In March, 23-year-old Susana Butterworth got terrible news.

CafeMom reported that Susana and her husband were told by doctors that their unborn son had Edward’s syndrome, a condition caused by an error in cell division. Unborn babies diagnosed with Edward’s syndrome, also known as Trisomy 18, develop an extra chromosome 18, which often disrupts the normal pattern of development in a life-threatening away.

Once Susana and her husband, Dallin, received the diagnosis, they borrowed a friend’s home doppler so they could listen to their son’s heartbeat each night, Babble reported. “I wanted all of the memories I had with my son to be good ones,” she told Babble.

Though around 36 weeks, she noticed something wasn’t quite right. “I could just tell that he wasn’t going to make it to full term,” she added.

On March 8, Susana gave birth to her son Walter Thomas Butterworth — he was stillborn. Three days later, he was buried. She told Babble:

“[He was] more perfect than I had imagined. He had lots of hair and this cute button nose that I loved to look at in the ultrasounds. He was laid to rest next to his great-grandma Sue on March 11, 2017.”

In the wake of her son’s death, Susana and her husband worked hard to transform their grief into hope. Together they launched the Empty Photo Project, which showcases women who have dealt with the loss of a child, stillborn or otherwise.

Susana was first inspired to make this project after noticing that many people around her seemed uncomfortable with the topic of grief.

“Losing a child is something that nobody wants to talk about. Even myself most of the time, if I’m being honest. I was a little over eighteen years old when I found out I was going to be a mom. I was still a kid trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. I wasn’t sure if I could handle the daily job that is being a mother. I had voices in my ear telling me to take the easy way out. But there was something inside me telling me I could do this. Even if I had to do it on my own. I had the support of a few family members and a couple close friends which made everything seem like it was going to eventually be okay and work itself out. I was just getting used to the idea of being a mother when I received news no parent ever wants to hear. My daughter Sophia Lynn had a neural tube defect which would keep her from being able to survive outside the womb. I was given the options to carry her to term or to be induced for early labor. What kind of choice is that? I didn’t want to make that decision. I wasn’t ready to play God and decide how she would enter and leave this world. But I had to move forward somehow, and the best choice I could think of was to deliver as soon as possible and save her from a difficult full term delivery that would most certainly cause her more harm that good. There was no doubt in the doctors mind that she would struggle for life as soon as she was born and that was something, as her mother, I couldn’t bare to watch. I was scheduled to be induced a couple of days later due to overcrowding at the hospital. I had to carry my daughter in my belly for 3 more days. I can’t even begin to describe the kind of pain I felt in those three days. Knowing those were the last times we’d spend together as mother and daughter. She was still physically attached to me but I had never felt so empty in my entire life. Time seemed to drag on and fly by all at once. I was ready for it all to be over and begging whatever God was listening to just let it all be a bad dream. The day finally came to deliver her and it’s honestly one giant blur. I don’t remember much of the time I spent in the hospital. […] (Continue reading in comments…)

A post shared by Sue Butterworth (@emptyphotoproject) on May 16, 2017 at 8:21pm PDT

She told Babble:

“I noticed after the funeral, a lot of my friends and even some family members didn’t know how to address my grief and pain. In short, they didn’t know how to face child loss.”

Stories of women featured range from stories of losing children to rare diseases, to miscarriages, and to the foster system. The most powerful thing, Susana tells CafeMom, is that her project inspires solidarity with people everywhere. She said:

“My grief is still raw and prominent in my life; however, since I created Empty, I know that I am not alone.”

She explained that the project has exposed her and others to the stigma around child loss:

“Empty has opened my eyes to how much child loss actually occurs but is not spoken of. Through Empty, I have been able to form a network of child loss families that have helped me through my own grief journey.”

According to Babble, Susana is extremely personal with all of her photoshoots.

“June 30th is a day that I will never forget, the day that I lost a part of me. I never imagined or thought that becoming a mother would have been the hardest time I would ever face. I just remember thinking the day I was being prepared to go into surgery that I hoped God would let them both live and be healthy. I got the facts and let reality sink in that they could possibly not be okay. When I got back from surgery and was told they were critical but stable, all I wanted to do was rush to them. I didn’t get to spend time with them their first full day of birth. Maddox was the more stable twin at the time and didn’t seem to be having any trouble. So that night I was confident and sure that I would see him later. It was the first night that I went to bed early, at around midnight I got woken up by my nurse. At first, I was confused and the look on her face made me panic. She whispered, “Brenda one of your babies needs you right now can you get up and come with us.” I got transported by a wheelchair to the NICU, and I’m being surrounded by all of these nurses, it was all a blur. Then they sat with me and explained that Maddox was having problems and they couldn’t stabilize him. I just remember staring at the ground and just not knowing what to say or do I was just numb. Then they asked if I wanted to hold him, he was still alive. At first, I was too shocked and just speechless I didn’t give an answer, but when I saw him in there and the numbers on the machines were dropping, I just asked to hold him. I held him and thought that I was in a dream and that it wasn’t really happening to me. At 2:15 am Maddox Gray Ursua took his last breath, I know he felt my love until the last second. I felt angry with God, why did this have to happen to me, why my son, why my family? I couldn’t come to terms with it for a long time. I would see others with their kids and would just get so mad. Having people come up to me or even text me things about how sorry they were would make me mad because no one understood my pain or anger. The worst was the comments I would be told, everything happens for a reason this wasn’t meant to be for you.” (…continued in the comments)

A post shared by Sue Butterworth (@emptyphotoproject) on Jun 18, 2017 at 11:50pm PDT

She interviews and photographs all of the subjects herself. She added to Babble that as she personally continues to grow and evolve, as will “Empty”:

“‘Empty’ means so much more to me [now] than it did when I first started this project. ‘Empty’ means filling the void of loss with connection and people that I love. ‘Empty’ means remembering that my wounds of losing my son aren’t covered up and forgotten; they are praised, loved, and worthy of showing. ‘Empty’ means that I have the knowledge and experience to be a caring and compassionate woman to others who know what empty feels like.”

Susana hopes that, above all, she can impart a little strength … and a lot of love.

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