Newborn's Touching Photo Honors the Twin Brother She Lost in the Womb

Jessica Young Photography

A top-down view of Leti laying in a wooden cradle, next to a matching cradle and swaddle for James
Jessica Young Photography

Heather Bowman's journey to motherhood has been far from an easy one. Closing in on 36 and still single, she decided to take a leap of faith two years ago and try to become a mother on her own. She just had no idea what a bumpy road it would be.

  • Bowman's first pregnancy in 2017 ended in a miscarriage early into the first trimester -- followed by the tragic loss of twins at 16 weeks.

    "I started to have contractions," Bowman tells CafeMom, recalling how her second pregnancy ended. "I had on and off bleeding and didn't know what was going on ... I had been in labor, and the babies were coming and they would not survive."

    She tells CafeMom that it was an "out of body experience" that she couldn't quite believe.

    "I have never felt that kind of pain, suffering, and devastation," she says. "But I wasn't giving up. I asked my OB the same evening when I could start trying again!"

  • Advertisement
  • Soon after, she received some news she wasn't expecting.

    After some tests, doctors discovered that Bowman's fertility issues stemmed from a rare condition known as "unicornuate uterus" -- a uterine malformation which left her born with just half a uterus, one ovary, and a single fallopian tube.

    "The diagnosis was frightening for me," Bowman tells CafeMom, "but my reproductive endocrinologist was absolutely confident that regardless of my previous outcomes, I absolutely could carry a baby to term ... so I continued on my journey."

    Next came four more cycles of interuterine insemination (IUI) and then a round of IVF, until finally, Bowman learned she was once again pregnant -- with twins!

  • Her excitement, however, was mixed with fear. She'd already endured the loss of twins once -- what if she lost these babies, too?

    Heather Bowman smiles while holding her baby bump.
    Heather Bowman

    Bowman says she tried to stay positive, despite her concerns. But at 17 weeks, one of her worst fears was realized, when doctors told her they'd lost the heartbeat of her son, James.

    "Every week I went in for my weekly ultrasounds expecting the worst and hoping for the best," says Bowman. "I made small milestones for myself and tried to take things hour by hour, day by day."

    Though the loss of James was unbelievably heartbreaking, Bowman says the birth of Leti gave her new hope -- and the strength to carry on.

  • Bowman continued to carry both babies until February 12, 2019, when they were born via C-section.

    Heather Bowman cradles baby Lei close, shortly after her birth in the hospital.
    Heather Bowman

    "Hearing her cry was the biggest relief I have had in my entire life," she says. "My mother was in the OR with me and kept telling me how perfect she was. She brought her over to me and I couldn't believe I was looking at the most perfect angel that ever existed."

    Leti had two small birthmarks on her forehead, which her mom says almost look like tiny footprints.

    "To me they are her brother's stamp that he is watching over her, his little footprints to note that he will always be with her," Bowman says. 

    When the hospital chaplain brought baby James to the recovery room a few hours later, Bowman says "a flood of emotion" washed over her, as well as memories of losing her first twins, whom she'd named Buchanan and Lenor (Nori). 

    "The tears were flowing," she says, adding that unfortunately, due to James's condition, she was unable to take photos with him.

  • But the new mom knew right away that she wanted to honor baby James's short life. She just wasn't sure at first how she'd do it.

    Heather Bowman cradles baby Leti at home, while wearing an orange shirt.
    Heather Bowman

    "I wanted to honor him like I did with my other twins and tattoo his footprints on my wrist next to his siblings, but was unable to," Bowman says. "But at the end of the day, I got to see him, touch him and say goodbye. I knew I had to grieve him again, but also focus on my beautiful daughter who I could hold in my arms."

  • It wasn't long before Bowman contacted photographer Jessica Young, and asked about setting up a newborn photo shoot for Leti -- which sparked an idea.

    Before the shoot, Bowman told Young about the heartbreaking loss of James, and the story touched the photographer so deeply, she wanted to find a way to bring his memory into the session.

    When Bowman showed up to Young's studio on February 27, she was overcome with emotion when she saw the scene that greeted her. Next to a small wooden cradle for Leti to lay in was a matching one for James -- complete with a blue swaddle and tiny pair of angel wings carefully placed inside.

    "I had not done anything like that before," Young tells CafeMom. "I have done sessions for rainbow babies but not one honoring a lost twin."

    Young says that although she knew she wanted to incorporate angel wings into the photo somehow, it wasn't until she was setting up that she began toying with the idea of weaving pink and blue swaddle blankets together to show the twins' unbreakable bond. 

  • The photo has been making its way around Facebook in the weeks since Young first shared it, and it's striking a chord with people everywhere.

    A top-down view of Leti in a cradle and pink swaddle, next to an empty cradle and blue swaddle.
    Jessica Young Photography

    "Your portrait really conveys the loss in a touching way," wrote one user, while hundreds of others added just how simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking the image is.

    Bowman says she's stunned by the overwhelming outpouring of love and support she's received from strangers.

    "I am shocked how it has been received and how viral it has gone," she tells CafeMom. "What started out as a simple way to honor my son has gone on to touch so many people's lives."

    She's also shared the image with private Facebook groups of women trying to conceive with the same uterine abnormalities she faces. Her hope, she says, is that it "helps someone else understand that this is possible for people like me." 

  • In the meantime, Bowman's devoted to the little ray of sunshine to come out of all this: Leti, whose middle name is James, in honor of her brother. 

    Baby Leti lays in a unicorn swaddle, smiling gently.
    Heather Bowman

    But that's not the only way she's keeping his memory alive. She's also enlarged the now-viral photo Young took and placed it in her daughter's nursery.

    "We will always talk about him and celebrate his birthday as much as hers," Bowman says. "I want her to know how much her mom wanted both her and her brother here, and how important he is to both of our lives as he is watching down over us with her other siblings."