What would it be like to prepare your life for a baby who never comes home?
You’ve spent the months leading up to their arrival assembling the crib, folding tiny onesies and making space for the newest member of the family.
But what happens when the crib stays empty, the clothes are never worn, and the space becomes a void?
That was the experience of Kristin Naylor and her husband, Dan when their daughter, Abby was stillborn in July 2018.
In a single moment, their family went from preparing for a life with Abby to facing a lifetime without her. Naylor and her family were devastated. They were ready for Abby to come home.
How could it ever feel like home without her?
The Naylor’s story is one that resonates with many. There are so many families sharing their experiences with stillbirth and their memories of their children who died.
And yet, there are many others who have no idea what this is like – how stillbirth not only changes the present, but the future.
But, the Naylors teamed up with photographer Meg Brock to provide others a glimpse into the reality of coming home without your baby.
Recently, they shared these powerful photographs via the photographer’s blog and the response has been overwhelming.
Families everywhere have been touched by the Naylor’s openness and vulnerability which Brock has captured in her authentic and thoughtful aesthetic.
Meg Brock, a photographer from Holland, Pennsylvania was originally scheduled to take Abby’s newborn photos, a session that was canceled after Abby’s death. However, she continued following Kristin on social media and she was touched by the way Kristin so openly shared her grief.
Brock reached out to her and asked if she would be interested in still having their photo shoot. Even though Abby could not be there in the pictures, Brock wanted to create a series of photos about Abby and their family’s loss.
In April, Kristin opened her home to welcome Meg, but it was the opening of her grieving heart that would touch so many.
The photographs taken that day capture the aftermath of child loss with such haunting accuracy.
Photos, like the one of Kristin standing in front of Abby’s empty crib, are touched by subtle details depicting the confusion and heartbreak a stillbirth leaves in its wake.
A room once meant to be Abby’s is now a catch-all space for the items she would never use.
There are Abby’s clothes that she never wore, many of the outfits with the tags still on. Instead of Kristin’s sons sharing Mom’s lap with their new baby sister, they must settle for sitting on either side of a keepsake bear made in Abby’s memory.
One photo after another, highlighting the empty space that exists where Abby should be.
For families who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss, the Naylor’s photos have provided solidarity during a very lonely experience. They can look at the heartbreak on Kristin’s face and see their own anguish.
For those who have never experienced a loss like this, Naylor hopes it can provide a glimpse into what it’s like to lose your baby.
After Abby’s death, Naylor was shocked at the way that others responded. It made her realize how difficult it is for people to navigate child loss and grief, in general.
Although Naylor admits that losing her own child completely changed her perspective on grief.
“I had an idea of what grief was, and what I thought grief was – and it’s totally different than what it is,” she explains.
She goes on to share that grief is complex: that you can be angry about what you lost and grateful for what you have.
You don’t have to choose.
This is one of the points that Naylor hopes to emphasize by sharing these photos. She also hopes to use this platform to raise awareness about stillbirth.
Naylor, like others, finds the statistics that accompany stillbirth to be staggering. According to Star Legacy Foundation, 1 out of 160 pregnancies will end in stillbirth with 50% occurring at near full-term. Two-thirds of stillbirth deaths remain unexplained.
For Naylor, this is unacceptable. “I don’t believe families need to go through this,” she says.
And yet, families will.
Abby is one of the 26,000 babies that are stillborn each year in the United States.
Thousands of families will find themselves coming home with their arms empty. Their homes and hearts were so ready for the baby they must now live without.
By sharing their photos, Kristin and Dan are not only giving people a chance to see what it’s like when your baby is stillborn, but they are also showing how to hold space for your child who’s not there.
Because amidst all the photos showing what they’re missing, there are photos highlighting what they have gained.
Abby is and will always be their daughter. She will always have a place in their home.
Photos courtesy of Meg Brock
Rachel Whalen is a mother, wife, and Kindergarten teacher from Barre, Vermont. Her life’s work is to keep the memory of her daughter, Dorothy, alive through words both spoken and written. Rachel shares her family’s journey through loss and all that has come after on her blog: An Unexpected Family Outing.