In early August, Matthew Judon sat next to his wife, BreighAnn, and their 4-year-old daughter, Aniyah, looked into a camera and talked about life and death.
BreighAnn was pregnant. She’d announced the news 10 days earlier on social media, joking that she’d sent her husband, a standout Ravens outside linebacker, to training camp “with a little extra love this year ... and mommy’s hands a little more full.” That Instagram photo crackles with joy: Aniyah holds a toy hammer like it’s Thor’s, Matthew strikes a boxing pose, BreighAnn cradles her baby bump. A growing family in a happy home.
It was Matthew’s idea to record the video, BreighAnn would later say. Aug. 2, he recalled Wednesday, is “when I got happy.” Finally, BreighAnn knew the sex of the baby. She was so excited, she texted Matthew two minutes before she called him. “What’s the news?” she asks Aniyah in the post. “We’re having a boy!” Aniyah shouts skyward.
A five-minute video punctuated with glee had started with somber reflection. The Judons had carried a private burden long enough. Half a year earlier, Matthew and BreighAnn had needed to have a difficult conversation with their daughter. Aniyah knew that BreighAnn was pregnant; they’d had to tell her that she wasn’t anymore. At six weeks, BreighAnn had miscarried. BreighAnn was heartbroken. Matthew was shaken. Aniyah was confused.
“I guess you never really think it's going to happen to you,” BreighAnn said Tuesday, “until it does.”
Miscarriage, the spontaneous death of an embryo or fetus before the 20th week, is the most common type of pregnancy loss, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Studies show that approximately 8% to 20% of women who know that they are pregnant have a miscarriage. But the actual rate is even higher, as many women have early miscarriages without ever realizing that they’re pregnant.
On Saturday night, before a nationally televised audience, Matthew’s Ravens will face the Tennessee Titans in an AFC divisional-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium. On Thursday, BreighAnn is scheduled to give birth to their son, Leonidas Joshua Judon, named for a warrior king. They hope that their year of grief and joy, shared in the Instagram video and in interviews this week, can uplift those struggling in silence. They once thought they were alone, too.
“I just wanted people to know and understand that it doesn't matter how much money you get or how much money you have or your position or wherever you are,” Matthew said. “Tragedy happens to everybody, each and every one of us. If you're open to it and you're open to talking and you're open to learning from other people and you go through the steps and you take the trials as they come, then you don't have to do it by yourself.”
Matthew and BreighAnn connected through a dating app at Grand Valley State, where Matthew was a burgeoning star for the Lakers. Their first date night, he recalled, was a bust. When BreighAnn walked over to meet him, his family was in the living room, too. His brothers had come to Allendale, Michigan, for a surprise visit. “I was like, ‘Damn, we can’t even go out. I ain’t about to leave my brothers here,’ ” Matthew said.
About eight months after meeting, they started to date. In 2014, BreighAnn became pregnant, and Aniyah was born in June 2015. A year later, the Ravens took Matthew, the top defensive lineman in Division II football, in the fifth round of the NFL draft. The couple married in June 2018.
Last February, BreighAnn, pregnant again, went to the hospital emergency room with Matthew, feeling unwell. “Some small, weird symptoms,” she said. After a nurse told them that she’d detected a fetal heartbeat, they waited, relieved, to be discharged. Then a doctor approached.
“Oh, yeah, you had a miscarriage,” BreighAnn remembered being told. “And we're just like, 'What?' ”
She knew losing the child was a possibility. A friend had had two miscarriages. But after BreighAnn’s first pregnancy, she’d never really considered that her second would end any differently.
For a week and a half afterward, BreighAnn said, she was “very upset.” Judon grieved, knowing he had to comfort her, too. He told her that she could not blame herself, that this had happened naturally. But, he said, “I feel like she kind of takes it personally, because it was in her body.”
Pretty soon, they had to tell Aniyah. She was expecting a sibling. When a teacher of hers had died, her parents tried to explain what happened. As much as it pained them now, they had to tell her the truth. It was hard to explain to someone so young.
“The baby is no longer living in Mommy's belly,” BreighAnn remembered saying. “We're not going to be able to ever see this baby until we get to heaven.” Aniyah was upset; she still talks about the pregnancy, her mother said.
It has been a painful reckoning for the family. “You don’t get over it,” BreighAnn said. Some days, she feels fine. Other days, she’s upset or angry or confused. When the October due date for her second pregnancy approached, she was already pregnant with Leonidas. That did not diminish the hurt.
“I think that was actually harder for me than losing the baby, because this is when time should've been changing,” she said. “This is when we should've been having this baby, and just kind of really realizing, like, what you lost.”
Help came from near and far. Matthew doesn’t like buying flowers — flowers wither. “Purses and cars can’t die,” he explained, half-joking. But he bought her flowers. He brought her her favorite candies. He took care of her because he could feel her pain, and he gave her space because he knew they had to take the next steps together, and he talked to her because that was the most important thing.
Talking helped. As BreighAnn explained what happened to friends and family, a web of support formed, women who had miscarried themselves, suffering as privately as she had. It was uncomfortable to explain herself to someone who didn’t know what to say; only when she realized, again and again, that she was less alone than she thought did her recovery start to make sense.
Several high-profile couples have recently opened up about their pregnancy loss and miscarriage as well. “Dawson’s Creek” star James Van Der Beek and his wife, Kimberly, have experienced multiple miscarriages and had allowed “Dancing with the Stars” cameras to film them during an ultrasound visit, only to lose the baby weeks later. Actress Gabrielle Union and her husband, retired NBA star Dwyane Wade, have shared that she had multiple miscarriages. And former first lady Michelle Obama wrote in her memoir in 2018 that she also had a miscarriage.
A majority of women will miscarry at some point in their lives, knowingly or unknowingly, said Dr. Rebecca H. Jessel, a maternal and fetal medicine specialist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “It's not something that's openly discussed, by all means. So I think it's important to definitely open the dialogue.”
Said BreighAnn: “I think just not feeling alone in something, knowing that you’re not the only person going through something, is very comforting.”
Matthew said he felt comfortable discussing the miscarriage, but around Ravens teammates, he kept his pain to himself, not wanting to “burden them with my burdens.” When Matthew shared the video on Instagram, defensive back-linebacker Anthony Levine Sr., a close friend, called it “heartbreaking."
At the team facility, Matthew heard from consoling friends — safety Tony Jefferson told him, “Bro, I didn’t know you went through that” — and strangers whose family had endured the same heartbreak. He could tell how much the video meant to so many people.
“A lot of people don't talk about it,” he said of miscarriages. “They just kind of try to hide it. And it's natural. It sucks, though. It sucks. But it's natural and it happens, and I think you can't really hide from it, because that would be like closing off a part of your life. I don't know the baby. I wish I could've got to know him. But I don't want to hide it, because it was a part of my life. It happened.”
After the Ravens’ regular-season finale last month, a 28-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers that extended the team’s franchise-record winning streak to 12 games, Judon was asked about his future in Baltimore.
A Pro Bowl pass rusher in a league that covets them, Judon will be a sought-after free agent this offseason. He joked after the win that he has his eyes on a new house in the Baltimore area. The Judons are outgrowing their current place; he said Wednesday that he wants to have four kids. (He’s less sure about whether BreighAnn wants that many, too.)
For now, though, they’ve stashed their baby supplies at home. They waited a while to buy them this time, BreighAnn acknowledged; early in her pregnancy, Matthew remembered, she’d update him every so often about the chances of miscarrying again.
But with Leonidas’ birth only days away, she’s letting herself get excited. Every day, Aniyah tells the baby: “Come out. You can come out now.” She’ll push his stroller around the house. She’s learned how to swaddle and change diapers. At the grocery store, she’ll approach strangers and point at BreighAnn excitedly.
“That bump on my mom’s belly,” she’ll say, “that’s my little brother.”