As someone who has experienced multiple miscarriages, I cringe every time someone announces an early pregnancy to the world.
That certainly doesn’t make it easy for me to enjoy my favourite guilty pleasure, “Counting On,” the ridiculous and perplexing TLC reality TV show chronicling the lives of the older Duggar children of the infamous 19-kid-strong, uber-Christian Arkansas family.
Watch: Joy and Austin have big news to share. Story continues after video.
As the older kids get married and start families of their own, the plot seems entirely hinged on how soon a bright-eyed young couple can announce, “I’m expecting!” The producers pry and prod, trying to get the kids (and they are kids, many of them getting married at age 18, 19, 20) to give them any hints. And figuring out how to surprise their families with the reveals has become a sport, requiring a fair bit of creativity, given how many of them there are.
Every time one of them dons an “I’m expecting!” T-shirt to family dinner while their abdomen is still flat, I wonder “Oh my god, what will happen if one of them has a miscarriage?”
This year, that has happened. Twice.
First, there were newlyweds Josiah and Lauren Duggar, who lost their first pregnancy just a few weeks after they revealed it on the show. More recently Joy-Anna Forsyth (formerly Duggar) and Austin Forsyth lost their their second pregnancy in the second trimester.
The couple had gone in for a 20-week ultrasound and the gender reveal. There was no heartbeat. It was a girl.
All of this played out publicly, although Joy-Anna revealed her news on Instagram this week to her 820,000 followers while Lauren tearfully discussed miscarriage in an episode of the show. In both these instances, my heart ached for these young kids realizing the devastating flip-side of what can happen when you share your joy publicly.
I felt the same way when a high school friend of mine revealed last year that she was pregnant with her fourth child. She made a Facebook announcement when she was just nine weeks along. But she’d had three healthy pregnancies, why should she expect anything but another one?
Three weeks later she found herself making another announcement: there was no heartbeat at the 12-week ultrasound. As she noted in her status, when you share your happiness publicly, sometimes that means having to share your tragedy.
I sent her a message, as I had also just found out my own pregnancy wasn’t viable. It would be my second miscarriage. She told me that, despite the pain and discomfort, she was glad she’d shared her news because so many people shared their own stories with her, and were reaching out with messages of support and offers of help.
As I suffered my second miscarriage in silence, just like my first, I wondered if she was onto something. Who was I protecting by keeping my pregnancy, and ultimately my miscarriage, a secret? Me, or everyone else?
Between pregnancy announcements, gender reveals, birth announcements and monthly milestone photos, so much of pregnancy and motherhood is encouraged to be public. But, if we’re going to clamour for bump photos and videos of blue balloons bursting out of “boy or girl?” boxes, we should also be prepared for profoundly uncomfortable miscarriage reveals.
That’s why we all need to look at this photo of Joy-Anna holding her dead fetus.
When the photo popped up in my Instagram feed Friday afternoon (yes, I follow all the Duggar kids on social media), my first reaction was “Oh, no. Tell me she didn’t.”
But she did. There, for the world to see, was the young mother embracing her impossibly tiny, lifeless child.
“We only had her for 20 weeks, Life is fragile and precious. So thankful the Lord gave her to us for that short time! She will be in our hearts forever!” the couple wrote on Instagram. The couple hold their baby in a series of photos. In one of them, Joy-Anna’s pain is written on her face. In another, they show two tiny footprints, smaller than a quarter.
“This is too much for Instagram,” I thought. But then I thought some more. And I was wrong. It’s exactly right for Instagram.
She’s shared her pain, just as she previously shared her joy. When the couple announced their pregnancy on Instagram in May, more than 200,000 people “liked” the post.
I “like” all the pregnancy announcements, gender reveals, and milestone photos in my own newsfeed. So do most people. And my Facebook reveal when I was pregnant with my son, at 20 weeks, is the most popular of all my posts on social media.
We can’t have it both ways, celebrating the happy moments and ignoring the awful ones. For so many women, miscarriage and loss is a part of their motherhood journey.
So, let’s all look at the photo of young Joy-Anna holding her dead fetus. Not so we can gawk at a celebrity’s ill fate, and not as a warning for what can happen when you announce pregnancies publicly, but as a heart-breaking reminder that not all reveals are happy ones.
These announcements might make us uncomfortable, but they deserve our attention as much as any other. And these grieving parents need our support even more so.
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