All Images Credit: Nicole Breit
On Mother’s Day 2009, I miscarried a baby that was very loved and wanted. It was my third miscarriage, and a devastating loss for me. I dealt with the loss, in part, by researching contemporary art that had been created by women who had also experienced a miscarriage. I sought out art of all kinds at the time — literature, visual art, music — in the hope it would help me address and purge my own sadness and grief.
While I did find some paintings, photographs, songs, poems and stories about miscarriage, I realized within days of losing my baby that I needed to do something personally meaningful to process what had happened. I wanted a record of the experience, of how I had changed as a result of the loss. I also wanted to capture something of myself when I was still recently pregnant and connected to my baby. That brief period of time when my baby was still near me – if not with me – before that also passed.
I decided to do a series of self portraits, thinking in addition to my need to do something to heal at the time, that they might be significant later when I felt ready to write about my miscarriage. (Eventually I did write a book of poems about my journey to have my son; I Can Make Life was a finalist for the first annual Mary Ballard poetry competition, and was published in April 2012).
I used a digital camera to create the series of images I call “Self-Portraits, After.” At the time I didn’t know whether I would actually want to look at these photos once I’d moved further through the grief. I also didn’t think about sharing these photos with anyone. I simply felt I needed to take them, believing that doing so would help me heal.
I followed my instincts as I worked and did whatever I thought would express the right mood or feeling as I went along. I decided to keep my face bare, with the exception of red lipstick. I also used the lipstick to draw a red “x” across my belly. I tried to relax my face and allow my feelings to come through without force or effort.
The first image I took of myself lying in bed – the place where I spent hours coping with the physical and emotional pain of losing my baby.
The blurry images that follow suggest the confusion and the moments when the realization of what was lost started to become clear, and the pain more real.
The photos of the red “x” over my womb signify the self-blame and feelings of mistrust (even hatred) of my body for not being able to protect my baby.
The dark photos with my eyes averted represent the feelings of invisibility, loneliness and emptiness that followed the realization of the loss – as well as moments that felt surreal or dream-like.
The final image is of my “new” face, changed by the experience of this devastating loss.
You can view all ten photos in the series at this link.
Nicole Breit is a writer based in Vancouver, Canada. Her debut poetry collection, I Can Make Life, was a finalist for the 2012 Mary Ballard Poetry competition. Her essay, “For Tristan: A Meditation on Loss, Grief and Healing” was published in The Sound of Silence: Journeys Through Miscarriage (Wombat Books, 2011). She is also the author of a number of online pregnancy loss resources. Follow her on twitter @NicoleBreit.