ELLSWORTH — “Since I became a mom, some things happened with how I see the world,” said photographer Zelli Isherwood as daughter Zoe, 9 months, squirmed in her lap.
The Ellsworth native and owner of Zi Photography on Franklin Street specializes in maternity and infant photography. She also shoots kids, couples and senior portraits.
For the past several months, Isherwood has been working on a more somber project called “Born to Fly,” in which she photographs babies who have died for their grieving parents.
Isherwood said that the aspect of her job she loves most is seeing new parents during the happiest time in their lives. But she knows not every parent is as fortunate to watch their child grow up.
“There is a darker side to motherhood,” she said. “And I feel I need to give back to the community that I’ve already built my dream in.” Isherwood said that she didn’t want to use her talent just to make money, but to help those in need. “I feel like God has given me everything I need to do this and saying, you need to go do this.”
Isherwood said she does not seek out grieving parents, but that many hospitals and funeral homes will offer her service to the families of the deceased. She said that she has done “a handful” of the sessions so far. “You’d be surprised at how often this happens,” Isherwood said. She offers the “Born to Fly” service at no charge to parents.
The usually cheery photographer said that it is difficult to leave her feelings at the door when she goes into a session.
“I never pretend to know what those parents are going through,” Isherwood said. “I just remember that it is much easier to be in my shoes than theirs.
“Emotionally, it’s exhausting.”
While some may think that having such photographs would be too tragic a reminder of a baby’s death, others may find it comforting.
“Having a picture of your baby helps create a lasting memory of them,” Isherwood said. “I’ve heard from parents [who have lost a baby] that didn’t take a picture and it almost feels like their child didn’t exist.”
Since announcing the project, she said that she has gotten a lot of positive feedback from parents who have experienced the loss of a baby, which helps when the project feels draining. Isherwood said “Born to Fly” also serves as a good example for her young daughter.
“It’s a quest to raise Zoe to be selfless, to teach her that it’s important to give her time and heart to people who need it,” she said. “A small gesture can make a difference and create a ripple effect.”