Miscarriage and stillbirth: how these women used honesty to shatter taboos in 2020

Miscarriage and stillbirth: how these women used honesty to shatter taboos in 2020

“Every time someone talks about miscarriage or stillbirth, it helps so many people, because it’s such a lonely thing to go through.” 

More than one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage – probably around a quarter of a million in the UK alone each year. A further 1 in every 224 births ends in a stillbirth.

Despite the staggering commonality of pregnancy loss, though, it has for too long remained a topic shrouded in silence and taboo. We don’t talk about it. We don’t want to talk about it, because, for far too many of us, it still wrongly inhabits a place of shame.

And this shame, this stigma that surrounds miscarriage and stillbirth, makes it difficult for us to open up about our grief – even though we might desperately want to talk to someone about what we’re going through.

Indeed, as Meghan Markle wrote in her New York Times essay earlier this year, “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.”

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle: “Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief.”

It is for this reason, of course, that Meghan decided to share her miscarriage story with the world. She hoped that, in going public with her experience, she might help others to feel less alone. That she might shatter the stigmas that surround pregnancy loss. And that she might encourage us all to be more empathetic and understanding about the plights of others.

Many were moved by her decision. Others, however, lashed out at the Duchess of Sussex, insisting that the news was far “too personal” to be made public. 

And in doing so, they proved that she absolutely did the right thing by speaking out. Because miscarriage should not be a taboo. And women should not have to suffer and grieve in silence.

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As Giovanna Fletcher – podcast host, author, and winner of I’m A Celebrity 2020 – explains to The Sun: “I think it’s so important that people are open about miscarriages. Every time someone brings this topic of conversation up it helps so many people, because it’s such a lonely thing to go through.

“Hearing other people express themselves when you can’t find the words to help people understand what you’re going through is so important.”

Giovanna adds: “I had a miscarriage before Buzz and it took me years to be able to talk about it, but once you do it’s hugely comforting to know that you’re not alone.

“When a miscarriage happens you need the people in your life to be there for you and you don’t need to feel ashamed or like you’ve done anything wrong, you need the people in your life to be able to give you the support.”

Thankfully, things are changing, albeit slowly. Indeed, this year has seen an unprecedented number of women use their platform to shatter the silence around pregnancy loss.

In February, Elizabeth Day confirmed that she had miscarried at seven weeks.

“It was my second miscarriage,” she said. “This time, I was told my miscarriage would be like a ‘heavy period’ and packed off home. [But] it was worse than any period I’ve ever known.

“It caused intense pain, both physical and emotional. Yet I went on with normal life as best I could, trying to ignore the blood gushing out of me and the feeling of brutal emptiness left behind. My partner was amazing.”

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Elizabeth Day: “Miscarriage is profoundly personal.”

Elizabeth added that she had not gone public with her grief to “elicit sympathy or as an exercise in self-indulgence”, but because not everyone knows how to react when someone is going through a miscarriage,

“Miscarriage is profoundly personal,” she said. 

“Most women will not want to talk about it. But I do, because it’s important.”

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Chrissy Teigen doesn’t care if people hate the photos she shared after miscarriage

In October, Chrissy Teigen shared a heartbreaking post announcing that she and her husband, John Legend, had lost their unborn son after being diagnosed with “partial placenta abruption.”

“We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before,” she wrote, alongside a series of raw black-and-white photographs.

“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.”

While the internet flooded Chrissy with support, she also received a barrage of criticism for capturing such an intimate moment.

“I cannot express how little I care that you hate the photos,” she later wrote in a blog post for Medium, addressing the trolls directly. “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.”

Just last month, Christina Perri shared a photo of herself holding her tiny baby’s hand, as she and husband Paul Costabile said that their daughter had been “born silent.”

“Last night we lost our baby girl,” the A Thousand Years singer captioned the image simply.

“She was born silent after fighting so hard to make it to our world. [But] she is at peace now and will live forever in our hearts.”

Christina had, as many of her fans will no doubt be aware, already suffered an earlier miscarriage in January, which she wrote about at that time to “help change the story and stigma around miscarriage.”

“I am so sad but not ashamed,” she said. 

“To all the mothers who have been here and who will be here, I see you and I love you.”

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“Having a miscarriage is traumatic, so why don’t we talk about the loss?”

Of course, some on social media have expressed upset over the fact that “so many women” have been impacted by pregnancy loss this year. Unfortunately, though, the year 2020 is no exception in this regard: it simply feels that way because more women in the spotlight are sharing their experiences.

And this, this slow eradication of the silence and shame around miscarriage and stillbirth, can only be a good thing. Especially as a recent Miscarriage Association survey on attitudes to pregnancy loss revealed that, while the majority of respondents believed talking to someone who’s had a miscarriage would help that person, 32% said they would not feel comfortable doing do, even for a close friend.

Over time, we hope that the amplification of women’s voices on miscarriage and stillbirth will help to shatter taboos.

If you are at a loss for words in the meantime, Stylist contributor Amy Swales has shared a list of suggestions for what to say and what not to say to a friend who has lost a baby.

However, Amy stresses that even a simple “I’m sorry” is a good start, as it opens up the conversation across the silence.

You can visit Tommy’s or the Miscarriage Association website for baby loss help and support.

The latter’s helpline is manned Monday to Friday, 9am-4pm – 01924 200799 or you can email info@miscarriageassociation.org.uk

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Images: Getty