I've struggled with how to tell this story.
Michaela is one of my sister's best friends. They met in college and she's been on the periphery of my life for many years. A gifted artist, a leggy beauty, an irreverently funny girl, she is one of those people that you instantly decide you want to become friends with. After graduating college in Nebraska, Mac moved to Phoenix where she kept up her friendship with my sister. I'd hear about the milestones in her life and see the stunning portraits my sister would take of her, most recently, for her maternity.
The pregnancy glow is a bit of a cliche, but it was accurate for Michaela. Throughout her pregnancy, she'd received some concerning news about potential problems with the baby's health, but she handled the stress of this as gracefully as the 60 lbs she gained. She maintained an upbeat, optimistic outlook and accepted any challenges without complaint, filled with the unconditional love that mothers have for their babies.
On May 11, Michaela delivered a beautiful baby girl. Tragically, only twelve days later, on May 24th, the baby, Harper Grace, succumbed to Alveolar Capillary Dysplasia (ACD). ACD is a rare malformation of the lungs involving abnormal development of the capillary vascular system around the alveoli. It most frequently presents within 48 hours of birth, and is universally fatal. Life expectancy is short (typically less than a month)*.
How does one survive the loss of a much-loved, deeply-wanted baby?
Three months later, her body betrays few clues to the casual observer that she was a new mom. She's back at work and has resumed much of same routine that she had before the pregnancy. But of course, her life has been changed forever.
Michaela is an incredibly strong person. I cannot tell you how much I admire the balance she is finding between loving her baby, mourning her, trying to honor her by finding the beauty in life, and staying committed to moving forward instead of falling apart. She is the epitome of strength, grace, and courage.
Last Sunday, Michaela, my sister Gina, and I sat poolside in Phoenix, drinking some margaritas while the kids splashed in the pool and ran thru the sprinklers. She showed me all the cherished pictures of little Harper from her 4D ultrasounds to her newborn pics. She was such a beautiful baby. We talked about the balloons at the funeral and the balloons she'll be releasing each year to commemorate her daughter's birthday. Michaela showed me some "white tattoos" she'd like to get on the inside of her forearm. Earlier, we had discussed taking some fun photos while I was in town, but the more we talked about Harper, the more I sensed that she'd like to incorporate her daughter into our photos and when she agreed, our shoot took on much deeper meaning...
Michaela is grateful for the time she had with her daughter and firmly believes they will be reunited someday in Heaven. She has hope for the future, even while she comes to terms with the pain, confusion, and grief she and her husband, Avery, have experienced by Harper's loss.
Because of the nature of this shoot, I will thank you in advance for understanding that I will not be talking about such mundane issues such as locations, lenses, processing, or textures. I will not show before or afters. I never delete comments in threads ordinarily, but in this series of images, I reserve the right to do so.
P.S. The pink balloon is for Harper. I wish I could have met you. Your mom is one amazing lady. I bet you're proud.
When someone treasured disappears, a scar, reminding us of their impact on our lives can serve as a touchstone, a physical manifestation of our enduring love and attachment. In the future, Michaela would like to get a "white tattoo", a scarring of Harper's name, on her inner forearm. While it is perhaps invisible to others, in her heart, body, and soul, the both beautiful and bittersweet reminders of her daughter are everywhere, branding her as a mother for eternity.