Article written by Jennifer Handt and featured on www.wbur.org
I recognize that photo, the one where Chrissy Teigen sits in agony on a hospital bed, doctors and nurses puttering around her, preparing to do the thing she dreaded most: bring closure to a pregnancy that, due to some mishap of biology, cannot end the way it’s supposed to.
I’ve sat in that same place, and the heartbreak of the moment is nearly impossible to put into words. Which is why, as I wrote in 2014, many women are afraid to even try. The possibility that someone might do or say something insensitive in the face of your pain — a grief so transporting it feels almost sacred — is just too enormous a risk for a mother grieving a baby and the entire trajectory of life that was supposed to come with their birth.
Some ask why she shares so much; the better question is, why wouldn’t she?
And although I see that dynamic happening virtually on Ms. Teigen’s social media feeds — as in all areas of modern life, people taking cover behind a digital veil to say objectively horrible things — I also see what happens when women are given the space to speak their truth. Some ask why she shares so much; the better question is, why wouldn’t she? Because she has spoken up, she and her husband, singer John Legend, and their family are now swimming in the kind of solidarity and propping up that follows tragedy, from celebrities and fans and generally good people who do, in fact, still exist in droves. They will get what they need to make it to their first next day that doesn’t feel like a living nightmare. They will hear from others who made it through this kind of loss alive. Friends will call and cry along with them. Flowers and remembrances will be sent. Meals will be cooked. The lobster mac and cheese my best friend brought me after my final D&E will always remind me what it feels like to be loved beyond measure.
I am constantly learning new ways to support others through the messiest parts of this life. In my own friend circle, we have experienced infertility, congenital hearing loss and rare genetic disorders. And while our society tries to create a false idea of a perfect path to motherhood — in how many other countries do mothers-to-be create a “birth plan,” as if childbirth is something to be micromanaged — the reality is often something entirely imperfect. Pregnancy loss is an incredibly common rite of passage for so many women along the way — and it’s only one of a vast number of complications any doctor will tell you not to google.
In the years since my own six miscarriages, I have more proactively accepted my appointment as an inadvertent spokesperson for this terrible thing. Sharing the story of how I arrived at motherhood, waywardly, has helped me recover from the trauma of losing the babies who might have been (and yes, it is an experience that can bring real and significant trauma). It’s also empowered me as a kind of advocate for women and families; by talking about pregnancy loss the way I’d discuss anything else, I’m recalibrating our society’s measure of shame around it. I’m making it a little easier for the next mother in mourning to do the same.
In the years since my own six miscarriages, I have more proactively accepted my appointment as an inadvertent spokesperson for this terrible thing.
As an unofficial representative for pregnancy loss, I’m also often asked by friends what to say to a friend or family member going through it. Here are a few things I typically tell them:
*Keep it simple. You can’t fix it with words. So leave medical rationales and metaphysical theories (“It wasn’t meant to be,” “This is God’s plan.”) to doctors and clergy. Think: I am so sorry. It’s not fair. I am here for you.
*Offer hope, if appropriate. One of the most encouraging things I heard was that everything that happens on the way to motherhood, even loss, offers information that can bring us one step closer to the family we long for — even if we don’t arrive the way we expect. It was true for me, and it proved true for another celebrity, Hilaria Baldwin, who recently welcomed a baby after openly sharing a loss.
*Show up. If you can safely be there physically, a visit from a friend can be a welcome distraction for someone in the throes of loss. Ask questions about how they’re doing, what they’re feeling, how you can support them. Don’t glaze over the topic for fear of “reminding” them of the loss — trust me, they haven’t forgotten. If they don’t want to talk about it, they’ll let you know, but either way, they’ll probably appreciate that the questions show you care.
I am deeply sorry to welcome Chrissy Teigen into the pregnancy loss sisterhood, but I’m grateful — for her and for all women — that she’s willing to represent. Her baby had a name: Jack. Saying it and sharing it memorializes him, acknowledges her grief — and ensures she won’t experience it alone.