It’s not often that a celebrity tells the truth. They attract with the promise of some personal revelation but then, more often than not, it’s just spin and PR with a crumb of honesty to pull us in.
That is why Chrissy Teigen’s latest post is so impressive. Not that I think that’s what she was going for.
Like Chrissy, I have two children, but I should have three. In February 2015 I lost a baby at 16 weeks. The bleeding started almost as soon as I found out I was pregnant. This hadn’t happened with my other pregnancies and I started to sense in my gut that this little one wouldn’t stick.
While my husband comforted himself with statistics and the kind words of midwives, I dreaded every time I went to the loo. The bleeding was always, always there. Sometimes less, sometimes more. And then one day I stood up and it was all over the floor. It was the most frightening moment of my life. After being blue lit to hospital, the obstetrician said he’d better scan me just to “make sure”. Extraordinarily my little one was still there. The midwife at the 12-week scan just a few days later told me all was well; he was growing perfectly, we don’t know why bleeds happen, and try not to worry. Just 2 per cent of babies are lost after 12 weeks.
At 14 weeks my waters went, and after two weeks in the hospital I delivered, in the quiet of the night, our tiny boy. The hospital I was in had nanas who knitted covers for Carte D’Or ice-cream tubs, and that’s what they placed him in, on an impossibly tiny pillow. He was deemed a “late miscarriage” which simply means after 12 weeks. It is not until 24 weeks that a baby is afforded the gravitas of having been a stillbirth.
I remember, like Teigen, those days immediately after. Seeing my gorgeous two other children and feeling dizzyingly, sickeningly lucky to have them, and to be alive as well.
“I find myself randomly crying, thinking about how happy I am to have two insanely wonderful little toddlers who fill this house with love. I smother them with love,” Teigen wrote in her essay.
I also remember realising that, as I was simultaneously feeling better and better in myself, I was moving further and further away from my son.
I remember too how kindness cut to the quick. Opening my front door in my dressing gown to be greeted by a mum from school with a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates, and in that moment thinking there could have been nothing more perfect. And really not knowing how to say thank you to make them realise how very much it meant.
For Teigen, one of the greatest kindnesses came from the people who asked nothing of her. “Some of the best letters started with ‘You don’t have to respond to this, but…’,” she explains.
I couldn’t stop reading other people’s stories, and so many people shared them with me. Every single one helped me make sense of what had happened, and so I needed to tell mine in return.
Those of us who are serial oversharers know that you can’t just share the good; it goes both ways. I couldn’t bear the thought of people not knowing. Trying to put on a brave face was impossible. For once I couldn’t participate in the lie that everything was OK.
I have photos, too. I would not, could not, share them, but I don’t judge Teigen doing so, and I know she wouldn’t judge me. They are among the most precious I have. I don’t think I really knew my husband until then.
And I totally understand when Teigen writes: “I cannot express how little I care that you hate the photos. How little I care that it’s something you wouldn’t have done. I lived it, I chose to do it, and more than anything, these photos aren’t for anyone but the people who have lived this or are curious enough to wonder what something like this is like. These photos are only for the people who need them. The thoughts of others do not matter to me.”
Similarly, I can’t share my son’s name as Teigen has. It went on the order of service for his tiny funeral. He was a he though, a boy. I shared his pictures with our parents, recognising that they had lost a grandchild, too. They were in a sealed envelope so they didn’t have to look if they didn’t want to. I’ll never forget my mum saying, “he had the same nose” as my other two. It seems I can only make one sort of nose.
There will still be those who see Teigen’s grief as gratuitous, her sharing somehow as vulgar – writing as she does about adult nappies and blood clots. I salute her. It is rare that women give people a window into their pain. I applaud her for refusing to hide it, or be defined by it. We can carry both joy and grief at the same time.
Despite her millions, and her superstar husband, John Legend, the ache is the same. She doesn’t get to opt out of any of it just because she’s famous, and her story will have helped someone. Just as I hope mine will.
I wonder sometimes how many women feel the same as me. For whom ‘having children’ is less like something neatly ticked off a list, and more like the nagging thought that there’s something you’ve forgotten. The knowledge of someone who should be here, and who isn’t.
I offer that thought to Chrissy Teigen, and to anyone reading, as someone further down the line – but there’s no need to reply. The most important thing is to know you’re not alone.