TRIGGER WARNING: This article involves child loss.
These sessions have taken much longer than I anticipate to photograph and blog. But it’s not because I’m too busy or I don’t want to. It’s because they are so deeply emotional…. It’s a lot. With each one of these mamas stories, I relive my own. It gives me comfort that I am not alone … but also makes me mourn for just how many moms are living the same life.
I’d like to introduce you to Jessica. What struck me most about Jessica when she entered the studio was just how happy and joyous she was. I remember going through our own Autism diagnosis and I really worried I would never feel happiness or joy again. And yet here was Jessica, who walked in six months pregnant and just glowed and radiated joy. Which is even more remarkable given her story.
You see, Jessica was pregnant (she has since given birth to her beautiful daughter, Ellia) and had her son, Camden, in the studio. But in between Camden and Ellia is her daughter Kennady, who passed a little over a year ago from neuroblastoma. I will forever admire the strength and courage that Jessica showed just in her ability to tell her story. Her bravery in welcoming another baby into the world is incredible. You can learn more about Kennady and her journey with neuroblastoma by following her on Instagram. But I will do my best to share it here, as well.
Jessica was only 23 years old when her son, Camden, then 18 months, was diagnosed with Autism. At diagnosis, Camden was aggressive and would slam his head onto any surface of flooring when he was upset, uncomfortable, or in any public situation. He lost all speech and became completely non-verbal.
The diagnosis turned her life upside down. She had just given birth to Kennady. Jessica shared, “I remember being freshly a new mom of two, being told he was Autistic and just cried because I didn’t know how it would affect us”. They didn’t know anyone else who had children on the Autism Spectrum, and she just felt very alone and isolated, as if she and Camden just didn’t fit in the world. Not wanting to give up, Jessica put him in every program/therapy she could get him into.
Jessica shared, “I knew my son was worth much more … so I fought hard for him to have a productive and happy life, in case there ever came a time where he had to go on without me. I suffered badly with anxiety and still do in moments of how he will be as an adult, which is much different than what parents have to stress about with “typical” children. Everyday is a new “what if” or struggle but sometimes all we can do is look back on the progress we’ve already made and put all the faith into them and know that they are strong and capable and will do big things regardless of a diagnosis.”
Fortunately for Jessica, early intervention was very effective and helped Camden tremendously. Now Camden is very sweet and loving. He has found his voice again and has been Jessica’s “rock” through Kennady’s illness and passing.
I asked Jessica what she wanted the world to know about Camden and about her journey as his mom. She simply stated that Camden is different, but he’s not less. They struggle with his “invisible disability” – or in other words, a disability that isn’t immediately evident to those around him. They often hear he doesn’t “look autistic” – which by the way, if you don’t know, this is on the list of “never say this to an Autism parent” phrases. Still, she encourages everyone to slow down and take time to get to know him. If you look past the quirks and you will find a child who is extremely smart, loving and funny. He wants what we all want: to be loved and accepted by those around him. She no longer fears being a mom to a child with a disability. She knows she can handle anything this life brings her.
“I do worry immensely about his future and what it holds. I’m scared there will be a day I won’t be able to stand up for him or fight for him to have the help and support he needs and deserves. I’m also scared he will be abused, bullied or neglected by people who don’t care to understand his differences.”
Ok. So here is where I need to take a pause. Because this next statement … brings me to tears every time I read it. If there is one thing Jessica wants you to know about Camden, it’s that he is one of the strongest kids she knows.
“Camden not only has had to deal with the struggles with his delayed development but he also has had to become a bereaved sibling in the past year to his very best friend. The only child we all saw a genuine connection with. Everyday he has to battle everyday with social frustrations as well as going through the unimaginable. He’s my hero.”
So I’m sure you’re anything like me, you’re probably on the verge of tears and just feeling so deeply for Jessica and her family. But for as challenging as her recent years have been, she’ll tell you she is a survivor. “… my life isn’t over, will never be over because of an Autism diagnosis and that if anything it has drastically changed my life and has helped me view everything from a much more empathetic and loving lens”.
She credits Camden’s Autism for helping her become much more patient, much more empathetic and much more loving as a whole. She sees and understands things from a deeper perspective and credits Camden for that. This in turn has allowed her to help and support other parents who are just beginning their journey with an Autism diagnosis.
Ok. Whew. I did it. It might not be as coherent as I wanted …. But let me tell you, this took a lot for me to get through. I have the most amazing respect and admiration for Jessica and her family. They’re incredible. Camden was just the sweetest boy during our session and I’m hopeful to see them again.
P.S. If you’ve submitted an application to be in this series - I haven’t forgotten about you. I am committed to photographing as many moms as i can - I am just working through scheduling now.