In openly sharing her painful message of loss on social media, Chrissy Teigen became an important voice for mothers who have also experienced the loss of a child to pregnancy complications.
Teigen announced early Thursday that she and her husband, John Legend, had lost their baby midway through the pregnancy.
“We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before,” Teigen wrote on Twitter. “We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions. It just wasn’t enough.”
For as much support as she’s receiving for being so vulnerable with her audience, there is plenty of criticism, too, with commenters on her posts questioning her decision to share intimate details and photos about a topic that isn’t often talked about openly.
A long-standing culture of silence
Every year, 2.6 million babies are stillborn, according to data from the World Health Organization.
Miscarriage occurs in 10% to 25% of known pregnancies, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Approximately 80% of them occur in the first trimester – which is why women have traditionally been encouraged to keep their pregnancy private until they are at least 12 weeks along. Only after crossing that marker do some feel “safe” in sharing the news with others.
“What that notion means is, ‘Don’t let people know you’re pregnant until your pregnancy is far enough along that it’s not going to be lost,’” Mindy Bergman, professor of psychology at Texas A&M University, said. “That’s what we mean when we say ‘safe.’ So there’s already from the very beginning this stigma, this shame for the potential of losing it.”
“This is usually kind of hidden,” Sarah Allen, a Chicago-area psychologist specializing in woman’s mental health through reproductive years, told CNN. “Oftentimes people don’t know what to say and women are typically feel quite lonely going through this.”
And though the stigma is prevalent, Teigen was forthcoming on social media about her struggles through her third pregnancy, chronicling complications with her placenta, heavy bleeding and her doctor’s advice for bed rest.
Teigen recently said her IVF pregnancies felt “untouchable and safe” and that this pregnancy left her feeling “eggshelly.”
Teigen was about halfway through her pregnancy when she was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Sunday, after a worsening of bleeding that she said she had experienced for almost a month.
Comfort through shared loss
Lisa Patel, a pediatrician at a hospital in San Francisco, was not far along in her pregnancies when she miscarried, but she told CNN she knows something of what Teigen’s loss may feel like.
“I was just so grateful that she (Teigen) put herself out there like that,” she said. “Because until I started talking about it, you just feel so lonely.”
Patel joined hundreds of women and families who have opened up on social media about their experience with loss following Teigen’s announcement, despite the topic being difficult to talk about.
“I feel like people are more able to share on Twitter what they’re less willing to share in personal relationships with people,” she said. “I think that’s one of the nice things about social media – you feel more comfortable, ironically, doing so.
“But my hope is that if you’re willing to share it in a public forum, it also means you’re willing to share it within your network with people who may be struggling.”
Amy Kuo-Hammerman lost four pregnancies and said, “there’s a feeling of being broken … as though I’ve failed at the one unique thing that women’s bodies are supposed to be able to do.”
It’s easy to feel we know celebrities, “particularly when the celebrity is so engaging in part because of how ‘real’ she presents herself, as Chrissy Teigen is,” Kuo-Hammerman said. “So, when you hear them share something that’s so difficult to go through and to talk about, it can change the culture around the topic.”
‘Women are angry at their bodies for disappointing them’
And every woman navigates their pregnancy in a unique way – which includes processing grief and loss in a way that’s unique as well, Allen said.
“Everybody’s journey is different,” she said.
“When somebody loses their baby, whether it’s 6 weeks or 26 weeks, it doesn’t matter,” Allen said. “As soon as you know you’re pregnant, you have hopes and dreams for that baby. You have this fantasy in your mind of what they’re going to be like, what they’re going to do. That doesn’t just all go. You have to process that.”
Allen said mothers go through a roller-coaster of stages when they’ve experienced pregnancy complications: numbness followed by guilt, anger and grief.
“Women are angry at their bodies for disappointing them,” she said. “But a body does what a body wants to do.”
Photos as remembrances
Teigen’s photos on social media from her hospital room have caused some to wonder whether she overshared. Some even asked who took the pictures and why Teigen felt the need to post about such a personal experience.
For Todd Hochberg, a photographer in Illinois, photographing perinatal loss is part of his life’s work and has become a routine practice for him – capturing the most intimate moments in the hours and minutes after a couple has lost a child.
His field of bereavement photography is not uncommon, Hochberg told CNN.
Teigen’s celebrity status lends itself to scrutiny and has amplified her photos, but everyday people are also opting to freeze these moments in time with their baby.
Hochberg said he has had the privilege to be in the hospital room with between 500 and 600 families to date.
“I also feel alive that these strangers to me allowed me into their world, into the most fragile moments of their life,” he said.
Bereavement photography isn’t for everyone, Hochberg said. Ultimately, he said, his goal is to provide families with lasting memories.
“There has been a cultural paradigm shift in understanding and supporting families experiencing perinatal loss and I hope I’ve contributed to that by way of parents sharing the images within their circles of love.”
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan deemed October as a month of remembrance and support for parents who have lost a child to pregnancy complications, according to the Star Legacy Foundation, a non-profit focused on education and support for families dealing with pregnancy loss, stillbirth and neonatal death.
During the month, organizations such as Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep hold walks and advocacy events in several states to honor the lives lost. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the walk will be a virtual event on October 3.
CNN’s Julia Carpenter, Madeline Holcombe and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.