When she was pregnant with her third child, Alicia Lewis signed up for a prenatal fitness class. The class went well, but Lewis left the workout in tears, worried other moms-to-be in the group would consider her a "jinx" after she told them her second child, her son Frankie, was stillborn.
But the Baltimore, Maryland mom's fears were unfounded. As the class continued to meet over the next five months, Lewis became close friends with five of the moms, some of whom had also experienced a pregnancy loss in the past. When Lewis' daughter, Charlie, was born in August 2017, the newborn had an instant group of friends — five other babies all born within a month of her.
To celebrate their babies' first birthdays, the six moms contacted Jessica Carr, a local photographer, for a group photo shoot.
Carr, too, experienced a late term pregnancy loss, and loved the idea.
"It is truly hard in today's world where mom-shaming is a very real thing, and pregnancy and infant loss caries its own stigma," said Carr. "Seeing how these women have bonded together is awe inspiring — at the end of the day, all you really want is to know someone else knows exactly where you're coming from. These ladies are mom-tribe at its finest."
"We all wanted to celebrate making it one year with our babies together," Lewis told TODAY Parents. "When I met these women, I felt broken and like a failure as a mom because of what happened with the death of Frankie — talking to them helped me fix myself and be strong during my pregnancy. As our children have grown together, they've been there for me in my grief journey."
For Lewis, the journey began on July 13, 2016, when she arrived at a routine prenatal appointment and learned her son, who was due the following day, no longer had a heartbeat.
"Frankie was born into the loudest silence I have ever heard," said Lewis. "I kept holding out hope the whole time that all of the doctors and machines were wrong and he'd be born alive, but he wasn't."
Doctors told Lewis and her husband, Matt, their son's stillbirth was "unexplained."
"I racked my brain and went over and over the events that led up to that day, trying to find a reason for Frankie's death," said Lewis, who also has a 4-year-old son named Wesley. "I was petrified to get pregnant with Charlie — I knew I wanted to have another child, but it was so hard to prepare because I didn't know what caused Frankie's death."
Lewis says her "mommy friends" helped her deal with her anxiety.
"After that first exercise class, I felt like these women would think I was a bad seed who would give them some bad ju-ju for their pregnancies. Who would want to hang out with a mommy whose baby died eight months ago?" said Lewis. "Why would someone want a constant reminder around them that their pregnancy may not end up the way they hoped?"
But Lewis says the group showered her with support, both during her pregnancy and after.
"We had a special dinner in October for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month," Lewis continued. "They all helped me — along with the rest of my friends and family — celebrate Frankie's second birthday in July. Having a baby that has died, I just desperately want his life to matter, and they include him in an effortless and beautiful way."
Carolina Wirth, whose son Zach was in the photo shoot, says she will always remember the day Lewis introduced herself in class.
"I was busy thinking of a clever answer to the question of the day when Alicia introduced herself. Her openness and strength were incredible and I instantly wanted to get to know her," said Wirth. "I just kept thinking ... how is she here, seemingly doing well, trying to live her life after such a heartbreaking loss. I never thought she was a jinx — but it did put into perspective how quickly things can go wrong and that nothing is really guaranteed until you have that baby in your arms."
"When Charlie was born, I finally felt like I could breathe after 10 months," said Lewis. "She was here, healthy and everything was going to be OK, but the first year of her life has still been difficult transitioning from one to two children and still grieving the death of Frankie."
"For this photo shoot, the rainbow was fitting — I'm not the only one who has lost a baby in our group. It has been so wonderful having these five women with me through this journey, and I hope we and our children are friends for years to come."