Image shows a pregnant woman kneeling, holding her stomach (it is a drawing).
Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

Breaking the Stigma Around Miscarriages (and Other Shared Losses)

“Everyone knows someone who has had a miscarriage.” When did the discussion around miscarriages become so nonchalant, yet the topic still remains so taboo?

A miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks. It is the most common type of pregnancy loss, as 10-15% of pregnancies will end this way. But a miscarriage is not merely losing a pregnancy—it is not the quick moment seen in a television show or movie where there are a few tears shed and lives move forward as normal. This loss is both emotional and physical. It is ugly, painful, and devastating. While spontaneous in nature, it can be instantaneous or sometimes last weeks. There is nothing to be done to prevent this from happening in those 10-15% of pregnancies—it just happens, often without explanation. Regardless of the supposed commonality here, it is never something to be taken lightly. With such widespread loss, it is both beneficial and incredibly necessary to open up the discussion around miscarriages, to articulate the kind of experience that leaves many without words. Meghan Markle and Chrissy Teigen are paving the way to starting these conversations.

Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, released an essay in late November to The New York Times titled “The Losses We Share,” in which she detailed the loss of her second child amidst the grave atrocities and division that 2020 has brought us all. Whether coping with the emotional trauma of a miscarriage, mourning the losses of family and friends to COVID-19, or struggling to find the truth in the face of uncertainty, we are all experiencing the kind of pain felt in isolation and private moments of sadness. After everything that has happened this year, this pain should not remain in silence any longer. 

“Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few,” she writes. “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.”

Markle, while opening up a conversation on the losses she has endured this year, reminds us all that the cycle of solitary mourning, although a common theme of 2020, is one that we need to break. By more openly discussing the pain caused by miscarriages, as well as other sufferings from this year caused by racial inequality, political polarization, climate change, and so much more, we can begin to move forward.

In an essay published on the website Medium, Chrissy Teigen also spoke openly about the loss of her pregnancy earlier this year. Teigen, however, did not technically have a miscarriage, but a stillbirth—the birth, after 20 weeks of pregnancy or later, of a child who has died. While stillbirths are much less common than miscarriages, as they happen in 1 out of every 100 pregnancies after 20 weeks, they are just as devastating. Each year, around 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States. Like miscarriages, the causes are often unknown. For Teigen, who underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF) to have her two children, this was her first natural pregnancy, during which she battled health problems for all 20 weeks. 

“After a couple nights at the hospital, my doctor told me exactly what I knew was coming—it was time to say goodbye. [My baby] just wouldn’t survive this, and if it went on any longer, I might not either…Late one night, I was told it would be time to let go 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. I had asked my mom and John [Legend; Tiegen’s husband] 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…I absolutely knew I needed to share this story…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…I beg you to please share your stories and to please be kind to those pouring their hearts out. Be kind in general, as some won’t pour them out at all.

Teigen, in her open pain, later says how much sharing her story and asking her husband and mother to take pictures helped her heal. Her entire pregnancy had been in view of all, and a loss as grave as hers becomes that much harder when it has been left to the public eye. As someone who receives much unwarranted criticism about many other aspects of her life, the transparent and intimate manner in which she approached sharing her stillbirth story may give people the courage to “pour their hearts out” as well. 

In breaking the stigma around pregnancy loss and sharing these and other sorrows openly, we can all better heal going into the new year. It is with hope that in hearing from Markle and Teigen, others may find the confidence to share in a space that has become daunting and taboo, to change the landscape for continued openness. 2020 has been a year inundated with isolation and fraught with hardship, but we must stop suffering in silence. We are all grieving, and it is about time we stop perpetuating the cycle of loneliness.

Political Science major, avid res walker, and certified bagel snob.