Family Photographer Jillian Mills Provides Keepsakes for the Bereaved

While Mills acknowledges that her black-and-white bereavement photos—for families who lost a newborn or experienced a stillbirth—are not for every family, for some, it can be incredibly healing.
—Photography by Matt Roth

Jillian Mills first got into photography, she says, because she wanted to “record everything” about life.

“My mom was the memory keeper in our family—I caught that bug.”

Married to a Marine, Mills’ first images were of military homecomings and deployments, and sometimes featuring military spouses. When those subjects started having children, she segued into taking family photographs and portraits of babies.

By 2012, her business—Heartlove Photography—was born. Since that time, the bread and butter of Mills’ work has been photographing young families.

“I have always loved children and babies,” says Mills, 36. “It’s just one of those things.”

Despite the mostly upbeat nature of her work, she’s all too aware that life doesn’t always go as planned.

“When I started doing homecoming photography and deployment photography, not everyone came home,” says Mills. “I was keenly aware that there aren’t happy endings all the time.”

Given that insight, Mills moved into doing pro bono bereavement photography for families who lost a newborn or experienced a stillbirth.

And while Mills acknowledges that her black-and-white bereavement photos are not for every family, for the people who do decide to have those keepsakes, having something to look back on can be incredibly healing.

“This huge moment happened—birth and death all in the same moment—and you walk out of that hospital room and the rest of the world is still turning,” says Mills. “You’re in this fog of grief and it’s hard to form memories under those conditions.”

Mills says some may not understand why anyone would want a photo of the worst day of their life.

“On the other hand, there’s so much healing, even to look back and be validated that it was real and it was hard—and the love is real.”