A Heartbreaking Portrait Session with Grieving Parents and Their Stillborn Daughter


Sometimes, photographer Lindsey Villatoro finds herself questioning life. An event and portrait photographer who primarily photographs babies, families, children and weddings, her photography business is built around love.

But often that love is expressed most poignantly in the midst of unimaginable tragedy, and such was the case with Emily and Richard Staley, who Villatoro met in the most devastating of circumstances.

You see, one of the services Villatoro offers through her business, Love Song Photography, is something called “Forever Loved” sessions. They’re portrait sessions born out of a need to preserve treasured memories with a loved one who has maybe recovered from a life-threatening illness, is stricken with a terminal illness, or has, perhaps, already passed away.

In the Staleys’ case, it was the last of these.


On Friday, July 25th, less than 10 weeks away from their due date, they found out their daughter had died in the womb because of the umbilical cord wrapping around her neck. It was that day that Villatoro first found out about the Staleys:

Friday afternoon as I was preparing for my weekend sessions with all 3 of my girls I got an email from a girl named Kelly telling me her sweet friend just found out her baby had died. She told me some details and asked if I would contact the family to be there in their time of need. Given the circumstances, you only have a very short window to truly capture these forever moments. I rushed out of the store I was in and called this woman.

When this mother answered the phone she could barely speak. She knew I was calling which I’m sure was the only reason why she answered the phone. She was short of breath, crying uncontrollably between her words and could barely even speak.

Between sobs, Ms. Staley explained what had happened: how she had had her morning coffee and oatmeal as usual, and noticed that the baby wasn’t moving around like she usually did; how she had tried to find a heartbeat with the heart monitor but couldn’t; and how her worst fears had been realized when she arrived at the hospital and the doctors confirmed that her sweet child had passed away.


Ms. Staley decided that she would deliver by C-Section the next day, and asked if Villatoro could be there to document the precious little time they would have with their child. She, of course, agreed and met them the next morning at the hospital.

What transpired from that moment on is heart wrenching: Monroe Faith Staley — a perfect 6 pound 2.5 ounce, 19-inch long baby girl — was born and spent a few precious hours with her parents. And through all of it, Villatoro was there, photographing through her tears.

“Any image that came to mind, I shot,” she writes on her Facebook page. “I wanted this family to have every possible memory of this child I could physically give them.”

The images, she explains, are being shared in Monroe’s memory and at the request of Emily and Richard, so that others who have lost a child in such an unexpected way might find a little bit of comfort knowing that they are not alone:









As you might imagine, the heartbreaking Forever Loved sessions like this one are not easy for Villatoro, but they’re nevertheless incredibly important because they bring support and healing to everyone involved.

In the case of the Staleys, that healing and support has already reached hundreds of thousands through Facebook and the press, and it will hopefully reach hundreds of thousands more.

To read the full story behind these photographs, head over to Love Song Photography’s Facebook page by clicking here. And if you’d like to find out more about what Villatoro does, be sure to read our coverage on one of her other Forever Love sessions, and then visit the Love Song Photography website.

(via Fstoppers)

Image credits: Photographs by Lindsey Villatoro/Love Song Photography and used with permission

  • Austin Byrd

    I know that this is part of the healing process for the parents… but do we, the public, really need to see this? You would do anything for attention, wouldn’t you?

  • Adam Cross

    I find this kind of public sharing pretty morbid. But then I am not a parent, so who knows how I would deal with it.

  • Rose

    Move on, nobody’s inviting you to see this, nobody’s asking your opinion. You read the headline, then why did you decide to click only to be so rude.

  • Uncle Wig

    When child mortality was more frequent, it used to be common practice to hire photographers to pose and photograph deceased children. So I don’t have a problem with the idea these photos. But these photos are extremely tacky, and sharing them with that huge logo on ‘em – that’s about as tacky as it gets!

  • Austin Byrd

    I suppose that’s why there is an open comments section attached to this post? I have an opinion and I’m expressing it. The original poster takes something tragic and uses it as a way to promote their work and that, in my OPINION, is pretty low.

  • Austin Byrd

    Thank you.

  • MarkLivesInLA

    I think this is an EXTREMELY relevant posting. It shows an aspect to photography that is truly impactful on these people’s lives in a meaningful and lasting way. I have to say, it takes a nurse’s courage for this photographer to be able to voluntarily and inevitably share in the parent’s grief. To characterize this posting as morbid is absolutely ridiculous. Death is real, inevitable and tragic when it hits, especially in circumstances such as this. This may not be to everybody’s liking, but the headline makes clear what to expect and heartbreaking though it is, it is a difficult and fascinating look at an aspect of photography that very clearly underscores the sense of loss of what is not just a pregnancy, but a child.

  • Ken W. Andrews

    Austin, I understand your point. However, it’s pretty clear that the family of the child wished this to be shared. “…shared in Monroe’s memory and at the request of Emily and Richard, so that others who have lost a child in such an unexpected way might find a little bit of comfort knowing that they are not alone..” However, I would have left the watermark off of them. Sharing them, that’s a tough one as a photographer, but the parents approved and seemingly wished to do it. So, fine.

    I find them to be beautiful photos of, literally, a one time chance to capture what their child looked like. As a father, I would want the same. I can’t image such a loss.

    Lindsey did an outstanding job, showing this child as close to as any other newborn would be photographed. I cherish the photos I took of my kids just moments after their birth and in the first few hours. I know this family will too.

    This family will have these images to look back on for years. I do hope they PRINT them and not just keep them digitally to help preserve them for generations.

  • Ken W. Andrews

    I agree. Thanks.

  • MarkLivesInLA

    By the way, I must confess, I am in agreement with comments regarding the use of watermarks. I would prefer if for this extremely sensitive series, they were not present.

  • Tony S

    I don´t get disturbed by these pictures, but they are really the last thing I wan´t to see in my facebook feed! But maybe that´s my fault since I follow Petapixel on facebook… Anyway, dead newborn´s is not clickbait…..

  • Grive

    I think that’s my only issue in the tacky department. I can see why they would want the pictures. I can’t begin to imagine what I’d do in their position, and I’m in no position to say anything to them.

    But that adorned watermark gives me a major case of the creeps. Especially, for some reason, the “lovesong” tag.

  • OtterMatt

    I suppose I can /sorta/ get why these photos were taken, but I don’t like it, and not only because I find it super creepy and disturbing to pose a dead child (though I do). Grief is real. Capturing the emotion of the moment is real. Posing a corpse is not real. It’s utterly fake. Would anybody defend this if it were a dead adult being posed “Weekend At Bernie’s” style for a photo series? From where I sit, this is devaluing a human life, no matter how short it was. The dead should be treated with more respect than to be used as a portrait mannequin.

  • Aezreth

    This is on a whole new level of creepiness and oversharing, and that logo on there is probably the most inappropriate use of branding I have ever seen in my life.

  • OtterMatt

    No kidding. Even if you were that hard up for business, do you really want to be known as “the person who takes pictures of dead babies” for the rest of your career?

  • Aezreth

    I’m frankly dumbfounded that anyone thought this was a good idea.

  • Stephen S.

    Agreed, and well stated. I also concur with the fellow above who mentioned that this type of photography has a long history.

    As for the watermark…I understand people’s objection, but I also see the counterarguments. First, that it’s not necessarily a great idea to condescend or patronize by treating these photos so differently. Second, and probably of more import, when you put photos like this online, you have to expect they may end up being shared across the Internet. And we all know how THAT game of Telephone works: credits get lost, the origin story evolves, and eventually some stranger in Dubai is claiming the photos are hers and she’s asking for PayPal donations for the funeral. The watermark keeps these photos anchored to their story. That’s worthy.

  • relively1

    I am a mother and a photographer so this story hit me both ways. This is a beautiful tribute and a forever memory that Monroe was here. I lost two babies early on via miscarriage so I never got to see them or hold them. Meaning well, people would say, “Don’t worry. You’ll have another….” I knew in my soul that I could have ten more and NONE of them would be the one that I just lost. I loved THAT baby. THAT baby existed and nothing could replace it. No baby replaces another. If I’d had the opportunity, I, too, would have opted to have gorgeous images, reminders, proof, that my little people were making a journey to get to this world. Awesome job. Lindsey!

  • kassim

    This really makes me sad(not this post, but the tragedy).

  • Briwil

    As someone who went through this same experience last year (without the benefit of having a real photographer), I can remember the feeling of both meeting and saying goodbye to your child all at once, and feeling like the minutes you have to spend with them slipping away faster than time is supposed to move. I won’t judge them for sharing their photos with the world, even if we never shared ours with others, because I do remember the feeling of wanting to let the world know how beautiful our little boy was, that he was here, and that he was a real person who lost everything.

  • Kelly Padgett

    Some things should be left alone, and this is one of them.

  • Bill

    I totally agree. The documentation of deceased children is one thing, but a band of (plasic?) flowers that looks like a cheap bride’s garter? Tacky. The logo? Tacky beyond belief! Why not a huge watermark, or maybe a business phone number? Sheesh!!

  • Bill

    First, Photoshop and a bit of skill can remove the (TACKY) watermarks. Second, I would hope that placing a (smaller?) watermark in a standard location would not be “condescending or patronizing” – simply better, if not good, taste. (And, to “MarkLivesInLA” – “Impactful”? Really? Do you always inventicate adjectives?)

  • buzzby09

    Does everything have to be photographed and more importantly shared with the world? Is there anything not private any more?

  • kassim

    A couple of years later, this will be the only memory of the child. Sharing is caring you know.

  • David Portass

    The parents who lost their baby thought it was a good idea, and I hardly think Lindsey would ever be pigeon holed as a “dead baby” photographer, only a portrait photographer who did the job the parents asked and hired her to and did a beautiful job at that.

  • Stephen S.

    Sure, but Photoshop + skill can accomplish pretty much anything under the sun. The point isn’t to foil the most brilliant and determined of wrongdoers, but to prevent the stuff that’s relatively easy to prevent.

  • Aezreth

    I’m not objecting to the photos being taken (though posing her as if she was alive is seriously creepy). I’m objecting to the parents sharing something that should be highly private on social media, the photographer for using it as a vehicle for self promotion, and finally Petapixel and websites like it for spreading it around for the sake of clicks. Ask yourself, if this was pre-internet days would you send pictures of your dead baby around to your friends and family, not to mention complete strangers? And if you got said pictures in the mail would you not find it extremely morbid? Again, I can’t understand how anyone would think this was a good idea, I really can’t.

  • Mojo

    As a parent that almost lost his daughter at birth, I understand this. This made a grown man cry.

  • Mojo

    Before I had kids, whenever I would encounter stuff like this, I’d say, “Huh. That’s pretty sad”, and I’d move on. After three babies, and almost losing two of them, whenever I see stuff like this, I understand how these people must feel, and I re-live almost loosing my daughter and later my first son. Having babies changes your perseption of many aspects of life, that’s for sure.

  • Mojo

    As a father who almost lost a daughter first and a son, and as a photographer, I’d have done the same thing, if only to have something pleasant to remember them by.

  • Mojo


  • E F Hutton Zakarian

    Photographers are always so full of $hit, you know what your opinions are like right….or do you need me to point it out. In the end no one gives a rats @ss what you think, especially not the parents.

  • OtterMatt

    If you want it for yourself, I suppose that’s one thing. But sharing it online is crossing an entire continent’s worth of borders regarding oversharing. I appreciate the impact of loss, but I’d recommend grief counseling. This will never, ever be okay in my book.

  • Lauren

    A friend of mine died at the racetrack. She was an awesome motorcycle rider. She died in the state I lived in, and when I heard she was killed, I rushed to the morgue, and then to the funeral home anticipating her fiancé – and then went to the airport to pick up her mother who flew in from South Africa. I always have my camera with me, so her mom and fiancé asked me to take some images before they cremated my friend. I agreed. As my friend lay there – surreal in her still-life – I cried and sobbed as I tried to think about exposure, aperture and other technical factors. I struggled to compose the shot and myself. I have never done anything photographically harder or emotionally as difficult. I will never do anything like that again. Within hours after my session, my friend was gone. Ashes. All her mother has are the images from Facebook and images from her past. My friend’s last physical form was documented by me. My friend’s mom, said she might be strong enough to look at my images some day – or not. As a photographer those images will never be seen by anyone other than my friend’s fiancé and her mother. I can’t imagine such intense personal images ever being made public. Some tasks a photographer does, should never be seen by anyone else. There are some tasks a professional does, that should not be advertised as a service. Some things should be done for free and for love.

  • William Wolffe

    It’s seems that the title of the article should be “Photog uses dead baby to promote her photography business”

  • Tangerine Lullaby

    Thank you for sharing your story Lauren. I for one can’t imagine taking photos of someone you dearly love.

  • Lauren

    There is something in a photographer’s mind, where the technical is wired to the emotional and creative. Often, in other parts of life, they are not wired so close to each other. As I took the pictures, all sorts of starts and stops. Thoughts, crashed and collided, as I moved through my workflow. A mental circuit board being reset and tripping off-line with each millisecond. Every time my eyes gaze into a viewfinder I am taken to a special place where I see a world I conceptualize and keep forever. Connecting to what lay before me, my friend in her last form; my craft, my art, my joy and the dichotomy and reality of it all. Yes. I was a professional doing something I will never do again.