Natalie McCain has a simple aim with her Honest Body Project: "to help women around the world learn to love and appreciate their bodies." For the past six months, McCain has used her blog to share stories and black-and-white photographs of women, most of them with their children.
Through the course of this project, McCain has turned her lens to nursing mothers, grieving mothers, and pregnant mothers. Most recently, she has collected a series of stories and photographs of six mothers and their children with special needs. She's calling the series Defined by Our Hearts: A Special Needs Series because, she says, "children with special needs are so much more than their disabilities."
From children with autism to Down syndrome to cerebral palsy, the stories and images share a common theme: these mothers love their children and they take great delight in them. On McCain's blog, the photographed moms relate stories about their children's strengths: their perserverance, their intelligence, their compassion.
At the same time, these women relate the honest struggles they have faced as parents, especially upon learning that their child had a diagnosis that would present challenges. They write about their pain, their fear, and their grief.
Still, each mother/child pair is shown smiling. As McCain wrote to me via email, "Having a child with special needs is often thought of as something that is depressing. I wanted to show that there is joy to be found and that just because your child has special needs, their life can still be full of happiness."
In contrast to outdated images of children with special needs that emphasized the aspects of their lives that set them apart from typical kids, these images focus on their shared joy. McCain reflected on the experience of putting together this series: "One thing that might be surprising is that these weren't any different than any other session." Her photographs speak to our common humanity as mothers and children who laugh and love.