Etsy Artist Makes 'Life-Size' Fetus Sculptures To Help Grieving Moms Through Miscarriage

MyTangiblePeace/Instagram

infant loss
MyTangiblePeace/Instagram

Content Warning: This post contains language and images around infant loss.

Going through a miscarriage is an extremely personal journey, one that no one deals with identically. There are some who feel the loss so deeply and what makes it harder is not having "tangible" evidence they existed, just the memory of what it was like to know they were a possibility in their bellies. 

Without a body to mourn over, "moving on" can be impossible. Psychologist Pauline Boss coined the term "ambiguous loss" to describe a very specific type of grief in which families have trouble moving on after a person goes missing forever and a body is unrecovered. For women who miscarry, the pain is somewhat relatable. 

  • That's essentially why artist Jenn of My Tangible Peace began creating life-like sculptures of fetuses, though admittedly there is more to her story. 

    "When it comes to grieving there are no rules, guidelines or handbook that will fully prepare you for the complete emotional devastation that rips through your soul after you are informed that you most precious and priceless asset, your child, has just died," Jenn, a mom in a blended family of four, tells CafeMom.

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  • It is a pain that she is sadly all too familiar with. 

    "My daughter was 16 months old when she was discovered 'blue' and 'not breathing' during her afternoon nap," Jenn painstakingly recalls. "The weeks following her death are still very much a blur to me. We had the fortune, if you can call it that considering the circumstances, to be able to have her wake and funeral services at our family home."

  • The at-home services came about thanks to the funeral director they chose, who gave her an "odd" suggestion.

    "The funeral director that we used suggested that I 'take her home,'" she says. "I remember him looking me directly in the eye and saying, 'You can do this. It wasn't that long ago that we used to take care of our own. You brought her into the world, now you need to see her out.' At that moment my maternal mama bear found the strength to follow his advice and we left, together."

  • Now, 19 years after her loss, Jenn says she still feels wholeheartedly that she made the right decision. 

    "Instead of leaving her in the care of strangers, only be allowed to see her body at specific calling hours, I took her home to where our memories of her radiated off of the walls," she said.

    "I brought her home to a warm and loving house that smelled of her and felt safe. I took the time to be alone with her and inspect every inch of her perfect little body. I traced my fingers over the sewn-up violations from her autopsy ... and held her. I cried in the privacy of my childhood bedroom. I did my best to take in this unbelievable reality, that was dream-like and quite surreal, and attempted to digest the full velocity of what was actually happening."

    For the wake, Jenn laid out her daughter in the Moses basket she slept in as an infant, surrounded by daisies, on the family table they still eat at today.
  • "We kept her body with us for two days," she says. "Over that time I talked to her, I cried over her, and I stroked her hair."

    Jenn admits that she had secretly hoped she'd wake up from the nightmare over those two days; that she'd find her daughter giggling and happy, and it was all a cruel cosmic prank she'd be able to put behind her. 

    "It was on the morning of the second day that I knew that this wasn't a dream and that it was time to let her go," Jenn shares. "I could see the changes that death had brought to her body. It wasn't scary or gross, but, it was time. We made that breathless call to the funeral home informing them that it was time, and they gave us the OK to bring her to the crematorium. I really don't remember much of the car ride. I just remember her face and how it looked in death."

  • Her journey with grief had many ups and downs, but around what would have been her daughter's 6th birthday, Jenn's grief took an interesting turn. 

    fetus
    mytangiblepeace/Etsy

    She started wondering what she could do in terms of healing her own grief and healing others. Inspiration hit from an unexpected place. 

    "As silly as this may sound, I found my inspiration in an email forward," Jenn says. "Some of you may be familiar with it, and for those of you who are not may I suggest looking it up, Camille Allen’s 'Marzipan Babies.'

    "The email stated that these tiny, palm sized, sculptures of these sweet little babies were sculpted out of a pastry dough called marzipan," she explains. "In truth they were actually sculpted out of a polymer clay, but regardless, something about them spoke to my heart and I remember saying to myself, 'I can do that.'"

  • Jenn had been experimenting with clay for a while, making silly or cartoonish sculptures, but never realized how impactful a realistic one could be. 

    baby sculpture
    mytabgiblepeace/Etsy

    "Within a day I had sculpted my first baby. It was rough, but there was something energizing, powerful and yet very peaceful about forming this newborn form out of a blob of clay, and from that moment on I was hooked," she says. 

  • In the summer of 2006, Jenn got her first memorial sculpture request. 

    It was for a stillborn baby, and from then on, her work took on a purpose.

    "My heart and soul belong to my memorial pieces. I have mastered the art of 'likeness' and have used that mastery to create portrait pieces for families who have lost children in pregnancy, birth, to SIDS, or other illness. In all actuality, 90% of my work falls into this realm because this is where my passion lies -- my motivation behind my creations," she says.

    "It fills me with so much joy to know that I can share this talent with those who are still trying to find their tangible peace. Even if what I have created only fills the void for a brief moment, I'm forever glad that I was able to help with that solace for the road of grief is not mapped out very well."

  • Jenn decided to officially open her My Tangible Peace shop in 2010, where grieving parents find her for custom sculptures. 

    fetus set
    mytangiblepeace/Etsy

    "My work seems to provoke one of two reactions," Jenn claims of her Etsy shop, which she says she never advertises or promotes, instead letting people find her organically.

    "The first being curiosity, longing, and a need to protect it (if that makes any sense). Those are the people who ask me questions about what I do and why I do it, and then share their loss story. The second reaction is unease. This group of people have told me that they don't understand why anyone would want such a thing, that it's creepy, and our conversation about my art usually ends there." 

    Her shop has only grown from there.

  • Her shop alone has had over 2,000 sales, with prices ranging from $10 to $200.

    fetus
    Etsy

    Her "inventory" ranges from stock 5/6-week-old fetuses to 9-week old fetuses replicated from ultrasound photos to realistic 21-week gestational twins. Customers attest that these lovingly handmade items helped them in innumerable ways.

    "I honestly have no words," wrote one customer. "This is the ONLY item that has made me feel something so intensely upon receiving it after losing my daughter at 11 weeks. I've gotten bracelets, bears, etc but it wasn't until I received this ... that I felt so understood."

    The customer continued, "Holding this sculpture gave me a way to hold my baby. I cried and cradled this beautiful work of art and got to say all of the things to my daughter I haven't been able to say. It truly is my tangible peace. This is one of the most treasured items I've ever received. Very grateful for your work and my sculpture of sweet Charlotte."

  • Jenn admits that her art isn't entirely "selfless" 

    twins
    mytangiblepeace/Etsy

    "They have a path ... sculpting lets me lose myself in my work for a while. I'm able to think about [my daughter] and really focus my energy on her, and then I'm done. A stopping point," she says.

    "BUT instead of packing it away, it moves on -- to another family who needs it, someone who needs to have something else that represents their angel baby -- a tangible keepsake of treasured memory that, with time, fades to a dream. Small enough to be tucked away in a drawer and kept private until an emotional collapse. My work is just as selfish as it is giving. It's not art for art's sake -- it's art for the heart."