When my son was born, I had a massive hemorrhage. After a team of doctors and nurses were unable to staunch the bleeding, they performed a hysterectomy that saved my life. I can recite this story now, with composure, because it happened five years ago. It took years for me to share the details of that day. I still loathe the first photo of me holding my son: the drugged-out emptiness in my eyes, the sickly pallor of my skin, the tubes extending in every direction from my body.
To share loss is to make yourself vulnerable. To share loss is to invite others into your grief. And I quickly learned that people aren’t comfortable with grief. They’re certainly not comfortable with women’s grief when it comes to miscarriage and reproductive trauma.
Witness the response to Chrissy Teigen’s Instagram post about losing her pregnancy, a baby boy she and her husband John Legend had taken to calling Jack. Earlier this month, Chrissy was put on bed rest and then hospitalized and given blood transfusions after experiencing bleeding. “We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before,” she said. “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.”
Along with the heartbreaking news, she shared black and white photos from the hospital, including one where her hands are clasped in prayer, with tears rolling down her cheeks. In another, she’s cradling little Jack, wrapped in a swaddle, while John kisses her shoulder.
Most people applauded her bravery in sharing such an intimate, painful experience, but there were plenty of others who derided her for what they say should have been a “private” moment.
It’s true the photos are so full of raw grief that at first I looked away, hesitant to intrude on the family’s suffering. I sat with my discomfort. It’s the same discomfort, I realized, that women have been taught to sublimate for centuries: To pretend all is well. To put the mental wellbeing of others—even total strangers—before our own. We are forever performing the emotional labor of burying our traumas and keeping other people happy, particularly men.
Chrissy’s photos were her gift to women. They are her way of saying: You don’t have to suffer in silence. You can talk about your miscarriage. You can share your sadness. You are not alone.
Eventually, I realized that telling the story of my son’s birth not only helped me process my grief over losing my uterus; it also helped other women who suffered reproductive trauma of their own, from infertility to miscarriages to ectopic pregnancies and more. There is power in the telling. Every story helps loosen the collective knot of shame, anger and unbearable sadness that accompanies these struggles. It chips away at a stigma that only serves to keep women isolated and unheard.
For some women, the telling is too hard, the memories too unmooring. Their silence is hard-earned and necessary. We all grieve in our own ways—in the ways that bring us the most peace.
I haven’t suffered a loss just like Chrissy’s, and I’ll never know that particular pain, but I know this: Women who have endured a miscarriage can grieve in whatever way they damn well please. It’s long past time for those who seek to silence women to follow their own advice—and say nothing.