Beautiful Photo Series “Defined By Our Hearts” Captures Moms With Their Special Needs Kids

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We recently came across this beautiful photo series shared on Huffington Post, and it was too inspiring not to share. Plus we love any project or campaign that empowers mothers and children, especially in ways that can’t often be found in mainstream media or everywhere in society.

Natalie McCain is a photographer based out of Brevard County, Florida. Together with her husband she has two children and offers maternity shoots and family portraits primarily. In mid-2015 she started a project called the Honest Body Project with an aim to put and end to body shaming, and as a photographer she has no doubt come across all sorts of attitudes and levels of self-esteem when it comes to women and their bodies.

The idea was to empower the next generation of women and girls not to grow up with the same negative view of our bodies, the way women today often have. She created a series of images and messages that are essentially counter-culture, standing against the narrow images of what a woman should look like constantly peddled by fashion, advertising and the media.

As part of her Honest Body Project, she launched a series called ‘Defined by our Hearts‘ as a way to put the spotlight on mothers in a different, yet equally empowering way. She wanted to showcase a group of mothers who have kids with special needs in order to break down stigma surrounding kids who have autism or who are born with down syndrome.

“The series is titled “Defined by our hearts” because children with special needs are so much more than their disabilities.  They are strong, amazing warriors that have beautiful hearts,” Natalie explains on her website.

There are 6 women featured in this amazing series, and each of them are photographed with their kids, and share their own personal journey.


“I hope that it helps mothers whose children are typically developing to start conversations with their children on how amazing these kids are and to be more understanding,” she told HuffPost.

On her professional website bio, Natalie talks about being “great with kids”, and describes how at one particular shoot, another photographer called her daughter a “demon child” simply because she didn’t want to have her picture taken. And from this incident, we can see how her passion to empower mothers and their children is something that is much needed in society!

The idea that Natalie wants to help other adults out there gain a better understanding of what having a down syndrome child is like is a beautiful way of educating society about the topic. She wants people to be able to ask questions about what it’s like to have a child with autism or down syndrome, and use her powerful project as a way to share vital information from a deeply personal level.

“Don’t hush your child when they have questions about another child’s special needs. I’ve had so many children ask me, or my son, why he sounds like a baby,” she said. Her 3 year old son attends a special needs school for sensory issues and speech delays.


“I hope by me modeling a healthy response and reaction to these questions, it will give him the confidence to not be embarrassed as he grows. I never want him to feel that he is less than others just because he has a hard time with his speech,” she added.

Jillian is one of the children featured (picture in the lead image), and she has down syndrome. This is her mother’s story:

“Jillian looked like my other babies; she was beautiful. She had sparkling blue eyes, vibrant red hair like her siblings and fair pale skin, but all I could think and see was her unconfirmed diagnosis of Down syndrome. I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone. I didn’t want anyone to know Jillian was born. I just wanted to close my eyes and open them to find things different. That wasn’t the case. Family and close friends came, and most didn’t know anything was wrong until they were told.”

Another mother told the story of having a son with ADHD and autism:

“At three and a half our son was diagnosed with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. He started therapy three to four days a week, and we settled into our new life. Around the time our daughter turned four, she started having more behavioral issues and was diagnosed with ADHD. At five years old, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and at five and a half with PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections).”


Many of the mothers interviewed and photographed with their children express their own fears and vulnerabilities when it comes to their children who have special needs. They worry about how they will be treated, the difficulties they will face because they will be perceived as “different”, and they also share the aspirations of their children such as being a video game designer and veterinarian.

One mother talks about having a son growing up with cerebral palsy, and how annoyed she is of people’s reactions to seeing him in public.

“Our son has Right Hemiparesis (a type of Cerebral Palsy) due to an in utero bilateral stroke. The older he gets, the more people are able to see his developmental delays. We have been battered with questions from strangers regarding his condition. At one point, I thought about lying about his age because I was so sick of people’s inappropriate remarks when they noticed he wasn’t doing age-appropriate things,” she shared.

“The first year or so of his life, I was not friendly when asked prying questions such as ‘what’s wrong with your baby?’ However, I realized the effect that will eventually have on my son. I realized that I hold the power to build his self-esteem or crush it. I realized if my son sees me react in a negative way, he will more than likely interpret that as if there’s something wrong with him. And there is nothing wrong with my son. Nothing.”


Defined By Our Hearts reiterates what should’ve been said a LONG time ago: that despite what we look like, what we wear, the jobs we have, the illnesses we battle and our circumstances, it is not these things that define us. People like Natalie are great examples of how when we choose to embrace our circumstances and support one another, we find we are a lot more alike than different and it becomes a powerful way to foster empathy.

“The questions about my son that I never mind are the questions from other children. Please, donʼt silence your children when they ask about a child that has special needs. Answer their questions honestly, or let the other parent answer. Donʼt pull your child away or tell them that itʼs not nice to ask,” said one of the women taking part in the series.

“If we ever hope to raise a generation of more compassionate and empathetic people, we need to start while they are young. Why not help normalize differences? If you pull your child away or silence them, you are creating more fear of the unknown and therefore a bigger disparity between those children that are typically developing and those that have special needs.”

To see more of the wonderful children and their mothers, you can see click here to see Natalie’s series. If you are interested in learning more about her Honest Body Project, click here, and check out her Youtube Channel.


One Comment

  1. Pingback: Dad Creates Cartoon Series About His Down Syndrome Daughter To Break Down Stigma

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