Heartbreaking photo series about infant loss shows 'the aftermath of stillbirth'

"We were so close, but didn't get to hear her coo, celebrate her first birthday, send her to kindergarten — we missed it all."

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/ Source: TODAY
By Terri Peters

At 39 weeks pregnant, Kristin Naylor visited her obstetrician for a routine visit and learned that her daughter, Abby, had died in her womb.

Naylor says the moment she received the news divided her life into "before and after." In the hours that followed the heartbreaking news, Naylor's husband, Dan, met her at the hospital and Abby was delivered via C-section on July 13, 2018.

Kristin Naylor's daughter, Abby, was stillborn in July 2018. After their loss, Naylor and her family allowed photographer Meg Brock to capture what life in their home looked like after losing an infant.Meg Brock Photography

"At some point during our C-section, I realized that she was born," Naylor told TODAY Parents. "And, I recognized she wasn't crying. Even though we knew they were saying she was gone, we were both holding out some kind of hope that they were wrong, or that God would do a miracle right there on the operating table and she would come out crying. But she didn't."

After spending 36 hours with Abby in the hospital, surrounded by family and friends, the Naylors said goodbye and prepared to return to their Norristown, Pennsylvania home with their sons, Isaac and Eli, who were 3 and nearly 2 at the time.

Today, Naylor's sons, Isaac and Eli, are 4 and 3.Meg Brock Photography

Naylor says she arrived home to find her mother and mother-in-law had packed away several of Abby's things. Life with their two small sons went on, and family and friends occasionally dropped by to visit.

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"It began to feel like Abby never was," Naylor recalled. "Our life looked just like it did before — no diaper changing table downstairs, no third car seat in the car, no pink girly clothes in the wash. Every minute was another reminder of our loss."

The Naylors say coming home to Abby's unworn clothing was one of the heartbreaking parts of beginning to grieve.Meg Brock Photography

"In those times, I would find Kristin crying on the floor of Abby's room, clutching her clothes or teddy bear or picture," said Naylor's husband, Dan. "I hated seeing her stuff, still wrapped or folded or untouched ... grief is unavoidable and uncontrollable. Our family is no longer who we used to be. I am a different man, Kristin is a different woman, and it breaks my heart to realize that our boys are different, too."

Naylor says as she grieved Abby's death in the weeks after her delivery, she became convinced that our culture is terrible at dealing with the grief and pain of others.

"People started telling me to 'be strong,' she said. "That made no sense to me. Be strong? I'm devastated. My daughter just died. They were asking me to be strong because they couldn't bear to see my pain."

After her death, Kristin and Dan Naylor planted a tree in their daughter's memory.Meg Brock Photography

So the couple decided to openly share their pain in many ways, including posting on social media about their walk through the grieving process. Photographer Meg Brock, who the Naylors had booked to take Abby's newborn photos, saw the posts and reached out to the family.

"Meg approached me about the idea of doing a shoot that visually showed the aftermath of stillbirth in a way," said Naylor. "I agreed because I believe talking about pregnancy loss and the devastation of stillbirth will help others understand how to compassionately walk alongside someone who has experienced it."

Naylor says she agreed to the photo shoot to help shed light on what grieving families are going through, and to help friends and family understand ways to support them.Meg Brock Photography

Brock's photo series shows the Naylor family moving through life in their home without Abby, from reading books together to eating meals at their dining room table. Brock also captures poignant images of Kristin and her sons in Abby's room, surrounded by her belongings.

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"From afar, I admired Kristin's vulnerability, courage and faith," said Brock. "I hoped that through creating this series of images, we'd both honor Abby's life and lift up the veil of what every day looks like after you've lost a child."

Brock says she approached the Naylors about the photographs in hopes of "lifting up the veil of what every day looks like after you've lost a child."Meg Brock Photography

Since Abby's death, the Naylors have celebrated her first birthday by asking friends to donate items to bereavement boxes for families facing a loss, renting a local theater to invite friends to screen a documentary about infertility and infant loss and having a small gathering in her honor with close friends.

Today, Naylor says she's working to accept a "new version" of herself after losing her daughter and to help others understand how to support friends and family members going through similar situations.

"I'm not the same person I was before and there's no going back," said Naylor of her life since Abby's death.Meg Brock Photography

"I'm not the same person I was before and there's no going back," said Naylor. "There is so much stigma and so many misconceptions about stillbirth. We face those backwards ideals every day. People think the pain of stillbirth is somehow less than other kinds of loss, since Abby had yet to take her first breath."

"I will always argue it's the opposite — we were so close but didn't get to hear her coo, celebrate her first birthday, send her to kindergarten — we missed it all."