Meghan Markle’s miscarriage isn’t Hollywood scandal— she’s unpacking, as she wrote, “the staggering commonality of this pain,” for the estimated 20 percent of women whose pregnancy loss leaves them feeling alone and misunderstood.
On Wednesday, the Duchess of Sussex wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times, revealing that she suffered a miscarriage in July, shortly after the first birthday of her son Archie, whom she shares with Prince Harry.
“After changing his diaper, I felt a sharp cramp,” she wrote. “I dropped to the floor with him in my arms, humming a lullaby to keep us both calm, the cheerful tune a stark contrast to my sense that something was not right. I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.” Later, in the hospital, she “tried to imagine how we’d heal.”
Markle realized that an effortless question — “Are you OK?” — could break the dam. She knew it worked before: During the 2019 documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, the question, posed by a reporter, was a breakthrough for Markle, who had been breastfeeding in between royal duties. Her blunt reply, "Thank you for asking because not many people have asked if I’m OK” (she wasn’t) was felt deeply.
“The reason it resonated with people is because everyone wants to be asked if they’re OK,” Markle reflected on the viral interview during a recent podcast with Teenager Therapy.
Markle falls in line with other public figures who shared pregnancy losses — on Tuesday, singer Christina Perri, who was in her third trimester of pregnancy, said that she and her husband “lost our baby girl” who “was born silent” with an Instagram photo of the couple holding the infant’s finger. In January, at 11 weeks pregnant, Perri announced her miscarriage “to help change the story & stigma around miscarriage, secrecy and shame” adding, “I am so sad but not ashamed.”
In October Chrissy Teigen, who was expecting her third child with husband John Legend, shared that after a diagnosis of partial placenta abruption, bedrest and blood transfusions, she was induced to deliver her 20-week-old son Jack. In a subsequent Medium essay, Teigen was grateful for loving fans. “The worst part is knowing there are so many women that won’t get these quiet moments of joy from strangers,” she wrote. “I beg you to please share your stories and to please be kind to those pouring their hearts out. Be kind in general, as some won’t pour them out at all.”
Pregnancy loss, loosely defined as the death of an unborn fetus, can occur for many different reasons and potentially at any time during a pregnancy, certified nurse-midwife Julie Lamppa tells Yahoo Life. “Early pregnancy loss, sometimes referred to as miscarriage or spontaneous abortion, is the most common and occurs in the first trimester.” While stillbirth is the death of a fetus after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
“What often matters less is when pregnancy loss occurs but rather the attachment to a baby,” Janet Jaffee, a psychologist and co-founder of the Center for Reproductive Psychology, tells Yahoo Life. She adds, “People might assume that an earlier loss has less importance but grief can be measured by attachment.”
Social pressure to procreate and relentless parenting advice can apotheosize pregnancy, says Jaffee, so both women and men might blame themselves if loss occurs.
Many couples also hide their pregnancy until after the first trimester — the so-called safe zone — when loss is less likely to occur (according to the Mayo Clinic, most miscarriages occur during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy). “Women or couples may hesitate to share a loss fearing judgment and blame,” says Lamppa.
When you criticize Meghan for discussing miscarriage, because it’s “too personal” for her to share, you’re enabling the culture of silence around the issue that keeps so many people in a state of shame/guilt/loneliness/misinformation. People NEED to know they aren’t alone in this
— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) November 25, 2020
How people respond to pregnancy loss can perpetuate shame. “There is the false perception that pregnancy loss is uncommon because people don’t often talk about it,” says Laampa. “In my clinic, people are shocked to hear how frequent it is.”
Jaffee agrees. “You’re talking about a death or a loss when there should be a birth or a life. People generally try their best to comfort but saying, ‘It’s for the best,’ or ‘You can have another baby’ isn’t helpful — as if you can replace one child with the other.”
On Wednesday, Markle was criticized for describing what she called “an almost unbearable grief experienced by many but talked about by few.” However, the accusations drove a wave of support. “When I had my miscarriage, I learned from my OBGYN that it occurs 1 in 4 pregnancies!” tweeted actress Ming-Na Wen. “THAT info astounded me. I asked, ‘Why isn’t it more common knowledge?’ ‘Very few want to talk about it.’”
“When you criticize Meghan for discussing miscarriage, because it’s ‘too personal’ for her to share, you’re enabling the culture of silence around the issue that keeps so many people in a state of shame/guilt/loneliness/misinformation,” tweeted Jameela Jamil. “People NEED to know they aren’t alone in this.”
When public figures share their experiences it opens doors, says Laampa. “Women often breathe a big sigh of relief when they share and learn there is nothing they could have done to prevent this.”
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