Two women with significant star power have opened up to the public about a rarely discussed experience — that, even in contemporary times, pregnancies do not all go well and that parents who lose a pre-term child suffer a shattering grief that others should recognize and seek to help them with.
It may be a sad symptom of social media and celebrity itself that controversy and criticism also has greeted the deeply personal disclosures by Chrissy Teigen, a superstar model, chef, and wife of acclaimed entertainer John Legend, and Meghan Markle, aka the Duchess of Sussex, and the American-born actress and biracial wife of Britain’s Prince Harry.
Markle wrote a heart-felt Op-Ed for the New York Times, describing the overpowering sadness she and her husband shared after she miscarried their second child:
“Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few. In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage. Yet despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning. Some have bravely shared their stories; they have opened the door, knowing that when one person speaks truth, it gives license for all of us to do the same. We have learned that when people ask how any of us are doing, and when they really listen to the answer, with an open heart and mind, the load of grief often becomes lighter — for all of us. In being invited to share our pain, together we take the first steps toward healing.”
Describing the terrible toll that 2020, the coronavirus pandemic, and other calamities have taken on people worldwide, as well as the sharp rifts that have opened among so many, the Duchess of Sussex wrote that expressions of empathy, particularly just posing the question to people we meet who appear to be in pain “Are you OK?” is more important than ever now.
Alas, even her remarks on compassion prompted snarky reactions, notably on social media and among Britons unwilling to accept a foreign outsider among their monarchy. That led Teigen to fire back, including with a profane Tweet, drawing attention, too, to her own public comments about her failed pregnancy.
Teigen’s candor on pregnancy loss
Teigen and Legend have given televised interviews and she made candid social media posts and wrote an opinion piece herself, arguing that candor should replace shame and secrecy about pregnancies that end early. Teigen posted photos of herself, taken by her mother and husband, of the medical process that ended her pregnancy and of the 20-week boy they named Jack. As she wrote on the online site Medium:
“Late one night, I was told it would be time to let go [of the pregnancy] in the morning. I cried a little at first, then went into full blown convulsions of snot and tears, my breath not able to catch up with my own incredibly deep sadness. Even as I write this now, I can feel the pain all over again. Oxygen was placed over my nose and mouth, and that was the first picture you saw. Utter and complete sadness.
“I had asked my mom and John to take pictures, no matter how uncomfortable it was. I explained to a very hesitant John that I needed them, and that I did NOT want to have to ever ask. That he just had to do it. He hated it. I could tell. It didn’t make sense to him at the time. But I knew I needed to know of this moment forever, the same way I needed to remember us kissing at the end of the aisle, the same way I needed to remember our tears of joy after [the birth of our other children] Luna and Miles. And I absolutely knew I needed to share this story. I cannot express how little I care that you hate the photos. How little I care that it’s something you wouldn’t have done. I lived it, I chose to do it, and more than anything, these photos aren’t for anyone but the people who have lived this or are curious enough to wonder what something like this is like. These photos are only for the people who need them. The thoughts of others do not matter to me.”
Experts praised the disclosures by Teigen and Markle, saying that medical advances have made rarer pregnancies that end too soon. They still do occur, particularly in early weeks when women may not even know they are expecting. The reasons can be complex, but risk factors are better known, leading to more precautions. And it is crucial, always, to help prospective parents understand the challenges they may encounter in pregnancy and the importance of prenatal care.
Zev Williams, a fertility doctor and director of Columbia University Fertility Center, told USA Today that pregnancy loss is common – about one in four pregnancies will end in a loss – but this is too rarely discussed.
“When public figures share their experiences, it does go a long way towards removing the unfortunate stigma. I commend the Duchess of Sussex for her bravery in sharing her experience. Hopefully, it will help the many couples who have had a loss feel less isolated and alone.”
Markle’s openness also won social media praise from Tommy’s, a British nonprofit that funds research into miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature birth, Elle magazine reported.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damages that can occur for them with injuries to babies and children, as well as the disproportionate burdens that women can be forced to endure due to mistreatment in the medical system. If it were not already clear, too, that patients of color, particularly African American men and women, suffer from relentless inequities in health care, the coronavirus’ terrible toll on them has emphasized this tragic reality in exponential fashion.
More discussion needed on U.S. pregnancy risks
Teigen and Markle, with their frank talk about their pregnancies, also may help remind Americans about a huge shame of the U.S. health care system and expectant mothers. As the nonpartisan, independent Commonwealth Fund has just reported:
“Most maternal deaths are preventable, but they have been increasing in the United States … The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. Obstetrician-gynecologists (ob-gyns) are overrepresented in its maternity care workforce relative to midwives, and there is an overall shortage of maternity care providers (both ob-gyns and midwives) relative to births. In most other countries, midwives outnumber ob-gyns by severalfold, and primary care plays a central role in the health system. Although a large share of its maternal deaths occur post birth, the U.S. is the only country not to guarantee access to provider home visits or paid parental leave in the postpartum period.”
News media investigations have reported how American moms die and suffer huge and sustained damage due to problem pregnancies. The U.S. shares with developing nations like Afghanistan, Lesotho, and Swaziland the unhappy distinction of having a climbing maternal mortality rate. Black and native women have some of the highest incidences of problem pregnancies and notably high maternal mortality risks, with these afflicting affluent African American moms as much as their less well of counterparts.
We cannot tackle these and other tough issues, however, if we cannot talk openly about them (without snark) and support those struggling with them. We have a lot of work to do to support moms, dads, and the healthy families they build that are crucial to the world’s future