(CNN) — The next newborn shoot that Kansas City, Kansas, photographer Allison French does may be unlike any other she’s done before.
It will be the culmination of a heart-wrenching journey and project that, she says, has walked a fine line between invasion of a personal tragedy and documentation of a personal triumph.
It started when French got an e-mail this summer about taking some newborn photos. French replied to the would-be client, a pregnant woman named Jennifer (HLN has agreed to only use the woman’s first name), to arrange a session. When French didn’t get a response, she e-mailed Jennifer again to see if the mom-to-be was still interested in her photography services.
Jennifer’s answer was grim. The expectant mother said she had cancer and didn’t know if she could commit to any photography because she wasn’t sure what the future held for her or her baby. Jennifer had already battled lung cancer and won. Now, a high-grade neuroendocrine cancer was attacking her liver and the tissue in her back.
“When I read her e-mail, my heart was beyond humbled. I felt my whole body tremble with the reality of what she was about to go through,” French told HLN. Already a mother of three, French had recently found out she was pregnant as well. She said she couldn’t imagine a pregnancy in which both the well-being of the baby and one’s own mortality were constantly in question. But she wanted to try to document it.
“If she was open to it, I offered to give any and all of my photography services pertinent to her situation at no cost in exchange for the opportunity to be able to, in the end, share her own triumph with her,” French said. She offered to be at the hospital with Jennifer when she gave birth and photograph her newborn.
“I truly had a vision of her being able to share her battle and victory with her child someday and at that time had no idea the response this photographic journey would receive,” French said.
Jennifer graciously accepted the offer and was on bed rest at a hospital — alone in a very small, isolated room — when French shot her first session. French said the expectant mom was quiet at first, seemingly trying to find the strength to accept the situation. While French was there photographing her, the doctor came in and gave Jennifer permission to go home and rest while waiting for the baby to arrive.
French is sharing her photos of Jennifer — who’s now 37 weeks pregnant — on her photography blog and with her Facebook followers, and she said it has been rewarding to see the outpouring of love, blessings and prayers for Jennifer from complete strangers.
“Jennifer has been so expressive about how this experience has opened her eyes to the goodness of the human spirit. We have an incredible potential to rally behind each other in a united manner and provide levels of support that we would otherwise never experience without the harmony of giving of each of our individual talents,” French said.
Jennifer decided to wait until her third trimester to start chemotherapy. She said doctors told her without it, she and the baby wouldn’t survive. She told HLN affiliate KCTV that she opted not to have anesthesia with some of her procedures because she wanted to limit her baby’s exposure to the drugs. She has undergone three rounds of chemotherapy so far.
According to KCTV, the baby’s brain is developing, but the baby is still underweight and has a suppressed immune system. Jennifer is expected to give birth at any time. After the baby arrives, she will face more chemotherapy, radiation and a possible surgery on her liver. And French will be ready to capture the next emotional chapter for Jennifer and her bundle of joy.
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