Chrissy and Meghan: Brave Voices on Pregnancy Loss
Less than two months ago, American model Chrissy Teigen and musician John Legend experienced the stillborn delivery of their third baby, a son, whom they named Jack. This occurred at approximately 20 weeks gestation, halfway through her pregnancy.
Not long after, she posted a series of black and white photographs on Instagram that publicly documented the harsh reality of their shock and pain, and expressed universally human reactions that other such parents have historically experienced in private.
The images she shared were undeniably provocative and powerful. The first showed her slumping forward in tears; her world, in that moment, at a complete standstill. The second image showed the serious and solemn epidural placement—a very different experience for Teigen than other women on the labor and delivery floor. The third image showed Legend leaning in close on the hospital bed, the couple holding on to each other during their emotional freefall, hand locked in hand. The fourth image showed Teigen holding their son, again with Legend close, in a classic and intimate family moment, post-delivery. But in Teigen and Legend’s case, the new life was already gone, leaving deep disappointment, sadness, and palpable pain in its place.
These images are hard to view, as witnessing others’ pain is uncomfortable and upsetting. But this is how Teigen chose to help her cope and, in so doing, pushed the boundary of awareness. She exposed their raw and unfiltered grief and reflected the trauma of what transpired in the aftermath of their loss.
While the type of bare display of emotions Teigen shared does not reflect the happy excitement customary with most deliveries, the images do capture the honest emotion surrounding the baby’s birth—an event all parents will remember for the rest of their lives—whether that baby was born alive, or still.
Some were quick to comment on her decision to share such personal grief so publicly, but Teigen responded to the criticism with brutal and impressive candor in a blog she wrote on Medium:
“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."
Then, this week, Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, penned an essay for the New York Times, disclosing her experience of miscarriage in July:
“Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few.” She went on to say, “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.”
Most women who intend to conceive find themselves attached to their pregnancies and babies from the moment they first confirm they are pregnant. And, when the miracle of pregnancy turns into the nightmare of loss, grief reactions reflect the depth of this attachment, not the length of gestation. Further, when a baby is loved, independent of his or her gestational age, that baby is loved deeply and forever.
Historically, pregnancy and infant loss has not been discussed publicly, and even as recently as the 1970s, it was standard practice to have hospital staff take stillborn babies away soon after birth, sometimes not even allowing the mother to see her baby given concern it would intensify her grief. Instead, we learned the opposite. By ignoring, and thereby invalidating these losses, we have forced additional loss on women—the loss of opportunity in these moments to experience that they are actually parents by seeing, holding, and touching their children—even if that interaction is only several hours or days in length. By remaining silent, we’ve also decreased the opportunity for greatly needed support for these couples.
Today, instead of hospitals pretending the baby never existed, thankfully, many have changed their policies and protocols and are now more routinely offering women and their partners the opportunity to share time with their deceased babies and also take pictures following stillbirth. But there is still so much more work to be done to better support these parents. And, it’s not just inside the hospitals. It’s within our society as we continue efforts to raise awareness, and decrease loneliness and stigma in this area.
Thankfully, in the case of both women sharing their losses so publicly, most people responded with compassion, support, and sincere gratitude over how brave they were to come forward and be the voice for so many others who have been or are gripped in pain, hiding, and thus remaining silent. Nearly 11.5 million individuals posted messages of support on Teigen’s personal Instagram account alone.
Through their courageous disclosures, Chrissy Teigen and Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex broke the barrier on the taboo of talking about these losses for bereaved women everywhere, and finally began the long-overdue conversation surrounding pregnancy and infant loss. This is a huge milestone for those who have lost a pregnancy or baby and is also significant for mental health awareness and advocacy.
As Meghan herself states, “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.”
Death is a subject that makes people uncomfortable. But pushing up against this discomfort is necessary as there are things we must push past to change for the better.
Over the past 20 years, many of my patients have been unwilling and unable to talk about their experiences of loss and deep sadness as freely as Chrissy or Meghan. They realized society not only misunderstood them but also minimized and actively encouraged them to look away from their losses. The words of both women—along with Teigen’s powerful images—have resonated with millions of women all over the world. By sharing everything they did, they connected with a silent community and gave brave and empowered voices to millions of women’s similar experiences. These connections likely made them—and everyone else they touched—feel a little less alone and a lot more understood.