‘Are you available for the session tomorrow?’ We’re running out of time.’ ‘I couldn’t stop crying.’: A photographer records ‘bittersweet’ memories one day before the infant goes away with Microcephaly.

“To be honest, I’m not sure where to begin with this.” I don’t photograph babies under the age of one. Not my cup of tea.

A woman called me two days ago, requesting lifestyle newborn photographs for her 8-week-old nephew who had just been released from the hospital. I agreed because I adore lifestyle pictures and felt compelled to do so. Because she didn’t know how much time he had, she wanted to do the session the next day. He was born with Microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s brain does not fully mature, resulting in lower head size. Aiden was meant to be stillborn, but he didn’t make it. He came out fighting, and he’s been doing so for the past eight weeks. He astounded doctors, and they had no way of predicting his life expectancy because he continued to defy all predictions.

Jennifer Ryals Photography

When I was first approached, all I was informed was that he had recently been released from the hospital and that she had no idea how much time he had left. I didn’t ask for any other information, so when I arrived and saw him for myself, I was taken aback. He was so small. It’s just right. I was immediately teary-eyed as soon as his mother entered the room. But those weren’t tears of sadness or pity; they were tears of true happiness. He was the most adorable little warrior I’d ever seen. He had BEAUTIFUL grey eyes that he allowed me to look into for about 3 seconds and the tiniest little wrinkled hands that had more experience and knowledge than the typical adult.

I’m not sure how long I was squealing and baby-talking to him before realising I wasn’t photographing anyone yet, just adoring him, but I couldn’t help myself. His flawless face lured you in and there was no getting away from it.

Jennifer Ryals Photography
Jennifer Ryals Photography

We performed the shoot yesterday, and it was bittersweet to see his family interact with him. You could tell he was the most adored baby on the planet, but seeing his grandfather cry as he held him broke my heart.

Jennifer Ryals Photography

I asked his parents to tell me a little bit about Aiden as we were doing the portraits. I was hesitant to ask, but I wanted to get to know them better. I wanted to know about their hearts, feelings, and dreams. I value making connections with every client I work with because I believe that if I don’t, their storey won’t be conveyed in the way it deserves to be. If you didn’t know, asking a parent about their children will result in the most sincere smile you’ve ever seen.

These two did not let us down. Aiden’s father, Ricky, began gushing about their little fighter right away. ‘Aiden was intended to be a stillbirth, but he came out screaming and has been battling ever since,’ he explained. That was the first time I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep my tears in check. Kayla, his lovely mother, had a shine on her face that didn’t fade during the session, even at the more solemn parts.

Jennifer Ryals Photography
Jennifer Ryals Photography

Throughout the 45-minute trip home, I cried, prayed, yelled, and cried some more. I was worried about the photographs all day and night, and I even went to bed early (at 2 a.m.) since I had re-edited the entire collection (272 images) at least seven times. I needed to take a break from it for a while. They needed to be flawless.

Jennifer Ryals Photography

I awoke this morning to a message from Aiden’s aunt – the one who booked me – informing me that he had died earlier that day, and I am currently a wreck. I wanted to believe it was a mistake or a dream, but I knew deep down that I didn’t have the RIGHT to be sad when his family was going through things I couldn’t conceive. My heart breaks for the family that adored that child so much. My heart aches for my children, whom I don’t always cherish as much as I should. I could hear my voice playing back every time I’d yelled at my two sleeping boys as I sat there in bed crying and looked at them. I could feel every tear they’d ever wept into my chest, even the ones I didn’t think I needed at the time. And I could feel a part of me die at the prospect of being without my children one day. But my heart is also overflowing with thankfulness because I know I’m a better person as a result of being let into their home and having the opportunity to hold that gorgeous little child for a few moments yesterday.

Jennifer Ryals Photography

I suppose where I’m going with this is that I sometimes wonder if I’m cut out for this – it’s easy when you live with anxiety and depression – if I’m cut out for this. But God continues to show me that this is what I need to be doing, not just for myself and my family, but also for others. Being a creative entrepreneur who suffers from depression and anxiety is difficult. I’m constantly wondering if I’m good enough, if my customers will notice how much of my heart I pour into them, and if I’ll ever be as successful as I hope to be.

I had a bride whose father died the day after we shot her bridal photographs with him a few months ago, and now this. God is communicating to me via the love, life, grief, and suffering of others, and I am grateful for the opportunity to assist in the healing process. Every life needs to be documented, which is why I do what I do. Your storey is important, and it deserves to be told.”

Jennifer Ryals Photography
Jennifer Ryals Photography

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