A Photographer Opened Up About Capturing A Mom’s Last Moments With Her Baby Not Given Long To Live

Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

Jennifer Ryals had captured her fair share of touching moments, photographing weddings, engagements and other milestones. But in September of 2018, she had her toughest assignment yet. And, later that month, she opened up about taking pictures of a newborn who only had a little time left.

Image: Facebook/Jennifer Ryals

On Ryal’s website, the mom-of-two describes herself as “a 26-year-old terrible dancer – who still does it anyway – obsessed with love, hard work and good vibes.” Her latter trio of interests plays into her hands as a self-employed photographer specializing in wedding and engagement shoots.

Image: Facebook/Jennifer Ryals

“I see the beauty in everything, and I have found a way that I get to spend my life capturing that while paying my bills and supporting my amazing family,” Ryals went on. To woo potential clients, she then described how she goes above and beyond when she’s behind the lens.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

“I’m a people person. When you need someone in your corner, I’m there. When you’re not feeling your best, I’ll show you all the ways you’re a phenomenal human being. I treat my friends like family, and my family like the greatest thing I’ve ever had in my life,” Ryals wrote.

Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

And, with wedding and engagement clients filling out her roster, Ryals typically has the opportunity to capture moments as cheerful as she is. But not every photo-shoot has a fairy-tale ending.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

Earlier in 2018, for instance, Ryals helmed a portrait session featuring a bride-to-be and her father. The next day, he passed away. And then, in September, Ryals received a phone call from someone who wanted newborn portraits, which aren’t necessarily her favorite thing to do.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

“I don’t shoot newborns. Not my thing,” Ryals wrote on her Instagram page. But the woman requesting a baby-centric photo-shoot for her nephew was hoping for lifestyle session. In these sorts of sessions, a photographer captures natural, in-the-moment images, rather than traditional sit-down portraits.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

Ryals admitted that she “love[s] lifestyle portraits.” Plus, something about the woman’s request was “tugging at [her] heart.” The photographer would quickly learn why. The eight-week-old baby at the center of the shoot, named Aiden, had just come home from the hospital. The little boy, however, didn’t have long to live.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Leah Kelley

The fact that Aiden had even made it long enough to be photographed was something to celebrate. The eight-week-old had microcephaly, a developmental condition that affected the growth of his brain before birth.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

Aiden and other babies born with microcephaly arrive with a head that’s visibly smaller than those of other newborns. Some babies do go on to grow up and live with the condition, although microcephaly often goes hand-in-hand with developmental delays.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

In Aiden’s case, his family was told that their baby would be stillborn, but he was alive at birth. He went on to survive for eight more weeks. At that point, his family contacted Ryals for photos, since they weren’t sure how much longer his fight would last.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

Ryals wrote, “[Aiden] stunned doctors. They had no way of determining his life expectancy because he kept shattering all of their previous expectations of him.” But when she arrived for the photo-shoot, the photographer realized his life would be special, no matter how much longer it lasted. “He was the most loved baby in the world,” she wrote.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

According to a Love What Matters post penned by Ryals, Aiden’s dad, Ricky, “immediately started gushing about his little fighter.” She also shared that “his beautiful mom, Kayla, had this glow on her face that didn’t leave her [for] the entire session, even through the more somber moments.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

Ryals also admitted that she “wasn’t sure if [she] was going to be able to hold back [her] tears,” but she managed to complete the shoot. On her three-quarter-of-an-hour journey home, though, the emotion rolled in, and the photographer embraced it.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

“I cried and prayed and yelled and cried some more,” Ryals wrote. She also admitted to obsessing over the images she would eventually send onto Aiden’s family. “I had re-edited the entire gallery – 272 images – at least seven times. They HAD to be perfect,” she wrote.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

The day after the photo shoot and editing sessions, Ryals awoke to heartbreaking news. Aiden’s aunt reached out once again. This time, though, it was to let the photographer know that he had passed away mere hours after Ryals met him. “I am a wreck right now,” she admitted.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

When Ryals heard the news, she wrote, “I wanted to believe it was a mistake or a dream. My heart is shattered for that family that loved that baby so much.” She also noted that Aiden’s death gave her pause – was she really made for a photography career?

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

“I question myself sometimes,” Ryals wrote. “I constantly struggle with whether I am good enough, whether clients see how much of my heart I pour into them,” she added. But in spite of those waves of self-doubt, she knew that she was meant to be a photographer – and the one who captured Aiden’s final day.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/jenniferryalsphotography

“God is speaking to me through the love, life, pain and suffering of others and I am thankful he uses me to help bring healing. I do what I do because every life deserves to be captured. Your story matters, and it deserves to be remembered,” Ryals concluded.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Facebook/Jennifer Ryals

And, in spite of Ryals’ sadness in hearing the news about Aiden, she said she also felt lucky to have been a part of his short life. She wrote, “My heart is also full of gratitude because I know I am a better person for being allowed in their home and for getting a chance to hold that perfect little boy for a while.”

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT