"Don't Talk About the Baby" breaks the silence around miscarriage and stillbirth
By: Linnea Crowther
5 months ago
Of all the women you know, one in every three or four is likely to have lost a pregnancy.
That doesn’t mean you know who they are. They might not have told you — even if you’re close.
They may have felt ashamed of the loss, or not known how to talk about it, or assumed you wouldn’t want to hear about it. They might even have wondered if you’d respond with the kind of well-meaning words that can cut to the bone:
“You’re young — you can keep trying. You’ll have another.”
“Did you exercise too much? Didn’t you used to be a smoker? Maybe you should cut back on coffee.”
“At least you never got to know the baby, so there’s less to grieve.”
Director Ann Zamudio explores the grief, hopes, fears, and frustrations of those who have gone through miscarriage, stillbirth, and infertility in her new feature-length documentary, "Don’t Talk About the Baby,” available to watch online today. The release date wasn’t chosen at random — October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
Zamudio began making the film in the aftermath of losing her first pregnancy. Active in online support groups for people grieving pregnancy loss and infertility, she found that people were eager to tell their stories — but they didn’t have any outlets for sharing them outside of their small groups of fellow sufferers.
“I got the sense that it wasn't something people wanted to hear,” Zamudio told me. “So, I'm not somebody who's content to just have a sad story. I want to research it and look at the roots. You know, why are people feeling this way? Why is this something that people feel embarrassed about? Why is it something that nobody wants to talk about?”
This research became the genesis of “Don’t Talk About the Baby.” Over the course of several years, Zamudio talked to experts on pregnancy loss — doctors and nurses, researchers, grief counselors – as well as seeking out the stories of people who had lost pregnancies.
Those stories are visceral and painful, from those who went through a recent loss to a woman who remembers the death of her infant decades ago. One woman, Amanda Duffy, whose story bookends the film, offers heartbreaking detail of her experience of delivering a stillborn baby. She struck a chord with Zamudio — “Her story stuck with me,” she says — and it’s likely to stick with viewers.
“She was 39 weeks exactly,” Duffy shares in the film’s opening moments, holding back tears as she shows the camera a photo of a beautiful red-haired baby, Reece. “We were one day away from our scheduled c-section with her.” We’ll hear from Duffy again throughout the movie, her story unfolding to tragedy as it’s interspersed with many others. In just under 90 minutes, we visit face after face of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infertility.
(Related: Coping After a Miscarriage)
Zamudio’s focus isn’t exclusively on mothers; she also offers glimpses of fathers devastated by the loss of a baby, as well as grandparents of grandbabies who never drew breath. They’re all grieving. It’s not a pain that’s reserved for the women who carried the babies, though it’s different for everybody.
Men, often expected to be the strong and silent protectors, can find it almost impossible to share the grief they feel with the loss of a baby. “Trying to keep her together was one thing,” offers one man as he grips his wife’s hand tight. “Trying to keep myself together was a totally different thing. It was hard.”
“I think men are completely isolated from the experience,” says another. “I think fathers are totally forgotten.”
One thing shared by women and men alike in the wake of a pregnancy loss is the struggle to get others to understand the magnitude of their grief. Our society hasn’t much talked about miscarriage and stillbirth. The latter, one interviewee points out, isn’t even considered by most to be much of a possibility. It’s seen as an antiquated thing that used to happen back before modern medicine made everything better.
But stillbirth happens today, many thousands of times every year in the U.S. alone. Defined as pregnancy loss after 20 weeks (miscarriage is when a pregnancy is lost before 20 weeks), stillbirth occurs in one out of every 160 U.S. pregnancies.
“I didn’t even realize it was an option,” one woman says as she shares the story of her stillbirth. “To be 38 weeks and to have your baby die without any reason, without any warning.”
“There’s this misconception that after 12 weeks [of pregnancy] … everything will be fine,” says another.
Among the reasons so few people understand the reality of stillbirth is the stigma that has long surrounded pregnancy loss. While we’ve moved far past the days when a pregnant woman had to hide her condition under voluminous clothing and the very word “pregnant” was deeply taboo, pregnancy loss hasn’t yet caught up with the times. It’s so little talked about, including by a woman’s own medical care team, that she may find herself feeling embarrassment, shame, and even guilt after a miscarriage or stillbirth, despite the statistics that tell us pregnancy loss only rarely stems from a mother’s habits or activities; it’s much more likely to be the result of a chromosomal abnormality within the embryo.
But few people tell that to expectant mothers. What we do tell them is that they shouldn’t announce a pregnancy too early, just in case the baby is lost — early miscarriages are the most common, so it’s become standard to announce only after 10 to 12 weeks, the point at which the risk of miscarriage drops substantially. We reason that it would be devastating or embarrassing for the expectant parents to have to “take it back” — to have to tell everyone about the loss of the pregnancy right on the heels of the joyous announcement.
But what actually happens is that those who go through a lost pregnancy find themselves isolated, told by society not to talk about it because it’s just not the same as losing a loved one they’ve known for years. And if they never even told anyone about the pregnancy because it was deemed too early by social convention, then they don’t have the support system they so desperately need to lean on in their grief.
When someone does find courage to share the story of their pregnancy loss, they’re often met with awkward silence. Few people know how to react, so they may offer brief condolences and then move on, rarely or never again mentioning the loss. “But it’s my baby,” says one of the mothers in the film. “He was here. Just say something.”
Support groups like the one Zamudio attended are an invaluable resource, and this is made clear as the filmmakers visit an in-person support group as well as looking at online ones. In groups like these, everyone else understands the loss, the stigma, and the long-lasting pain that follows.
Another powerful force for healing is holding a funeral or memorial service for the baby. “Don’t Talk About the Baby” visits one woman who did. “At first we didn’t think we could have a funeral for a baby like this,” she says. “We didn’t know what the rules were. I didn’t know if people would think we were silly for having a funeral for someone we’d never met.” In the end, friends and family showed up to the service to show their support, and she found it had healing value. “His life mattered.”
Zamudio herself found healing in gathering and sharing the stories of so many who went through experiences similar to hers. She created the hashtag #ShatterTheStigma to accompany the film, because “we want to get rid of this cultural stigma surrounding pregnancy loss and infertility. The film presents the idea that we can do that by having conversations and sharing our stories in our communities. By having these conversations, we will normalize it in a sense. Once we start having these conversations, people will feel more comfortable talking about it.”
What’s more, Zamudio says, making the film “helped me turn my grief into something else. I'm a person who likes to turn things into something different, something better, something more productive. And it was helpful for me to have this project, to take it from something that could have just been a loss in my life and turn it into something to help other people.”
“Don’t Talk About the Baby” isn’t always easy to watch, with raw pain and grief visible on faces and soaked into voices. It might be smart to watch with tissues close at hand. But there’s also a strong sense of community and validation on offer for anyone who’s ever felt alone and isolated in the wake of pregnancy loss or infertility. Even if you watch through tears, it’s worth the watch. There’s plenty for those who haven’t personally been through pregnancy loss, as well. The more we all learn about the realities of this kind of loss, the better we can help break the stigma and be strong allies for our loved ones when they need to lean on us for support.
Available to watch online now on Vimeo, “Don’t Talk About the Baby” is also available for preorder on DVD and Blu Ray, which will ship soon. You can also schedule a public screening, and you may be able to include a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers as part of your pubic screening. To watch or order the film, or to inquire about a public screening, visit www.donttalkaboutthebaby.com/.
(Are you grieving a pregnancy loss? Find support from others in our private grief support group.)