“Jason & Rachel” is a long-term photo documentary project that follows a triple-amputee veteran and his wife as they pursue in vitro fertilization to start a family.
Featuring: Kirsten Leah Bitzer
United Photo Industries
James Estrin and David Gonzalez, Co-Editors of the New York Times Lens Blog
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This is the story of a young veteran who was disabled by an IED explosion in Afghanistan, but it is also the story of two middle school sweethearts reuniting, falling in love and creating a new life.
Jason was 19 years old and one month into his first deployment in Afghanistan when he lost both his legs above the knee, his right arm above the elbow, and two fingers of his left hand in an IED explosion.
Jason and Rachel had dated in middle school, but had lost touch until they reconnected on Facebook after Jason’s accident. Rachel flew to San Diego to visit Jason where he was recovering, and within months moved there to be Jason’s full-time caretaker. Jason and Rachel eloped in 2014 and returned to Colorado, but after trying to naturally conceive for more than a year, they learned that in vitro fertilization (IVF) was likely their only option.
I began documenting their journey shortly after they started the IVF process, in the summer of 2015. At the time, the United States Veterans Affairs Department did not cover the procedure, meaning Jason and Rachel would be responsible for the nearly $25,000 out-of-pocket costs for IVF, with no guarantee of success. But donations and contributions from the community, their IVF clinic, and local pharmacies, cut Jason and Rachel’s expenses significantly. In October 2016, less than a year after beginning IVF, Rachel gave birth to twins via c-section: Marina (named after the Marines) and Jason Jr.
Kirsten Leah Bitzer is a freelance photographer based in Denver, Colorado. She is drawn to and passionate about projects that emphasize the human condition of marginalized groups and individuals such as abuse victims, veterans, the LGBTQ community and women’s rights in developing countries. Kirsten’s first photo story, “Jason & Rachel,” was a project she initially pursued in her first year of journalism school, after being told to find a semester-long project in her Intro to Photojournalism class. After leaving school to pursue long-term photo projects full-time, Kirsten spent seven months in India and Nepal documenting human rights issues. In 2017, Kirsten was selected for the New York Portfolio Review and the Eddie Adams Workshop XXX. Kirsten also assisted for two years on the documentary film, “Hondros,” about the late photojournalist Chris Hondros, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2017.