Permission to Grieve: Miscarriages and Stillbirths

Very obvious content note for death, loss, stillbirth and miscarriages.

Last week, celebrity couple Chrissy Teigen and John Legend lost their third child to a pregnancy complication, because all the fame and money in the world can sometimes not make a pregnancy safe. Teigen, who is a very outgoing person who shares lots of her personal and family life on Twitter also shared about her loss.

Accompanied by a black and white picture of herself in hospital she talks about her pain, her loss and her love for her child who couldn’t be saved. The world and the internet being what it is, she was both accused of being a hypocrite for being a staunch pro choice woman, but still mourning the loss of her child, and of milking the death of her child for cheap publicity by posting about it.

Of course you’ve got to have some deep seated hatred of women if you believe that the lady who kept tweeting about being pregnant for months, happy and proud, would just use a life threatening pregnancy complication that resulted in the loss of her child for publicity, because obviously women are heartless shallow creatures devoid of real feelings or something.

But however you would personally feel about making your loss public on social media, by doing so herself, Teigen gave others a great gift: The permission to mourn. Because miscarriages and stillbirths are still hushed in our societies. If you tell people you’re expecting, they’ll tell you you shouldn’t say anything before those critical first three months are over, because…

Well, because what exactly? It’s not like the words leaving your mouth will retroactively curse the embryo with a genetic condition incompatible with life, or suddenly make your thyroid stop working so your body won’t carry the healthiest of embryos to term. Biology doesn’t work like that. The reason you’re not supposed to talk about it is because people would like to pretend it doesn’t happen. This, ironically but not unexpectedly, rather logically, includes the very same people accusing Teigen to be a hypocrite for being pro choice. If you pretend that a fertilised egg is the same, no more important than a six years old, then you mustn’t face the reality that most fertilised eggs never even implant, and that of those that implant a large number will still not make it past the three months mark, and that of those who make it past that mark some will still not result in a living baby.

The result of this is that women and others who lose wanted pregnancies are shushed up, their feelings are denied and their need to mourn is ignored. While Germany still has some very restrictive anti abortion laws, it’s only been a couple of years since people were allowed to bury their stillborn if it weighed less than a kilogram, which included fetuses up to the eighth month of pregnancy. While the day before you were forced to carry “your unborn baby” to term whether you wanted or not, suddenly there was no baby, just clinical waste.

Emotions around pregnancies are complicated, because they are tied to so many concepts in our societies. From the idea that this is the ultimate test of femaleness (even for people who are not, you know, women), over the idea that this is your duty, to the fact that it can also be your greatest desire. For everybody who can get pregnant and who has sex that could get them pregnant, the idea of a pregnancy hangs over our heads. Depending on how you’re personally feeling, it can be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or the albatross around your neck. Being able to talk freely about all those emotions is important. This must include the ability to say “I am devastated for losing a pregnancy/not becoming pregnant” and also using terms like “baby” which denotes an emotional attachment, but also the ability to say “I will never ever again consent to being pregnant”. Because yours truly has done both, and I’ve been hurt both times by people who tried to deny the validity of my feelings and position. Occasionally by the same people. Because apparently at ten weeks it’s both a baby if you don’t want to be pregnant, and just an error of nature if you want to be pregnant but lose the pregnancy. Fuck that shit.



  1. says

    A woman who wants an abortion does not “kill” a baby, she merely stops a developing situation that would lead to an unwanted -- and thus probably unhappy -- baby being brought into life.
    And a woman who grieves her stillbirth or miscarriage does not grieve the death of a baby, although she might use the word baby in describing her grief. For she grieves not a baby that died, but a baby that never was and whom she wanted very much.
    But it si not any woman’s duty to discuss and explain the linguistic and philosophical minutiae of her situation. For those who want to understand, there is enough information out there to do so.

    People who want women to be slaves to their biology do not understand this on purpose. Controlling women is the only point of that ideology. Controlling what women do, controlling what women say, even controlling what they think and feel.

  2. kestrel says

    What a sad story and what an important thing to talk about. I had a friend who belonged to a certain church, one that felt women should have as many babies as possible. This poor lady went through many miscarriages trying to fulfill (as she saw it) her duty to god… and in the meantime, her fellow church-goers condemned her for being “selfish”. You see, it’s “very selfish” not to have a whole ton of kids, and if you don’t have a ton of kids, it’s obviously your fault. Somehow. They did not care in the slightest that she was trying her very best, and so she had to keep her grief to herself; there was no sympathy to be had at that church. I found the whole thing sickening. Women don’t just exist to be walking wombs; they are human beings. That church did not see them that way, however. The only relief this lady ever got was to talk to her crazy heathen friend (Yours Truly) who could allow her space for her grief.

    I have to wonder what is the matter with people. We need to help each other. Condemning someone for having a miscarriage is reprehensible.

  3. lumipuna says

    It’s even worse for Teigen, if you delve into her social media harassment. She’s long been one of the celebrities semi-randomly picked on by Qanon/pizzagate crowd. In other words, there’s vague accusations of satanic child abuse and adrenochrome cannibalism.

    Now, with the miscarriage, some weirdos are trying insinuate that she perhaps killed her own fetus* for cannibalistic purposes, or otherwise “God decided to take away” the child to save it from her “lifestyle”.

    * I can only imagine that America’s crankiest anti-choicers have drifted into the Qanon community and are now trying to divert the “concern for children” into the precious fetuses.

  4. says

    And a woman who grieves her stillbirth or miscarriage does not grieve the death of a baby, although she might use the word baby in describing her grief. For she grieves not a baby that died, but a baby that never was and whom she wanted very much.

    I think this needs more nuance, depending on age of the gestation and circumstances. For me, your words would have been exactly right. I had what is called a “missed abortion” at 10 weeks: the embryo had died, but my body stubbornly refused to miscarry. I lost the idea of a baby, a million plans, a ton of innocence and all trust in my body. One of the reasons I would never ever consent to being pregnant again is because I worried myself into knots the next two times. By the time of delivery I was an emotional wreck. I didn’t give a fuck about the remains of the pregnancy, I have no relationship with dead bodies or find graves important.
    For people who suffer stillbirths late in pregnancy or who need abortions late in pregnancy, the matter is different. It’s now considered important that parents are allowed to spend time with the baby after delivery, take pictures and create memorabilia to help them process their grief.
    Which is again why forced birthers show their misogyny when they claim that people would have abortions right until the date of delivery for some frivolous reasons, when all people I ever knew who needed third trimester abortions were heartbroken.

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