Between Light and Shadow

Author’s Note:

I am a photographer by trade but my works have almost always been accompanied by my words. When Laura approached me about creating a piece for Mothering Spirit, I knew I wanted it to be spoken in the language of flowers. The words and photographs that follow are each an aspect of the spiritual garden God is growing in my heart.

I’ve wondered where I should start telling this story. 

There are so many places I could begin. The countless ER visits as a teen. My first surgery on my 19th birthday. The surgery which formally diagnosed me with endometriosis. The subsequent doctors warning me of infertility. The day my husband and I met. The day I told him I might not be able to have children. Our wedding. The years of infertility. The four miracles to follow. Three here with us. One lost too soon in the womb. Premature ovarian failure. The hysterectomy. The complications that followed. The now.

Rose by Melissa Diane Photography

Last May I lost my fertility completely, after decades of battling aggressive endometriosis. The August prior I was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure. The doctor made it clear we could not have more children. I sought multiple second opinions. All of which confirmed her diagnosis. Nothing could be done. Though we knew I would one day need a hysterectomy, we assumed we would choose when. But somewhere in the last nine years my body slowly began to lose its fight with this awful illness. The one that behaves like cancer, but is not. It won’t kill you, but it will wreck you—body and soul.

I have often wondered if being immersed in the Catholic world has made this cross more difficult. Not only the complete loss of my fertility, but all the years of infertility that came before it. It is a world that is seemingly filled with large families. Whose arms aren’t wide enough to hold the multitude of children they bear. The peers who have been married half as long as us but boast twice as many children. The well intended questions about the spacing of our children. Those who believed we needed reminders that contraception is a sin. If only they knew how badly we longed for more.

Dahlia by Melissa Diane Photography
Anemone by Melissa Diane Photography

Immersed in the Catholic world or not, this would’ve hurt like hell. I was stripped of my autonomy. No longer allowed to make choices about my body, my body making them for me.

When I think about who I am, what I love, what I wanted for my life, I always wanted this. The Church and its many Saints speak to the natural desire for children. Not from an evolutionary need, not from a religious need, but as the natural consequence of loving someone fully. The sheer act of loving someone signifies a desire for more of them. By giving yourself to another, you long for the love that flows from that union to be made tangible—a child. 

Carnation by Melissa Diane Photography
Eucalyptus by Melissa Diane Photography

When we were pregnant with our oldest daughter, one of my husband’s co-workers asked if we were done. We had a boy and a girl. A perfect set. What more could we want? 

We looked at each other knowingly and chuckled, looked back at him and said, “We’ll be done when God says we are.” He asked what we meant. We responded, “We’ll take as many children as God will give us.”

We never had a set number. Though we once joked we wanted enough to spell the name Abraham with all their initials. We didn’t have a minimum or maximum. I suppose we saw it as putting a limit on His graces, so we didn’t. We wanted only what God wanted for us. So here we are, in the midst of what He has willed. 

Most of my life I’ve wanted only God’s will. Infertility and the death of my mother being the only exceptions. I longed for Christ in the midst of all the sorrow, yet wanted nothing to do with Him if it meant this particular suffering. I believed, just like the death of my mother, it would be a scarlet letter. A brand I could not shed. The Catholic family with only three children. The motherless daughter. The broken one.

So like I had in the years following my mother’s death, I fought Him wildly. And just like in those years, I found Him here in all my rage and sorrow. Waiting for me like a lover. Patient and kind. Waiting to unfold His loving arms around me. To pour His mercy upon me. 

Leading up to the hysterectomy, I begged Him to make His will known. I needed to know for certain He had closed the door on more children, not us. I implored Him for peace and consolation. Though I so badly needed Him to answer those prayers, I didn’t believe He would. I felt forsaken. Asserting that if the God of miracles was going to answer my prayer, it should’ve been the answer I longed for. To take this cross from me completely. For one last child. Despite my doubts, my rage, my utter lack of respect for His will, He answered my prayers in an overflowing bounty. 

Each passing week I receive more and more peace. Consolations so abundant, I have lost count. Mercies upon mercies. A deep well from which to drink. In the midst of these blessings, of the graces I implored Him for, He not only allows me to weep, He invites me to. Reminding me this was a grievous mercy and it will remain peaceful and painful. Bountiful and scant. Blessed and cursed.

Poppy by Melissa Diane Photography
Iris by Melissa Diane Photography

I am reminded of Jesus who before raising Lazarus from the dead sat down and wept. The paradox and beauty in the Lord of all, knowing He would walk into the tomb and raise His beloved friend, yet sitting beside humanity and weeping, both for us and with us. And so He does with me now. Welcoming me into suffering in a way I’ve never known. Revealing His will in the most transformative of ways. Despite losing so much of myself, I have been made new. 

Zinnia by Melissa Diane Photography
Wheat by Melissa Diane Photography

All images are by Melissa from Melissa Diane Photography

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Melissa Clayton is a photographer whose work is deeply rooted in capturing the essence of families and couples through archival compositions, as well as exploring the beauty of still life photography. Her work is driven by a personal mission to capture memories and inspired by her late mother, whose life was scarcely captured in photos.

In her still life photography, Melissa explores the contrasts between light and dark, life and death, creating images that challenge conventional notions of brightness and color and highlight the profound connections between these elements. Her photographs are visually striking and often paired with her reflections on the complexities of suffering and grace.

Visit to learn more about Melissa and her beautiful art.


  1. Kayla Craig on 24 February 2024 at 8:45 pm

    These photos and reflections are stunning. Thank you for sharing with us.

  2. Sara Kazlauskas on 19 February 2024 at 4:07 pm

    So beautiful, Melissa! Thank you for sharing your journey and art with the world. I lived and breathed your essay. Your photos made me tear up. I am walking a similar journey, Sending a virtual hug of solidarity!

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