Alicia Koeppen has an eye for the beauty around her, but she was not prepared for such a moving site.

In the middle of Carey Park, the photographer helped bring together families for a special photoshoot.

“They all sat up here and just talked until dark. It was amazing,” she said. “I feel they all walked away with some sort of weight lifted. It was worth it to me, and that was even before I touched the pictures.”

The small group was made of families touched by pregnancy loss, which is very common but not talked about enough, Koeppen said.

INSPIRATION THROUGH LOSS

Destinee Archer came up with the idea. She’s a nurse and sees families who struggle. Her family is one of those too, as she and her husband have tried to conceive for the past few years. She was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age; it can be common for women with PCOS to have trouble getting pregnant or to have issues during pregnancy. 

Destinee has suffered two losses.

“Even as a nurse, like I didn't expect that this would happen,” she said. “That didn't even occur to me when I found out I was pregnant.”

“It’s so devastating and just earth shattering to go through it alone,” Archer continued. “I think that's what really drove me to want to get this together.”

Archer reached out to Koeppen, who is known for her couples and empowerment photoshoots, to see if they could help reduce the stigma behind talking about miscarriage and pregnancy loss.

Koeppen has also suffered a loss. She understood the importance of this moment.

“Seeing them be brave and share their stories was incredible for me,” she said. “I stepped back and kept kind of quiet after I did my little speech and just listened to everybody. When I would pull them to the side to do their pictures...is when it would get really emotional.”

Each family brought items that meant something special to them, like a sonogram picture or clothing for their little one. Instead of bringing their children home, they came home to their children's things, Koeppen said. 

“They planned on bringing their son or daughter home in these clothes, and I’m looking at them through my camera and they’re empty,” she said. “So, that was emotional for me. Little baby hats and baby shoes.”

 
 

JUST HOW COMMON IS IT?

According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Though, the number is likely higher because some losses happen when a woman doesn’t know she is pregnant.

“Miscarriage is a somewhat loaded term — possibly suggesting that something was amiss in the carrying of the pregnancy,” the Mayo Clinic describes online. “This is rarely true. Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn't developing normally.”

Abnormal genes or chromosomes as associated with many losses. Those problems are not a result of the parents genetics, but likely the result of what happens with the embryo divides and grows.

There are various risk factors associated with miscarriage, including a woman’s age, history of miscarriages, chronic conditions, uterine or cervical problems, weight and use of drugs or alcohol.

About 1 in 100 pregnancies result in a stillbirth of a child, the CDC reports. Each year, about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States.

Taylor Ramage miscarried at eight weeks in May 2019. She got pregnant later in the year, and things were smooth. In a routine doctor's appointment, they learned their daughter's heart stopped beating. The next day, Taylor gave birth to her little girl, Hazel, at 36 weeks. Taylor and her husband, Tad, said sharing their experienced has helped them heal. At first, they felt guilty of their stillbirth. 

“I think it means a lot to us because initially whenever it happens, you feel so alone and you feel like you’re the only person that this happened to,” Taylor said. “Maybe you know one other person in your entire life that has been through it, but the reality is that so many people have been through it. When you experience it, those people come out of everywhere in your life and let you know, ‘hey, me too, and I’ve been there and you’re going to be OK.’”

For Tad, he wants to normalize the experience, especially for dads who also try to channel through emotions. He encourages families to connect with others.

“You never really know what it could be like until you’re going through it, and even then, you don’t know what you’re feeling,” Tad said. It’s so unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my entire life and probably will ever experience.”

“It helps us heal to talk about her,” Taylor said, showing a blanket and a hat Hazel wore when she was born — the hat they planned for her to wear when she came home. “Even though sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it brings tears, it’s healing.”

Krysta Post has two children, but her motherhood journey hasn’t been perfect either. She’s had miscarriages and a stillbirth this May, too. She gave birth to a little boy, Rylee Calvin-Dean

She said she continues to navigate through the trauma and depression from her losses. Part of Rylee's name is in honor of his grandfather, Calvin. Grandpa passed away in January.

“I mean the miscarriages. Yes, it was…it was upsetting but I mean, seeing your baby and no life, like not being able to bring him home,” she said, tearing up. “I mean that was…it was hard.”

One thing she had not anticipated was the fact she could not get a death certificate for her son, among other things at the hospital.

She’s found online support to be helpful, including with the families who participated in the photoshoot. She said it’s comforting to know others have similar experiences to share, and they will continue to prop each other up.

HOPE AFTER LOSS

After a miscarriage, Chambria Green struggled.

“I hadn't talked about my miscarriage since it happened,” she said. “I just didn't talk about it or anything. Once it happened, I just I just let it go. I just didn't want to think about it.”

Weeks later, Chambria got the biggest surprise: she was pregnant again. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Drayven, in the spring.

Even with the celebration of her son, the loss continues to affect her. Sharing a moment with other families meant a lot, especially when seeing the pictures for the first time.

“I cried. I cried,” she said. “I thought they were very sweet. Everybody's pictures turned out so good.”

STEP TOWARD HEALING

Everyone processes loss differently. Experts say there is no right or wrong, but there are some ways to make things easier on your journey. You can create memories of your baby, keep a journal or join a support group.

Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support hosts two online group chats free to families. It has support groups in Kansas City, Shawnee Mission, Topeka and Wichita.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep provides free remembrance portraits to parents experiencing the death of a baby. The organization helped Taylor and Tad in their loss. Since 2005, NILMDTS has gifted more than 40,000 complimentary portraits to families around the world.