Commentary: A celebrity, a pregnancy loss, and a call for humanity

Why We Wrote This

Columnist Ken Makin knows firsthand the pain of miscarriage, but as the father of a 2-year-old now, he also knows the importance of not giving up – on parenthood or more humane politics and health care policies.

Ken Makin
The author and his wife announced their pregnancy in 2016 with this photo on Facebook. That pregnancy ended in miscarriage, but the couple now has a 2-year-old son.

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Recently, Chrissy Teigen shared on Twitter the heartbreaking experience of her pregnancy loss. I know that kind of grief from the miscarriage my wife and I experienced. It’s unimaginable that people would attack a mother who had just lost her child, but one candidate for Congress did, criticizing Ms. Teigen and her husband, John Legend, for their pro-choice views.

It is disappointing that our politics are so polarizing that we can’t even properly grieve with one another. Yet our politics don’t just fail people in the face of death – they also fail people in life. The fact that Black women die of pregnancy-related causes at a far higher rate than white women is just one example. Health care should be a human right. When that right is denied, a piece of our humanity is lost.

My wife and I left the sonogram from our first pregnancy on the refrigerator for months as a way of honoring what was lost. But we also kept trying, and now we have a 2-year-old son.

When it comes to the deep political divides and racial inequities in our country, we must keep trying to improve our democracy.

I first heard about Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s pregnancy loss on the radio. When I went to Ms. Teigen’s Twitter page to confirm whether what I’d heard was true, my heart sank. There was a black-and-white photo of her sitting on the edge of the bed, face awash with pain. Then I read the tweet:

“We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before. ... 

“We never decide on our babies’ names until the last possible moment after they’re born, just before we leave the hospital. But we, for some reason, had started to call this little guy in my belly Jack. So he will always be Jack to us. Jack worked so hard to be a part of our little family, and he will be, forever.”

The picture was poignant in a way that even if you’ve never felt the “deep pain” that Ms. Teigen wrote about, you couldn’t help but feel empathy in that moment. And yet some of us have felt that pain.

It happened so suddenly to my wife and me. One minute, we were so happy about our first pregnancy that we told Facebook. I still remember the plaid button-up my wife wore for our modest announcement. When we received our first sonogram, I playfully named our child Blue as a preliminary name – and a projection because I wanted to have a boy. It stuck.

And then, just weeks before we were slated to find out our child’s gender, Blue was gone. 

The level of hurting we experienced bordered on betrayal. How could this happen to us? There’s a biblical passage that I believe describes that sudden transfer from joy to pain: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22, 23, English Standard Version).

Blue was our light, just as Jack was Chrissy and John’s light. When that hope is taken away from you, the darkness can be consuming.

Grieving in public

After I read through Ms. Teigen’s heartbreaking experience, I initially wondered why someone would be so open with the world in the immediate moments after such a loss. It took a tweet from Meena Harris, a lawyer, women’s activist, and the niece of vice presidential hopeful Kamala Harris, to put things in perspective: “Women suffer through so much in silence. Those who choose to speak, even in their toughest moments, give power to all of us.”

This was how Chrissy and John chose to grieve Jack. And in their lowest moment, they brought awareness and attention to pregnancy loss – which occurs more often than one would know, given the code of silence typically associated with it. Opening up to the world is a part of the healing process for Ms. Teigen and could help others heal by breaking that silence. But the risky part about sharing on social media is that there’s a pocket of folks who choose to cause harm.

It’s unimaginable that people would attack a mother who had just lost her child – but then these are trying times, independent of personal tragedies. Ms. Teigen was attacked for her views on abortion, as she is notably pro-choice. In 2015, after three people were shot dead at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Ms. Teigen unrepentantly said that she and John would “immediately make another donation to Planned Parenthood.” Conspiracy theorists, trolls, and one candidate for Congress took those views as an opportunity to attack the couple after their personal tragedy.

“Hoping that Chrissy Tiegan (sic) and John Legend will reevaluate their thoughts on abortion after their heartbreaking experience,” wrote Errol Webber, a California candidate for the U.S. House. “It’s not a clump of cells. It’s either a baby or it’s not.”

Humanity as a verb

Humanity doesn’t just define all of us as a collective race of human beings. It also defines how we should treat one another – with benevolence. Independent of the heartbreak of losing unborn children – or loved ones in this pandemic – it is disappointing to see that our politics are so polarizing that we can’t even properly grieve with one another. 

Yet our politics don’t just fail people in the face of death – they also fail people in life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 60% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable and that Black women die of pregnancy-related causes at a far higher rate than white women. 

That shows a culture of negligence – a systemic lack of empathy. Health care should be a human right. When that right is denied, a piece of our humanity is lost.

So, how do we restore what is lost? How do we find solace in sadness? We can’t run from the past – we have to remember it. And with that perspective, we have to put our best effort forward.

My wife and I left the sonogram of Blue on the refrigerator for months. It was our way of honoring what was lost. And yet, we kept trying. Months later, we became pregnant again – this time with Kannon. He was born the day after New Year’s in 2018 and is as much our son as he is our sun – a joy and light for our family.

When it comes to the deep political divides and racial inequities in our country, we must keep trying to improve our democracy. This country’s past is not pretty, and our collective trust in government is perilously low. Yet we owe it to each other to insist that our government do better in its administration of health care and other human rights – and that we do better responding to one another humanely.

That’s how democracy with dignity – and humanity – is supposed to work.

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