Joanne Lewis, The Visual Storyteller at Joanne Lewis Photography Studio
Telling stories through pictures – letting individuality and personality shine through
Our second son Phoenix was stillborn. Everything had been perfect until my waters broke at 21 weeks. I held on for another month, but he died during labour.
I went into shock and couldn’t function – let alone work. I have no words for the feelings of devastation. If you asked my mum, she’d say I was broken.
At the time, most of my ‘mum friends’ were pregnant with their second child, which made me feel even more lonely and isolated. They didn’t know how to be around me. When you’ve experienced baby loss, you want to talk about your child, but often no-one else does.
I had another two miscarriages; then 18 months after losing Phoenix, I gave birth to Ezra at 32 weeks. In baby loss terminology, he’s a ‘rainbow baby’ – our rainbow after the storm; my whole life focused on my boys. As Ezra grew stronger and healthier, I felt ready to rekindle my freelance photography business…
In 2017 I invested in a residential course – looking forward with excitement to learning from six of the UK’s top photographers. The only class I dreaded was Sujata Setia’s session on newborn photography. After everything I’d been through, I still felt too traumatised to be around other babies – avoiding classes with Ezra and requesting home visits from the health visitor.
For all my fears, when I looked through the lens, something shifted… I was able to create beautiful photos of the newborn baby. It was a massive turning point and, from that day on, I have actively moved back into working with families.
Since then, my studio has become a haven of inclusion and empathy for bereaved families, rainbow babies and children with SEND. My eldest son Zachary has autism and ADHD, so I can relate to it all; no-one ever has to apologise for their children or their tears!
My photographic contributions to The Travelling Dress Project – exploring grief and loss – went viral. People from all over the world have been in touch – asking to talk and write about my work. My photos are being published in a book entitled ‘Parental Grief and Photographic Remembrance’. Breaking baby loss taboos is helping to heal my heart.