Earlier this month, “Married at First Sight” star Jamie Otis shared a photo of herself holding the baby she miscarried at 17 weeks. In the picture, the baby is wrapped in a towel. We, the viewers, can only see the top of his head, cradled in Otis’s hand, but Otis, and her husband Doug Hehner, are staring into the face of a fetus of 17 weeks gestation. Their baby. Johnathan.
I didn’t get to see the baby I lost. It was removed from my body via D&C and taken to a lab to be tested for genetic abnormalities. After that, I assume it was destroyed. How, I don’t know. (I wrote elsewhere about my experience with miscarriage, you can read that article here.)
At eight and a half weeks gestation it would have been about the size of a kidney bean. It would have had arms and legs, the beginnings of fingers and toes. It would have had eyes with paper-thin lids. A brain, a heart, the beginnings of lungs. I wish I’d seen it.
I wish I’d found a shady spot somewhere, under a tree, perhaps, on a hill. I wish I’d buried it there. And marked the place with a stone. I wish I’d sung a song as I filled in the grave. A song I could sing sometimes now, to remember. I wish I could walk by that spot. Go there when I chose. Take my son there one day, tell him about it.
Everybody says no one talks about miscarriage. Which seems ironic. You only have to Google “why doesn’t anyone talk about miscarriage?” to find dozens and dozens of articles on just that subject. So, we’re talking about it. In the abstract at least. It’s the specifics that seem to still be taboo.
There are so many reasons for this. Different reasons for different people. A sense of unbearable shame that many women (myself included) feel after a miscarriage. Or a feeling of being somehow less of a woman because you were unable to perform this most womanly of functions. Or not wanting to face the uncomfortable looks of your friends who don’t know what to say. Or not wanting to upset your friends who are pregnant. Or grief.
Grief. I think grief is the trickiest one. The one that trips us up the most. It’s one of the main reasons we can’t bring this topic truly out into the open. For some women, I’m sure, the grief is for what might have been. The baby who will never be, who had already taken up a place in their hearts and a room in their house. The plans for the future that are now put on hold. The emptiness they feel inside them where once they were full. Their arms, which had been tingling with anticipation, now empty and aching. Those feelings are real and the experience of many.
But, for others, there’s a different kind of grief. The kind of grief that comes when someone dies. Although Otis and Hehner’s baby was only about 5 inches long and physically incapable of surviving outside the womb, he was their son. They named him Johnathan Edward and they mourn his passing. “He’s a harmless, helpless baby,” Otis wrote on Facebook, “who deserves to be remembered, not hidden away.”
The real taboo in our society, I think, is acknowledging that what has been lost in a miscarriage is, in fact, a baby. When I had my miscarriage, the doctors used terms like “the tissue” and “the products of conception.” But this didn’t even come close to accurately describing what I’d lost. And my grief was mixed with anger at these doctors for not understanding that what had happened to me was not simply medical. They spoke to me about trying again, and about how common it is for first pregnancies to end in miscarriage. They never told me they were sorry for my loss.
Jamie Otis knew that the picture she shared would be controversial. In the accompanying post she wrote, “I realize there is a great stigma associated with sharing photos of your baby who was born too early and has already gone to heaven.” But she shared it anyway. And she boldly expressed what so many women feel: this baby (regardless of his ability to live outside the womb) was a baby. And now he’s gone.
Everyone’s experience is different. I, in no way, want to impose my own feelings about miscarriage on others. But what I find so brave about Otis’ post is her willingness to acknowledge her baby for what he was to her: her son. Because, whatever their intellectual opinion about unborn babies happens to be, many, many women learn, upon having a miscarriage, that the accompanying feeling is one of grief for a child gone too soon.
And that’s what we’re not talking about.
See Jamie’s full Instagram post on the next page:
View this post on Instagram
October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. I can't sleep well tonight so I blogged about my sweet boy, Johnathan Edward. I realize there is a great stigma associated with sharing photos of your baby who was born too early and has already gone to heaven so I want to say sorry if this offends you. However, if there's one thing my husband has taught me it's this: "Don't live life trying NOT to offend anyone and trying to please everyone." I hope by me sharing my sweet boy, Johnny (as Doug and I call him), you'll realize that he's a harmless, helpless baby who deserves to be remembered, not hidden away because his image may offend someone. And if you've lost your baby early, please know that you're not alone. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 women are affected by this. Yet, no one talks about it. I hope this can change. I'll be the first in my circle. You be the first in yours. My prayers go out to everyone who has lost their sweet baby too early.❤️ Link to my blog & Johnny's photo in my bio. #miscarriageawareness #miscarriage #miscarriagesupport #mafs #marriedatfirstsight