As an author and entrepreneur known for her candid musings both on Instagram and Twitter, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Chrissy Teigen and John Legend had been documenting so much of their pregnancy—including its complications. And if you’re one of Teigen‘s millions of followers on social media, you may have seen her latest pregnancy-related post, revealing that their newborn baby boy, Jack, had died on September 30.
The couple shared a heartfelt tribute to their loss, which occurred “despite bags and bags of blood transfusions.” To put it simply: “It just wasn’t enough,” wrote Teigen.
While millions of friends and fans sent messages of support, others weren’t so positive. Some accused the couple of turning something that they believe should be kept private into a “spectacle,” which is not an appropriate response to grieving parents.
“Some people think that women’s reproductive health and the things that take place within women’s bodies should be private,” says Jessica Zucker, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in women’s reproductive health and maternal mental health. “And yet, we are continually objectified as being women, for our bodies and our sexuality. When it comes to something like loss, it really brings out the not-so-sexy part of the potential female experience.”
View this post on Instagram
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. It just wasn’t enough. . . We never decide on our babies’ names until the last possible moment after they’re born, just before we leave the hospital. But we, for some reason, had started to call this little guy in my belly Jack. So he will always be Jack to us. Jack worked so hard to be a part of our little family, and he will be, forever. . . To our Jack – I’m so sorry that the first few moments of your life were met with so many complications, that we couldn’t give you the home you needed to survive. We will always love you. . . Thank you to everyone who has been sending us positive energy, thoughts and prayers. We feel all of your love and truly appreciate you. . . We are so grateful for the life we have, for our wonderful babies Luna and Miles, for all the amazing things we’ve been able to experience. But everyday can’t be full of sunshine. On this darkest of days, we will grieve, we will cry our eyes out. But we will hug and love each other harder and get through it.
One of the worst ways to respond to someone who has experienced a loss is to tell them how they should grieve that loss. “Likely, the people who are most afraid of what [Teigen’s] doing and saying are people who haven’t lived through this [sort of loss],” says Dr. Zucker. “You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who’s lived through something similar that says what Teigen’s saying is noxious.”
Stillbirths (when a baby doesn’t survive after 20 weeks or at the time of delivery) and miscarriages are more common than many people think. “One in four to five pregnancies can end in a miscarriage,” says Lilli Dash Zimmerman, MD, fertility specialist at Columbia University Fertility Center. “Second and third-trimester losses are less common, but they are still much more common than people realize.” (Dr. Zucker puts the stillbirth rate at one in 100.) So why the stigma? Dr. Zimmerman believes that it’s partly because people haven’t talked about it openly, and also because of the blame attached to such a loss. “The human tendency is to look for blame, and often it’s a self-blame kind that has been created due to the stigma [surrounding the loss from miscarriage or stillbirth],” she says.
“When it comes to something like loss, it really brings out the not-so-sexy part of the potential female experience.” —Jessica Zucker, PhD
But that stigma is slowly lifting, which both Dr. Zimmerman and Dr. Zucker think is, in large part, due to social media. Teigen’s openness and vulnerability about her loss open major doors for others that have experienced something similar. “Having somebody who is in the spotlight [speak out] normalize these types of things, including postpartum depression [which Teigen has also spoken about] and now pregnancy loss really invites other people to do the same,” says Dr. Zucker. “We’ve been in dire need of a shift when it comes to the conversation and lack thereof surrounding pregnancy and infant loss, and the more people use their voices and their stories to share about these all too common experiences the better.”
If you do know someone who has experienced the death of an infant or a miscarriage, the best thing you can do is offer gentle support. “Say things like, ‘I’m deeply sorry for your loss, I’m here for you if you want to talk,’” says Dr. Zucker, noting that consistency is key. “It’s tempting to move on after being there for a friend in the first day or week, then maybe a month later you’ve sort of moved on. Even a simple text that checks in frequently, six months and a year later, is important.” The main thing? Don’t assume what anybody else is feeling. Dr. Zucker recommends asking questions to make sure the person is comfortable speaking about what they’re going through.
Teigen is viewed by so many of her followers as a friend of sorts, one who confides in them about the ups and downs of everyday life. And still, it’s incredibly powerful for her to shed light on something so vulnerable. “Every day can’t be full of sunshine,” she told her followers. “On this darkest of days, we will grieve, we will cry our eyes out. But we will hug and love each other harder and get through it.”