Six moms and their children with special needs sat down with photographer Natalie McCain this summer for a portrait session, and the images are just as moving as the stories the women have to share.
McCain is the creator of the The Honest Body Project, an ongoing photo series created to “help women everywhere learn to love their bodies and themselves,” according to the project’s website.
“The portraits show their joy, their beauty, their imperfections, and their love for their children,” McCain wrote on the website. “Paired with their stories, it paints a beautiful, honest picture of motherhood.”
For this particular set of photos, McCain chose to focus on mothers of children with autism, Down syndrome, infantile spasms, cerebral palsy and ADHD.
“The series is titled ‘Defined by our hearts’ because children with special needs are so much more than their disabilities,” McCain wrote. “They are strong, amazing warriors that have beautiful hearts.”
Take a look at a few portraits, as well as excerpts from each mom’s story below. For the full series, visit McCain’s website.
“Leading up to her birth, I had all these hopes and dreams of the ‘perfect’ daughter. And at that moment [when I first held her in the delivery room], I was unable to see her perfection and feared the unknown … She has taught me that perfect is what you make it and to look for the good even in the darkest of situations. I no longer see the Down Syndrome. I just see Jillian. And there isn’t anything in the world that I wouldn’t do her. She is the child that I had always dreamed, hoped and wanted. It just took me a little while to get there.”
-Jillian’s mom (above)
“If I had the chance to change what happened to him, I wouldn’t have. He has taught us so much more than we could’ve ever learned on our own or through someone else. He’s taught us to appreciate all the little things because some people will never have them. He is my perfect angel and I will never ever stop fighting for him and for a cure for Infantile Spasms.”
-Thomas’ mom (above)
“The questions about my son that I never mind, are the questions from other children. Please, donʼt silence your children when they ask about a child that has special needs. Answer their questions honestly…or let the other parent answer. Donʼt pull your child away or tell them that itʼs not nice to ask. If we ever hope to raise a generation of more compassionate and empathetic people, we need to start while they are young. Why not help normalize differences? If you pull your child away or silence them, you are creating more fear of the unknown and therefore a bigger disparity between those children that are typically developing and those that have special needs.
“My hopes for his future are to feel fulfilled and to experience love…to give it as much as he receives it. As for dreams though…we will let him dream for himself. We will support him through his dreams. We will encourage him to achieve whatever he desires. The sky is the limit…”
-Cass’ mom (above)
“I worry about my children all the time. I am confident they will grow up to be functioning members of society, but I worry about how difficult the road getting there will be since they are different.”
-Madelyn and Nicholas’ mom (above)
“My advice is don’t be scared of the “what ifs.” They can eat you alive. You will get through it but at the same time it is okay to have moments of weakness. Look for those support systems that can help you stay sane but be careful of Google! You become the expert for your child. Don’t doubt yourself. Mommy intuition is incredible! My hope is for Eli to have all the opportunities he wants; to participate fully in society and live as independently as he can.”
-Eli’s mom (above)
“I want her to know that that one word, AUTISM, doesn’t define her. It isn’t all that she is or can be. It might make it harder for her to navigate social situations but she can do anything anyone else can … I love her so much and always want her to stay so strong and persistent as she is today. She can do anything and I hope she never listens to anyone who says she can’t … I would like to bring awareness to the fact that there is a wide range to Autism. It doesn’t always mean you are severely disabled. You can be Autistic and do the same things everyone else does, just maybe a little differently.”
-Bethany’s mom (above)