Sunday, January 23, 2022

Why is So Much of Female Pain Expected to be Silent?

I am not a mother and I have not yet tried to become one, so this piece on motherhood is written like all my pieces on motherhood, in that I am sitting outside a window, staring into a house that scares and also excites me (metaphorically – I actually am writing this from bed).

Yesterday when Chrissy Teigen announced that she had ‘lost’ her third baby, you could feel a global gulp from women around the world who love Chrissy as if she is our own friend. And now today feels like a collective outpouring. Twitter is exploding with stories from women who have kept their own miscarriages and stillbirths silent for so long, who have kept their own losses tucked away. They’re sharing their own ‘hidden’ photos; the only snapshots they have of a life that was, and then wasn’t. Chrissy has done what she has always done: put her life front and centre and shared openly.

Yes, this photo of her in pure, raw grief makes for uncomfortable viewing. But in sharing her trauma, she has opened a Pandora’s Box of pain for all the women who have been expected to silently put away their childish things when they ‘lose’ a baby. You’ll note I keep putting some words in quotation marks – even the language around this is painful. Women don’t lose anything. They were pregnant with a baby they wanted to have and then that baby died. (I’m choosing my language carefully here because I am overwhelmingly pro-choice).

It has always been this accepted rule that women shouldn’t talk about their pregnancies until they are 12 weeks along, because the risk of miscarriage is so high. Like so much of the Enforced Motherhood Rules, this feels insane to me, an outsider. Three months is a very long time to be waiting for something that then doesn’t happen. Three months is an eternity. I once got into a full-scale email war with a merchandise company because my Taylor Swift concert jumper was a month late to be delivered. You’re telling me that I’m expected to keep a pregnancy secret for THREE MONTHS, so that if the baby dies, I don’t get to tell anyone? I just take all that planning and all that loss and all that trauma and what… move on? Swallow it and just accept that these things happen?

What??

The entire crux of mental health is that mental distress is isolating and any shared experience that makes you feel less alone can feel like a lifeline. The generally accepted miscarriage rate is 1 in 4 pregnancies. That is a LOT of women who have their own miscarriage story. That’s a lot of parents who need an outlet for their grief. That’s a lot of people expected to go back to work and act like nothing happened (not to mention the physical after-effects that happen to many women). These babies had names and clothes and futures. That is a lot of loss.

Look, I get that it’s different for everyone and for people with difficult or complicated pregnancies, staying silent is a protection mechanism. I – see above – cannot imagine how hard that would be. What a thin line that hope would be. But I just think the expectation on women to keep calm and carry on – again, as per usual, always – is cruel. I think it’s misogynistic. I think it’s a disservice to the men who are looking forward to becoming fathers just as much as it’s a disservice to the women who are looking forward to becoming mothers.

So much of the female experience is rooted in pain and silence. So much of our trauma is inconvenient or impolite. Even now, there are people debating on whether or not Chrissy was right to share those devastating photos and I get that those pictures are jarring, I do. But what they also are is proof. Proof that this baby – little Jack – existed. Proof that this baby died. And proof that there are two grieving parents left to pick up the pieces. By sharing this, they are giving voice to the hundreds of thousands of parents who have also walked the long road of miscarriage or stillbirth. Maybe now they can feel a little less lonely.

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