At a routine check-up heading into her second trimester of pregnancy, 29-year-old Dana Dewedoff-Carney’s world came crashing down. Her baby’s heartbeat couldn’t be found.
It was her first appointment with a new doctor, and although they had just met, that doctor then uttered the words that changed Dewedoff-Carney’s life forever — that it was just the “wrong” baby.
That “wrong” baby, Dewedoff-Carney tells Babble, was her son.
“Our hope. Our dreams. Our future,” she says. “Baseball games. Diaper changes. His brother and sisters playing with him. Kisses and laughs and him being bad. And getting himself into trouble. All of that was gone. And the few months I carried him. The sickness I went through. And to be told he was the wrong baby. That was our son. The ‘it’ [my] body was getting rid of. Was Benjamin.”
Dewedoff-Carney, who has three other living children and also had a previous miscarriage at five weeks, decided to honor her son — and the millions of other babies lost due to miscarriage and or in infancy — with a special movement called Project Benjamin.
The project was born, Dewedoff-Carney explains, to raise awareness about how we talk to each other about pregnancy and infant loss.
“The truth is, we aren’t really doing a good job at it,” she notes. “It’s still a really stigmatized subject.”
She points out how women are often encouraged not to talk about their pregnancy to anyone else until they are in the “safe zone” of over 12 weeks, which is not only inaccurate, but it makes women who have a loss before 12 weeks feel like they can’t talk about it with other people. Furthermore, as Dewedoff-Carney’s story and many others unfortunately prove, there isn’t ever really a “safe” zone.
Dewedoff-Carney has shared Project Benjamin through her empowering organization Rise for Women. It’s a photo series showing women who have experienced miscarriage and infant loss holding stark black and white chalkboards featuring their own pictures, stories, and the kinds of things that people have said to them about their losses.
The series reminds us that you can’t always tell from the outside what a woman is going through, and it shows just how painful the silence of pregnancy loss can be. With the hashtags #theymattertoo and #StruggleDoesNotHaveaLook, the photos and stories bring to light what is so often hidden in the darkness.
Project Benjamin has become a way for women to name the babies that they have lost, as well as share the hurtful things that people can mistakenly say in the face of someone who has suffered a loss. Having had two pregnancy losses myself, I can attest that things like “It just wasn’t meant to be” or “You can always try again” are said over and over again — and feel like a punch to the gut.
Dewedoff-Carney tells Babble that she shed “happy tears” when the photo series gained 691 likes on Facebook. However, along with garnering over 43K shares, Project Benjmain has now received countless messages, emails, and even photo submissions from all around the world as women and families are sharing their own #theymattertoo stories.
“Because of our son and the other children named in this project, a bigger discussion happened,” she notes. “It brings me a sense of peace. My hope is that going forward people begin to talk to each other about their struggles, too.”
As part of Project Benjamin, Dewedoff-Carney hopes to change the way that those who haven’t encountered a loss may view those who have, and realize that they may be struggling in a way that is hard to recognize.
“Struggle doesn’t always have a ‘look’ to the outside world,” she explains. “Sometimes struggle is only visible to the one who suffers.”
Dewedoff-Carney notes that “silence is dangerous” and encourages anyone who knows someone who had suffered a loss to check in on them and encourage them to talk openly about any struggles they are facing.
“Sharing our struggles is what connects us all,” she adds. “I struggle still. I may be dressed up and smiling right now but it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle over the loss of our son. Every day is different. So is every hour. It simply means that I am continuing to live in this beautiful and messy life. And that’s why I’m talking about it. Because no one should live in silence.”