As a photographer in Northern Michigan, I have photographed some of my friends, families, and clients most precious moments. There are times when images sing a song of their own and require no words. Then there are others that are deserving of a book. This image is one of those. This is the story of a courageous mother's journey. It is a story of sadness, happiness, and bittersweet moments that have led to this beautiful image. Close to two years ago my brother in law fell in love with a cute blonde girl named Chelsea from Lake Ann Michigan. Chelsea was hard to understand at first but is now someone who I can call my sister. Prior to the two of them meeting, Chelsea had a beautiful boy named Oliver born on May 9th, 2013. Oliver was born with a condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome or HLHS for short. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) is a birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart. As the baby develops during pregnancy, the left side of the heart does not form correctly. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is one type of congenital heart defect. The doctors discussed surgery and a possible prognosis for Oliver. On June 1st, 2013 Oliver's life was cut short as he breathed his last breath, however his story and impact on the world was just beginning. As a mother I have a hard time understanding the level of grief and pain Chelsea must have felt, and continues to feel. There are just no words that can ease a grieving mother's pain. I have had my losses as well, but nothing like Chelsea's story. No words could ever give the comfort that is needed during such a time. I wish I would have known Oliver, I would have loved to have met my nephew but I know his presence is always here. The pain is still very real for Chelsea but so is a mother's love. A mother's love is a special bond that is never ending, a bond that death cannot break. When Chelsea asked me to do a silhouette image of her and her boys, my heart sank and sang at the same time. I didn't need the words now, to make her feel a certain level of peace, I was able to give it to her through photography. I could see how this image would be a wonderful healing moment for her. I also thought about how emotional of an image this would be for her and for me as well. It was a chance to give her something that could not be given in any other way. After a family gathering we talked it over and decided that it needed to be done. I grabbed my camera and after tears and talking I managed to get the shot I needed to make Chelsea's vision come to life. My daughter stood in as Oliver as they are about the same age, and I edited her to look more boy-like in photoshop. The image took on wings of its own and gave Chelsea an image that she would be able to love and cherish for a lifetime. She has a sweet little boy named Levi now who was born in October of 2015, he was born perfectly healthy and continues to fill our hearts with joy and love. Levi's presence however does not change Oliver's absence but the fact that she now has an image of her and her boys together changes the limitations of this world and proves that death has no bounds on love. Love will always win. If you know of someone suffering the loss of a infant, child, or infertility, I am offering this precious service as a gift to all those who grieve. Please have them contact me at Annelisenicolephotography@gmail.com and share with them Chelsea and Oliver's story. Thank you.
"If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever" ~Winnie the Pooh
A special message from Oliver and Levi's mother, Chelsea:
Oliver is the boy who made me a mom. I was his biggest advocate, he was my biggest love. He gave me a purpose bigger than anything I had known before. Becoming a mom and instantly have to start fighting for your child’s life wasn’t an easy task. I think that’s why those 22 days have been embedded into my brain so vividly, like it was yesterday. As you can imagine, losing a child has no ups- only downs. Grief can be a beast to tackle, although I don’t think I will ever tackle it completely. It’s like the ocean.. sometimes the waves are high, sometimes they are low, but there is always movement. Grief never stops, it never ends, it may get a little easier to navigate after a while, but the sting never, ever, goes away.
When I found out I was pregnant with Levi, anxiety spiked in many different ways… What do I say when people ask me how many kids I have? How do I share happy moments with this son while at the same time be sad I won’t get to experience them with Oliver? What will family pictures look like? Will I ever be able to fully appreciate any family photos with one person missing?
One day Annie posted a silhouette photo she composed of my pregnant friend… and it hit me. This was my only chance at getting a picture of me and my boys. It could happen. I know that Oliver is in Heaven and I will see him again, and I know the reality of him actually being in a family photo are nil. But, there was potential for me to have a picture to show that I have TWO boys. TWO! I shared my idea with her, we had an emotionally charged conversation about how to do it and how amazing it would be.
This type of photo isn’t for everyone. People walk (actually more like crawl, very, very slowly with the help of others) through grief totally differently. Everyone’s story and situation is unique. For me, having a picture to symbolize who I am as a Mom to two beautiful boys was something I desired whole- heartedly. Even though I know that “Oliver” isn’t really Oliver in the photo, it doesn’t change the beauty of it for me. I look at this photo and I finally can visualize what I’d look like holding onto both my children. I see so much happiness, sadness, strength and courage in the mom in this photo. All from a silhouette… never underestimate the out-of-this-world dreams that photographers are capable of creating in such artistic, meaningful ways.
I am eternally grateful for Annie being able to create something so meaningful. This is a picture that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It has given me some peace that I no longer have to fret and have anxiety about including Oliver in family portraits. I have this one, perfect photograph and all is well with my soul.