At the beginning of 2020, I began working on a portrait project on a subject that has rarely been a part of a photographic series. The concept of this miscarriage photography project came about over 3 years ago and although I believed both the subject and the story of this project were important, I truthfully never knew if I’d have the strength to be able to do it. Miscarriages, for those that suffer them, are seen as an unspeakable event. For a few days after, you may be given a pass to talk about it and people may ask you how you are, but soon after, it is no longer mentioned by friends or family, whether due to fear or discomfort.
"28 years ago, I lost my first baby through miscarriage. The following year, I gave birth to twins. People often said ‘at least you have your twins now’ as though subsequent children simply replace those who die. 10 years ago, I lost my 11-year-old son to cancer, so I understand the pain of losing a child before and following birth. We never forget our babies and no matter how many weeks pregnant we were, or however long ago it was, they are still valid, they are loved, and will always be cherished."
25 years ago, I left school to get my first assistant photographer job. 22 years ago, I moved from Aberdeen to London to pursue my photography career. 18 years ago, I got my first non-assisting job working for venture photography. 15 years ago, I met the lady I would go on to marry and 12 years ago we suffered our first miscarriage. It would not be our last.
"My wife and I suffered our first miscarriage 12 years ago; however, this would not be our last. The final miscarriage happened when our eldest was 3 and because we didn’t want to tell her what had happened, we started trying to get pregnant again within a few days. The grief finally hit me 10 months after our second daughter was born and I broke down. We both agreed that after our second daughter, we couldn’t deal with any more potential losses and so our family is now complete."
The images from this miscarriage photography project all feature parents who have all had very different experiences. Some have never managed to carry any pregnancy to term; some have suffered one and others have suffered multiple miscarriages; some miscarried in the first trimester and others have had the trauma of a stillbirth. One couple had suffered a miscarriage just 4 weeks before sitting for me and for some, it’s been many years, but regardless of their story, each and every parent here has a common bond.
As each day passes, we never hear our baby cry. We never see their beautiful eyes. We never got to feel our baby grip our fingers. We will never know them, but they were still a baby… our baby!
Jayne Marie Smith
"We fell pregnant with our second child in 2012 after 2 years of trying and after wanting this for so long, we couldn’t believe it. The 18th of February 2012 was a Saturday like every other Saturday. At around 14.30, it happened. Completely out of the blue. No pain. No warning signals. I just remember the sound of my screams and I didn’t feel sick anymore. I remember just curling up into a ball on the floor down the side of the bed afterward. We never fell pregnant again after that, despite many more years of trying. I am so VERY lucky to have an amazing son–BUT I also have another child. One that waits ‘upstairs’ for us."
When it came to looking for people to be a part of a miscarriage photography project, I found that there were a lot of parents out there who were actually willing to be a part of it, which was a surprise as normally, getting people to open up about their miscarriage experience is a battle in itself. The variety of stories that came in from people asking to contribute their time was incredible, but the number of people was the thing that took me most by surprise. There are more people out there than you could ever imagine that have suffered this terrible loss.
"I have had multiple miscarriages and when I sat for this project, I was on pregnancy 6, which would be my first child if seen through to term. I have suffered a lot of anxiety in this pregnancy due to all that has happened before. When I sat for my portrait, I was 31 weeks, but we still hadn’t started a nursery or put anything solid in place which says this is really happening. I am delighted to say that Lizzy and Rob went on to have the most beautiful little baby boy during the 2020 lockdown."
"I have experienced the loss of two babies, the first at such a young age I didn't share with anyone as I felt ashamed. The second experience years later, I instantly knew what was happening to my body. Nevertheless, it didn't make it any easier to process. I have two children, yet I still think of myself as a mother of more. For the brief time I carried them... they were still mine."
"I lost my baby in March 1994. I can go months and months without remembering, and then there’s the ache when I do. Sometimes, though, there’s a gut-wrenching, overwhelming grief that brings me to my knees. You never get over the loss of a baby, you just get used to the pain. Until something rips the scab right off the wound. I was never able to have any more children afterwards; I didn’t get a happy ending to my childbearing story. I am lucky to have two strong, healthy adult children, but I always wonder about the one I never got to meet."
These images were designed to show that these children were important to the parents that lost them. To assume that a family who goes on to have a rainbow baby instantly forget about the loss of a child, even within the first trimester, is naive. It is, however, a common misconception. This is why it is so important to talk and to ask someone how they are.
"My wife and I are due to have what people refer to as our first baby in the summer of 2020. After losing 5 babies in the past, it’s hard to see it in this way, but sitting for this project has finally allowed us to acknowledge that the pain we felt and still feel is fine. The anxiety in this pregnancy due to all that has happened before has been very hard on both my wife and I and we still can’t believe that we may actually have a baby to hold in the near future."
I chose to feature both mums and dads within this project as the loss is something that has an impact on both parents. I did, however, intentionally keep the ratio of women higher as they are obviously both mentally and physically affected. There is a mix of emotions on display because when each person sat for me, I didn’t direct them in a particular way or show them what had been done previously. No one knew how the finished image would look or what would feature. Each subject was simply asked to sit in front of me for 5 minutes holding an object and just take the time to reflect on their loss.
"I lost my boy Jethro 32 years ago late in the pregnancy. Already a mum to three healthy boys, the loss shocked me to my core. One of the worst aspects of the loss was the lack of understanding from the medical professionals and everyone else. I went on to run the Bristol Miscarriage Association for 8 years and wrote my undergrad dissertation (mature student) on miscarriages in literature and in my own life. I have never had a day go by when I don’t think about Jethro, in spite of having 5 kids and 4 grandkids now."
I am incredibly grateful to every participant as reflecting on our losses is something that if we do it, it’s only done behind closed doors. My wife and I have been blessed with 2 daughters that aren’t aware that they are both rainbow babies, but there are still days, years later, that the pain of loss comes back. When I was looking for volunteers, for some, the idea of taking the time to think about what happened was too difficult and they decided not to take part. Those that did give up their time for this project sat for me in February and March 2020 prior to lockdown.
"I suffered a missed miscarriage just before my wedding in 2016. I found the process of miscarriage itself very hard. The world goes on around you and you move around in it whilst this strange thing happens to your body. Horrid. I didn’t feel this like it was the loss of a baby. It was early. It was the loss of potential. A lost chance. This experience definitely left me with a change in my identity. Lots of anger for a time."
I have never before embarked on such an emotional journey within my photography career and truth be told, I don’t think I could do it again. My heart goes out to each of these parents and to anyone else that has suffered the same experience as we have. As a photographer who is known for and loves humor within my imagery, the challenge of such a heartbreaking and personal subject matter has been demanding yet inspiring and somewhat cathartic. My hope is these images will start a conversation.
"We were actually coming round to the third anniversary of losing our baby when I sat for Neil. It would have been my fourth baby, but my now husband’s first. We’ve had two babies since, but that loss changed me. I’d had three normal pregnancies and three normal deliveries and never ever thought I’d lose a baby. It’s so important to encourage people to talk about miscarriage and stillbirth, which is why I wanted to be a part of the project."
"I sadly have lost 5 babies, but I am truly blessed to have 5 beautiful children that I get to hold every day. I lost my first baby at 17 due to domestic violence then another when I was 22. I then lost 3 more in my 40s! The support that was available was non-existent, which was the hardest thing to cope with, especially at such a young age."
"I lost my first baby, during my first pregnancy. No one tells you when you get pregnant that it could go wrong, that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. I remember very clearly going to the toilet and seeing blood. Fear and panic set in, as I instinctively realized and knew that something was very wrong. Our bean was nicknamed 'Tiny' from the time we knew we were expecting, and was due January 17th. Thoughts of baby Tiny come and go all the time, but that date is etched in my memory and always hurts. When you miscarry, you go through a grieving process not just for the baby you lost, but for the future you had planned that is also lost."
If you have someone in your life that has gone through this type of loss, irrespective of how long it has been, ask them how they are and don’t forget the dads. It is all too easy to forget, given the physical side of things doesn’t affect the dads, that they are in pain. It is something that mentally affects both parents.
"When this all happened, we were not planning for a baby. Who is truly ever ready for that sort of news? I had a lot of emotions going around, mainly disbelief, as I thought that it was impossible, but once I got into my head that I was going to be a dad, I realized how amazing this would be. Sian had some bad feelings and got some medical help and was told she had miscarried. Our whole world changed! I was brought up being told I can’t cry and can’t show weakness and you have to hold yourself together when in reality, I was dying inside. I am only now starting to deal with these feelings properly and I feel it will be a while before I am at one with myself again."
"I have suffered three miscarriages whilst trying to become a mother. Two late (after 13 weeks) and one early. I wanted to take part in Neil’s project as I truly feel this is something that should be spoken about. I never knew how common they were until I had them myself and found the realization I was by no means alone very helpful."
This miscarriage photography project has been a huge part of my personal development in recent months. I never imagined that any photographic project would evolve from something I’m doing for myself into something that feels so much more important and quite simply bigger than me. I have also been surprised how this project has become a healing process for myself and for many of the people that sat for me. The message within this panel is something I really believe in and that is "to talk!"
"My wife and I have suffered three miscarriages whilst trying to become parents. As the husband, I had to remain strong for my wife and so was almost forgotten as someone that is feeling the loss of a child. This project opened up a conversation between my wife and me, who also sat for Neil, and we found that really helpful to finally talk about how we both suffered."
"I am blessed with 2 rainbow babies in my life. My experience was one that involved a long grieving process which I still battle with today when I think about it. I wanted to take part as I felt a project like this could help others that have suffered such a loss with knowing that it is ok to grieve the children we have lost."
"I wanted to be a father and felt that the time was right to be one. From the joy of doing the pregnancy test with my wife, I could not imagine the pain it would bring us weeks later finding out our baby would never see us or the world. We tied a ribbon on a tree in a special place in memory of our little one. As the years have gone by, the ribbon has now gone, but the pain of losing our baby remains."
"I was pregnant for the fourth time and suffered a miscarriage at nine weeks which was discovered at my 12-week scan. I was 39 when this happened and I had never had a miscarriage before and having carried identical twins, I had no reason to think it would happen to me. The most common response to my experience was 'it just wasn’t meant to be' and is the only comment that I have never heard said about the loss of a loved one. Not even a pet. My baby was meant to be and saying he or she wasn’t does not mitigate the loss, it almost makes it worse."
"My two grown-up children have done much to erase the trauma of having three miscarriages. Yet, although they happened around thirty years ago, it still makes me sad to think about how lonely I felt at the time. Friends and family couldn’t grasp my grief at losing a baby within the first trimester of pregnancy. I rarely think about them these days, but I would say that they contributed to making me who I am now."
"Most people didn’t even know we were pregnant as we were undergoing infertility treatment. That was hard, telling people we had lost our baby. The joy of being able to say we were pregnant was snatched away from us. No one knew what to say, some people avoided the subject completely, some were overcome with emotion and helplessness and told us about their losses. Saying it out loud made it real and I didn’t want to acknowledge that. People assume that you forget about miscarriage. You never forget!"
"I have suffered from 2 miscarriages and stillbirth on my journey towards becoming a mother. Each loss both devastating and life-changing in its own way. My first baby gave me the courage to leave an abusive relationship. My second then cemented the longing to be a mum. And my third inspired me to help others who have suffered in the same way. So I started a baby loss charity called ‘Towards Tomorrow Together’ as there simply wasn’t the help available for people that went through what I went through."
"I found out we were expecting our first baby in 2020. On Valentine's day, we realized that I had miscarried. We went to the early pregnancy unit on the following Monday and it was confirmed. It’s those 3 words that a couple never wants to hear… 'there’s no heartbeat.' I never imagined losing my child and I think about our baby often. Our baby stopped growing between 3-4 weeks and we lost them around 6 weeks. I’ve not felt a feeling like it in the world, it’s been hard as we were planning how to announce our news, and instead, we can’t do this and we don’t have our baby."
"I had my first miscarriage in 2014. I had only known I was pregnant for a few days; my sister and I would be due together. Trying to stay positive for her whilst losing my own baby was hard. I had my second in 2019. We didn’t find out we had lost the baby until our 12-week scan. The support we received from family and friends was fantastic. I’m lucky to have such a close support network. I always feel it’s best to talk about things and hope Neil's project will encourage others to seek support."