Suddenly, it seems as if miscarriage is everywhere. Famous folks from Barbara Bush to Mariah Carey have recently disclosed previous pregnancy losses. Lily Allen suffered her second miscarriage in November, and Lisa Ling shared her own grief following a miscarriage on a recent episode of The View. Kelsey Grammer and his fiancé e, Kayte Walsh, released a statement in October confirming the loss of their unborn child six weeks earlier. Giuliana Rancic and husband Bill opened up about their miscarriage this fall. A topic that historically has seemed taboo has somehow become hot tabloid fodder. OMG.
Lack of privacy is a given for the celebs among us, for we live in a culture that is breathlessly absorbed by the minutiae of famous lives. And whether you're a hard-core subscriber to US Weekly and People or someone like me, slyly dawdling in the grocery checkout line so I can catch the tabloid headlines out of the corner of my eye, you can't miss the obsession with celebrity baby-bump-watching. As gossip mag Life & Style's editor in chief Dan Wakeford has observed, "They've always been popular with readers, stories on babies … It used to be celebrity weddings, but not anymore. It's all about babies." Celebrity pregnancies are confirmed on Twitter and talk shows, and reporters try to outdo one another in cutesy cleverness, using tired witticisms about "buns in the oven" and coyly talking about "baby daddies." Celebs are inevitably "thrilled" and "so happy" to announce that they are "preggo." And really, what else are they going to say?
What's been interesting is to see the ways in which these bereft celebrities—and their suddenly, awkwardly serious biographers—narrate their experiences of pregnancy loss. The language in which they are expected to be fluent, the perky, provocative vocabulary of fashion and premieres and love affairs, is not weighty enough to carry their grief. So they use quiet words. They release carefully worded statements using short, plain sentences. In the event that they are able to protect their loss as a secret, many of them wait, sometimes years, sometimes until they are securely pregnant again, to mention the miscarriage. They wait, as so many do, until what Ling so accurately described as the sense of "failure" can be overshadowed by news of a more recent "triumph."
One dubious benefit of the celebrity fishbowl: You are always assured an audience. We Christians, however, have typically failed to make space in our worshiping communities for women and men to give voice to their anguish at losing wanted pregnancies. Our liturgies offer patterning for many kinds of losses—funeral services (and their attendant traditions of providing food or wakes or visitations) lead us through the mystery of death; illnesses are lifted up during prayer-concern time or listed in the bulletin or passed along an informal but highly effective prayer line. But there are few well-worn paths to follow as we walk through the complicated pain of losing pregnancies. And mercy, but the words we often have to use to describe our loss are ugly. I was abruptly reminded of this while giving a short talk at our own church, describing the experience of my first miscarriage. I could feel the blush creeping up my neck as I said words like spotting, cramping, and clots to my audience of familiar and friendly church folk. I almost ran from the lectern like a miserable, terrified rabbit when I caught the eye of a gentleman in his 70s as I described going into a bathroom and seeing blood on my underwear.
How ironic. We claim to be saved by Christ's blood, but are embarrassed to talk about our own blood, at least when connected to female reproductive parts. We claim, especially in this season, that God miraculously impregnated a teenaged girl, yet are ashamed to reflect on the terrifying, precarious, messy realities of pregnancy. We claim that our redemption entered history through the waters of a womb, but are unable to find words to talk about the mysterious losses that take place in those same waters. For a bunch of people who are perfectly happy to carol about wallowing in fountains of blood, we are remarkably squeamish.
Celebs like Ling and Rancic have said that they are choosing to publicize their experiences of pregnancy loss for a purpose: to help combat the secrecy and shame surrounding miscarriage. They are not the first to do so (think Courteney Cox or Tori Amos), but they are the most recent in a movement toward open acknowledgment of both the widespread nature (as many as one in four pregnancies miscarries) and the intensity of the loss. Ling has started her own website called the Secret Society of Women, hoping to create a community online where women can find both support and an avenue for sharing painful or difficult experiences, miscarriage among them. Perhaps the courage of these women who are living through loss in the limelight can remind us Christians that we, too, can be courageous. Perhaps it can remind us that we, of all people, should be able to share loss with one another—even loss that presents as a bloody, shameful failure. Perhaps our communities of faith can remember that it is our privilege to become, not secret societies of women, but places where women and men alike become part of a Body—the Body of Christ, out of whose bloody shame was born redemption for this world.
Elise Erikson Barrett, a United Methodist pastor, is the author of What Was Lost: A Christian Journey through Miscarriage, which Her.meneutics reviewed last year. Shauna Niequist wrote about her miscarriage in an excerpted Her.meneutics post last year.