Any parent who’s miscarried knows that, in addition to being completely devastating, the loss can also feel incredibly isolating. Although talking openly about the heartbreak of pregnancy loss is slowly becoming more acceptable, there is still a huge stigma associated with this kind of grief. It’s why, for example, the idea still pervades that you’re not supposed to announce your pregnancy until after the first trimester, and why many of us are still totally clueless as to how to support friends and loved ones when they’ve experienced a loss.
But after losing her son at 17 weeks, Married at First Sight star Jamie Otis learned the hard way that staying quiet can just make the already heartbreaking experience even worse. So, instead, she’s been talking about it — on her blog, in interviews, and on social media — and recently, Otis bravely shared a moving photo of her late son on Instagram and Facebook, both to honor her son’s memory, as well as let the world know that no one should ever feel ashamed to remember the pregnancies and children that they’ve lost.
In the photo, Otis can be seen sitting up in a hospital bed, holding her impossibly tiny son wrapped in a towel, while her husband, Doug Hehner, looks on with his arm around them both. It’s the kind of photo that’s painful to even look at — the heartbreak on both their faces is palpable. But it’s not just the emotion that makes the photo so important, it’s also the fact that you can actually see baby Johnathan, no longer alive and almost inconceivably small, the kind of image that’s so rarely shared that it feels almost shocking.
In the caption accompanying the photo, Otis acknowledged the fact that it’s not an easy photo to look at, and that there would likely be some people who found it offensive. But, as she explained so aptly, in the picture, Johnny (as she referred to him) is just “a harmless, helpless baby who deserves to be remembered, not hidden away.” She went on to remind her followers that, while photos of miscarried babies might not be common, pregnancy loss is — in fact, 1 in 4 women will experience the loss of a pregnancy. And given that it’s something so many mothers-to-be have suffered through, it seems like way past time it became acceptable to share those stories.
The taboo that surrounds sharing photographs like this one is something that most people probably don’t even realize really exists, but when it happens to you, the feeling is jarring. I haven’t experienced a pre-term loss like Otis, but when my own twins were born prematurely at 25 weeks gestation, my husband and I shared the photos the nurses encouraged us to take of our barely-alive babies with our close friends and family. Almost four years later, I still feel uncomfortable and kind of ashamed about that — not because I didn’t want to share them, but because it feels as though I shouldn’t have. The truth is, there’s an unspoken rule we all abide by — that the only kinds of images that are “acceptable” to share are the happy ones, of fat, cute babies who are healthy. Those are the kinds of babies we celebrate.
What Otis’s post highlights though, is that even if the rest of the world is uncomfortable seeing it, that baby is still every bit as loved and cherished and wanted and adored by its parents as they’ve always been. The photo of baby Johnny might be hard for some people to look at, but to Otis and Hehner, that is still a photo of their son. And that means it will never stop being one of the most important photographs they’ll ever have.
Perhaps the most valuable part of Otis’ post though is the comments that it inspired, from countless others who have also experienced a similar loss. Some took the time to write about their own angel babies, discussing how heartbroken and alone they felt when they realized that it wasn’t really something that seemed acceptable to talk about. Others even shared photos of their own late children — many of whom admitted that they’d never openly shared those images before, due to the stigma surrounding pregnancy and infant loss.
In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Otis spoke about the reaction she received from her post, and how it taught her that talking about her son and sharing his photo was absolutely the right thing to do.
“I’ve realized that there are SO many women who have experienced a similar loss and feel so isolated from it,” Otis explained. “It wasn’t until I blogged [that I realized that] so many women feel the same way as me. It’s taboo to share photos and talk about miscarriage.”
“I really want to desensitize this topic. I want to show [other women who have miscarried] that they aren’t alone, and I want to give them a space where they can share their sweet baby who was taken from the world too early. I hope by me sharing my story and my son, Johnny, it helps women who have gone through similar circumstances or who are going through a loss now.”
Otis’ post may not have sat right with everyone, but then again, that’s exactly the reason why it matters so much that she shared it in the first place. By sharing her story and photo with the world, Otis has taken a big step towards normalizing miscarriage and the way we talk about that loss, and she’s also set an example that lets others know it’s OK to do the same. And while her pain might never go away, there’s no doubt that she’s given her son a really important legacy that won’t be easily forgotten.More On