— -- Parenting is a love that knows no limits and sees no limitations.
The latest photo series from The Honest Body Project, "Defined By Our Hearts,” shows the loving bond between parents and their children with special needs: from Down syndrome to autism to ADHD to hypotonia and more.
“The Honest Body Project is all about helping mothers to know they aren't alone. We aren't alone in our body image struggles, our parenting struggles, or any other part of life,” said Natalie McCain, the creator & photographer of the project.
“I want to help share stories from mothers that aren't typically spoken about or seen in the media. I chose to do a series on mothers with children who have special needs because I want to help reach other mothers who can relate.”
Of her daughter Jillian, her mom said: “She was more like my other children than she was different. In all actuality, she was probably the easiest of them all. She didn’t cry and was an awesome sleeper. It didn’t matter what was going on, she was just a “go with the flow” kind of girl. Fast forward three and a half years later and Jillian is a smart, beautiful, determined, kindhearted, sweet, and fun loving little red head girl. She loves going to school, swimming, singing, dancing and playing with her 4 older siblings. She has taught me that perfect is what you make it and to look for the good even in the darkest of situations. I no longer see the Down Syndrome. I just see Jillian. And there isn’t anything in the world that I wouldn’t do her. She is the child that I had always dreamed, hoped and wanted. It just took me a little while to get there.”
McCain, the photographer said, “I also 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. Don't hush your child when they have questions about another child's special needs.”
Of her son Tommy, mom said: “Regardless of what’s happening with Tommy, he is our pride and joy. He’ll never stop smiling or laughing no matter what he goes through. He’s been through more than I ever have and he’s still fighting. He is the most precious miracle I have ever seen. If I had the chance to change what happened to him, I wouldn’t have. He has taught us so much more than we could’ve ever learned on our own or through someone else. He’s taught us to appreciate all the little things because some people will never have them. He is my perfect angel and I will never ever stop fighting for him and for a cure for Infantile Spasms.”
It’s a topic that hits close to home for McCain.
“My three-year-old-son attends a special needs school for sensory issues and a speech delay. I've had so many children ask me, or my son, why he sounds like a baby. My son is young and doesn't quite understand, but 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."
“My son is not defined by his needs. He is not a 'special needs child.' He is a child ... with special needs. He is defined by his heart, by his sweet demeanor, by his free spirit, by his playfulness…his 'needs' will always be secondary to the person he is. I don’t view my son as having what society categorizes as 'special needs.' It is not because I’m in denial. I am a well-grounded and aware person. I just happen to view all children as unique and having their own set of specific needs.
The moms provide inspiration for McCain, both in life and in her work.
“One of the mothers in the series inspired the name for the series. In one of her quotes she speaks about how her son is not defined by his special needs, that he is defined by his heart, his free spirit, and other parts of him. I chose to use ‘Defined by our hearts’ because it is true. We should all be defined by who we are, how we love, how we live our lives, rather than the disabilities we may have. “
“At 3.5 our son was diagnosed with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. He started therapy 3-4 days a week, and we settled into our new life. Around the time our daughter turned 4, son was now 6, she started having more behavioral issues and was diagnosed with ADHD. At 5 she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and at 5.5 with PANDAS(Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections). Madelyn is a smart, happy, hardworking, active little girl who enjoys swimming and gymnastics. She loves animals, especially cats, and wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. Nicholas is an energetic, happy, and great with electronics. He loves playing on his iPad or computer and also enjoys tennis and swimming. He wants to be a video game designer when he grows up.”
“My advice is don’t be scared of the 'what ifs.' They can eat you alive. You will get through it but at the same time it is okay to have moments of weakness. Look for those support systems that can help you stay sane but be careful of Google! You become the expert for your child. Don’t doubt yourself. Mommy intuition is incredible! My hope is for Eli to have all the opportunities he wants; to participate fully in society and live as independently as he can. If he wants to live at home, great. If he wants to live in an apartment with a friend-great. If he wants to work-great. But I will tell you, he will have a college fund just like his brother.
“With everything we have been through, all the ups and downs, I still wouldn’t change it. Her autism, hypotonia and sensory processing disorder make her the wonderful, intelligent, funny and loving person she is. Her disabilities are not bad things about her and I never want her to feel that way. She wouldn’t be the person she is without them and that person is amazing. I love her so much and always want her to stay so strong and persistent as she is today. She can do anything and I hope she never listens to anyone who says she can’t.”