’t want to define it too much, to where we couldn’t live up to our promises. But we also wanted to give people an idea of what they were getting themselves into. So we delved in, and developed a mission and vision statement, and an outline of what the outcome would be. Even so, we ran into snags and challenges along the way.
One challenge was that we had to change locations on the day of the discussion. Initially, our hope was to hold the session outside near the river. Hannah had arranged with a local bakery to get coffee and pastries. She also had worked to secure us a space at a café that was a central location to all, as a backup in case it didn’t make sense to hold the session outside. As the date approached, the forecast turned quite bleak, so we decided to cancel the coffee and pastries and hold the discussion at the café. However, when we arrived at the café we found out that there was a small mix-up about the purpose of our gathering, and we weren’t able to get an intimate enough space. Hannah offered up her place an alternative location, and the families all agreed to change at a moment’s notice. Hannah’s unsuspecting husband helped ready the place for guests, while her good friend (who was on babysitting duty anyway) occupied our children in other half of their apartment rather than having the run of the place.
And you know what? Despite – or perhaps even because of that, it couldn’t have been more perfect.
Had we been outside, we would have frozen our little bottoms off. Had we been at the café, we wouldn’t have been able to get the level of intimacy we did at Hannah’s home.
The discussion began with Hannah sitting on the floor, notes in hand to “interview” each person. Though she had met each of the women at least once before, she wanted so much for the discussion to be driven towards healing, and had worked in detail with her therapist to ensure that the questions were both purposeful and sensitive. But as we began the discussion it became clear that the questions weren’t really needed. Each person answered the questions without them having to be asked. And where we thought the discussion would last about an hour, I think it lasted closer to 3 altogether. Because it was more than an interview. It was a discussion. It was families getting together to share their experiences. It was exactly everything we had HOPED – but didn’t know – it could be.
When the actual date had passed, we breathed a huge sigh of relief feeling “done” in many ways. But really, there was a lot more to do. There was sorting through, editing, and distributing images. There was me, completing each family’s story page, and all the tedious, detail-oriented stuff that goes along with that. There was Hannah, listening to the recording of the discussion to pull out relevant quotes and get an overall sense of how she wanted to sum things up. There was deciding what the heck to do with all this information.
It nearly goes without saying, then that challenge was overcoming our busy lives. For me, September and October were my busiest photography months this year, so I was wrapping up wedding after portrait session after wedding after portrait session after album… and I was literally feeling it. I was also stressed about some home challenges, and ended up with vertigo both during the trip (though I hadn’t yet identified it) and after. Then in late November found out that I was pregnant despite having an IUD in place, and ended up miscarrying one month from the date that the project was photographed. (Though I may write more about that another time, that’s not what this post is about.) For Hannah, she had just celebrated Cyan’s first birthday when I arrived. There were still signs up for her birthday party. I could see her grappling with so many conflicting emotions. My daughter being there, who was born just 6 days after Senna was still born, made her think (several times aloud, and I’m sure many times to her husband, and I’m sure even more times in her head) “I should have an almost-2-year-old. I should have two children. THIS should be my life.” There was Hannah, helping one of the participants through yet another miscarriage, and beginning to participate in a documentary. There was me, celebrating Rowan’s birthday. There was Thanksgiving, and Rowan’s birthday and Christmas and New Years. There were all the things that go along with having a husband, family, and toddlers… and of course, there was the date marking the second anniversary of Senna’s birth and passing.
And perhaps our biggest challenge was overcoming our egos. Over this past year, I have busted my tail thousands of times in hundreds of ways, and have questioned myself more days than I have felt confident. Throughout the entire project, Hannah kept asking, “What makes ME think I’m qualified to do this?” The best response I could give her was that she WAS the one doing it, and that alone made her qualified. Me questioning myself and my work gives me an insight into her inquiry, because I know firsthand that no matter how things LOOK on the outside, there’s so much more beneath the surface, coming in to play. While I see Hannah as an amazingly strong, sensitive, and capable human, she’s STILL wondering what the hell to do with herself and her grief, EVERY DAY, no matter how put-together she may look on the surface.
So yes, it’s taken a little while to get here, to making this fully public. But we are here, and we hope that these stories make a difference for some of you. We know that this project surely made a difference in our lives.
Best to all of you.