This week, the American model Chrissy Teigen revealed that, like millions of women around the world every year, she has suffered the loss of a baby.
The language around this most devastating of experiences is euphemistic, to say the least – as if the baby just disappears from the womb. As if miscarriage and stillbirth are not traumatic, physically and emotionally painful things to go through.
“She’s lost the baby,” people will whisper, and then a hushed silence falls on proceedings. Everyone takes a mental note to tell the woman how sorry they are the next time they see her, which won’t be for a while, of course, given that all women who lose babies must hide away so that they can “recuperate” and “rest”, but mostly so we don’t have to see their terrible grief.
In posting a picture to Instagram of herself weeping in a hospital gown, Teigen, who has 31 million followers on that platform alone (and another 13 million on Twitter), has shone a glaring floodlight on the deeply dark experience that so many are expected to go through behind closed doors. “Driving home from hospital with no baby,” she tweeted on Thursday. “How can this be real?”
On Instagram, she wrote a longer post about what had happened. “We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before. We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions.” In another picture, Teigen cradles a tiny bundle of blankets that hide her lost baby, Jack. Her husband, the singer John Legend, tenderly embraces them both.
There were outpourings of sympathy for the couple, but there was also a great deal of commentary about the appropriateness of sharing such images. On daytime TV, concerned presenters discussed the discomfort they had felt at seeing the “deeply personal” pictures. People tweeted about not wanting to “intrude on the couple’s grief”.
I, too, felt uncomfortable when I saw the pictures, until I realised that my discomfort stemmed from a lifetime of being told that expressing emotion equalled being a histrionic drama queen.
And then it hit me. Of course I felt uncomfortable seeing the pictures of Teigen. Her baby had just died. That is not a comforting thing. Neither is having to give birth to a baby you know is not going to survive. But perhaps Teigen has drawn some comfort from the messages of support she has received for making her news public.
Perhaps, just perhaps, Teigen has even given some comfort to other women who have lost babies, women who have then felt the need to hide this loss lest it upsets others.
The response to Teigen reminded me a little of the woman who, after a talk I had given about OCD, asked me what she should do about her daughter, who “claimed” to have depression. “I think she’s just attention-seeking,” she said, firmly. I looked at the woman, and immediately felt for her daughter. “Well, maybe try giving her some attention then,” I replied.
My goodness, I salute Teigen for showing the world her monstrous, appalling grief. Why should she hide this thing, this truly awful, destructive thing? Maybe we need to see it. Maybe we need reminding that grief does not have to be private. That the forcing inside of grief is not really for the benefit of the person experiencing the grief, but for the people around them, who, for reasons that are no fault of their own, have not grown up in a society that tells them how to deal with loss.
Maybe we are sick of having to live our worst moments in silence. Maybe we want to be able to say to people: “Look, I am having a terrible time! This is painful! I don’t want to do this alone, behind a closed door. Please, please, can you love me through it, and support me through it?”
It is estimated that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Two and a half million babies are stillborn around the globe each year. That’s a lot of grieving. Maybe, instead of criticising Teigen, we should be thanking her for reminding us that this happens. That there are some women – and men – who want people to intrude on their grief, and hold them through it.