In the black-and-white pictures posted on social media, the image is of a mom leaning forward, tears running down her face as she is prepped for an epidural. A few photos later, there is a picture of mom and dad holding a little bundle, more tears running down mom’s face. The caption describes the pain of losing baby Jack, who, despite bed rest and multiple transfusions, did not survive.
Almost 11 million people have responded to Chrissy Teigen’s heartfelt photos on Instagram, as she and John Legend mourn the death of their third child, Jack.
Baby Jack’s parents have joined the terribly tragic “club” of pregnancy and infant loss survivors. Approximately one in four pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage — around a million a year — and almost 50,000 more are stillborn or die in infancy every year. That’s a lot of grieving parents.
What that really means is that everyone reading this column almost certainly knows someone who has experienced pregnancy loss — even if neither you nor they talk about it.
Of course, Chrissy and John get to decide how much they share, when and with whom, as every parent does. As people with broad audiences, however, their willingness to be vulnerable and share their grief is shining a light on a part of life that is not uncommon, yet is too often shushed and hidden from public view.
The United States (and some other cultures as well) has glossed over grief, discounted loss and sanitized death for decades. What used to be normal (death) is now, somehow, treated as abnormal. Death and mourning used to be communal events. Now, we put timelines on it, as if we can check a list and move through grief quickly and efficiently. Pro tip: You can’t.
If there is a hierarchy about what losses are “OK” to talk about, pregnancy loss has got to be somewhere close to the bottom. No matter how you slice it, loss is lonely. It’s even lonelier when you feel like you can’t (or “shouldn’t”) share it. Or if (when) people judge you for sharing. No one, and I mean no one, has the right to tell you you are grieving “the wrong way.” There is no wrong way. And there is no one way. Everyone’s path through grief is different.
The path for potential subsequent pregnancies is different, too. I hope that people have stopped saying, “You can just have another,” as if babies can be “ordered” off a menu somewhere. “I’ll take one of those and one of those and one of those.”
The truth is, you have no way of knowing what might be in their future. Some will have another loss. Some may never get pregnant again, and some may get pregnant many times but have no baby to show for it.
Some people will have another child, a “rainbow baby.” Even then, those pregnancies can be fraught with worry. With my own rainbow baby after 16 miscarriages, including a second-trimester loss, there were some days I was so consumed with fear that that day would be the day my baby died, I curled into a ball and sobbed on the floor. I have a rainbow grandbaby coming in a couple of weeks, after my daughter experienced three pregnancy losses. We both know, nine months can feel like decades.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Chrissy, John and Jack have now become visible reminders of just how ubiquitous pregnancy loss is. It’s the loss of a baby and it’s the loss of the dream of whom that baby would grow up to become.
“For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been.'” — John Greenleaf Whittier
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.