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23/10/2018 11:30 PM AEDT | Updated 24/10/2018 2:02 AM AEDT

Whimsical Photo Series Showcases Babies With Special Needs

Angela Forker's "Precious Baby Project" features babies with serious medical conditions.

Photographer Angela Forker made headlines last year thanks to her creative newborn photos set against colorful backdrops. Now, her latest series, "The Precious Baby Project,” is shining a spotlight on babies with special needs and their loving families. 

The Precious Baby Project features babies with serious medical conditions, photographed at Forker’s home studio in New Haven, Indiana. The photographer, who offers these sessions free of charge, completes one or two each month and has captured 23 babies to date. 

The Precious Baby Project/Angela Forker
This baby was born with hearing loss and facial nerve paralysis, so he has to be fed through a tube. He also has six corneal ulcers in his eyes. Said his mom: "After everything he has been through I’ve never seen a baby more happy like him. He’s always smiling and laughing through his pain!"

“I’m raising awareness for babies with special needs, while bringing hope and encouragement to their families ― as well as giving them a piece of art that they will cherish for a lifetime,” Forker told HuffPost. 

The idea for The Precious Baby Project came to Forker after “a time of reflection and prayer,” as she searched for a way to use photography to make a difference in people’s lives.  

“This past February, I came to realize that my [newborn] scenes would be perfect for babies with medical conditions that prevented them from being able to sit up for a photo,” she explained. “Many photographers are at a complete loss in these situations!”

The Precious Baby Project/Angela Forker
Baby Tuck developed a blood clot in utero, had to have his arm amputated at one week old and developed an aversion to bottles in the trauma of the recovery. "Thanks to the help of an NG tube, Tuck is thriving and growing in leaps and bounds!" said his mom. "We believe that Tuck will do extraordinary things in life with his testimonies."

Forker has found participants by putting out model calls and encouraging parents to reach out on her Facebook page. Some have traveled three to four hours to her home studio.

When creating each baby’s elaborate scene, Forker collaborates with the family and tries to incorporate the child’s specific medical condition or something of interest to the family.  

For example, one baby was dressed as an astronaut to incorporate his helmet and trach tube as an oxygen line. 

The Precious Baby Project/Angela Forker
Elijah was diagnosed with a craniofacial disorder called Crouzon syndrome. Said his family: "The most important thing to remember about a child with medical conditions is they're not defined by a diagnosis. They are so much more than that and have a lot to offer. They are beautiful, strong, loving, kind, caring, sweet, courageous, but most importantly, they are perfect."

“This baby has a condition that is similar to the boy Auggie in the book and movie ‘Wonder,’ who wears an astronaut helmet, so this scene was especially fitting for him!” the photographer explained. “I wanted him to know ‘The Sky’s the Limit.’ As he grows up and sees that photo, I hope that he will believe that anything is possible for him.”

Another scene, which Forker calls “Forget-Me-Not Fairy,” features a baby who was projected to live only 6-12 more months.

“Her name is Ellis Rose, so I incorporated roses. She is such a blessing to her family who chose to adopt her specifically because she has special needs, so I thought it would be special to have her watering love wherever she goes,” the artist said. “And of course, she is a Forget-Me-Not Fairy, because ― even though she may be leaving them soon ― she will never be forgotten.”

The Precious Baby Project/Angela Forker
Ellis has hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, epilepsy and cerebral palsy. She is also blind. "Ellis likely will only be with us for a short while, but she is one of the best blessings we’ve ever received," said her parents. "She teaches us and our other two children the true meaning of hope, joy, and love every day."

Other symbolic elements include the bib number 321 for a baby with Down syndrome (aka trisomy 21) and a constellation of stars in the shape of an incomplete heart around a baby with a heart defect. 

When the parents see their babies’ finished photos, they are often moved to tears, said Forker. “For most families, these are the only professional photos they’ve ever had of their child,” she noted. “One family was so thankful that they sent me a bouquet of flowers!”

The Precious Baby Project is dedicated to Madalyn, the daughter of a couple at Forker’s church. Madalyn was born with serious medical issues and lived for only 15 days. 

The Precious Baby Project/Angela Forker
This baby girl was born without a pituitary gland and receives daily hormone injections. "She is unique and is the best thing that has ever happened in my life! Her pituitary gland is not something that is wrong with her, it is her difference -- in that all babies are different from one another!" said her mom. 

Ultimately, Forker hopes her project raises awareness around babies with special needs. 

“I’ve been so moved by the great love and dedication these parents have for their babies,” she told HuffPost. “I am also very moved by the fact that, while life can be very challenging, these babies bring immense joy to their parents.”

The images have been displayed in hospitals, clinics and YMCAs, and Forker hopes to turn the series into a book or calendar to raise funds for children with special needs.  

The Precious Baby Project/Angela Forker
Ivy has mosaic trisomy 9, as well as epilepsy, hip dysplasia, brain and vision complications, laryngomalacia and a floppy airway, which require 24/7 oxygen and tube feedings. "She is globally delayed yet she is smiling, squealing, kicking, rolling and improving everyday!" said Ivy's mom. 

“What a privilege it is for me to come into close contact with these precious little ones and their remarkable families!” the photographer said. “My hope is to continue to spread hope and joy to many more families and that my artwork will touch many lives.”

Keep scrolling and visit Forker’s Facebook page to see more images from The Precious Baby Project, along with quotes from the participants’ parents.

Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.