posted in Pregnancy
This week, U.S. gymnast Shawn Johnson East filmed a video to share some very exciting news with her fans: She and her husband Andrew East were expecting their first baby! Just hours later, the 25-year-old recorded a heart-wrenching update after learning that she had suffered a miscarriage.
Shawn uploaded the very intimate footage to her YouTube channel, where her almost half a million followers witnessed the couple’s “emotional roller coaster” in what felt like real time.
Early in the video, we see the Olympian in tears and in shock, holding up her two positive pregnancy tests.
“We’re going to have a baby,” she says, clearly still trying to process the news. “I definitely wasn’t planning this, but… it’s really, really exciting. Whoa. How am I going to tell Andrew? He’s going to be a daddy.”
She does tell Andrew, surprising him with a pair of baby Converse shoes. There are more tears, and more stunned surprise as the life-changing, forever reality of parenthood begins to settle in on them.
Then, suddenly, Shawn and Andrew are in the car, en route to the hospital. She reveals that she’d started having cramps, and bleeding. In a matter of hours, the couple went from feeling joy and terror at the idea of having a baby, to fear at the prospect of having lost a baby.
They explain the overwhelming ups and downs, saying, “You go from shock to… elation… to ‘holy crap’ to ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘let’s do this.’ And now it’s like, ‘I pray to God I can do this.'”
Their fears are confirmed after the doctor performs an ultrasound. Pointing to the grainy, black and white image of Shawn’s uterus on the screen, he says what he sees would be “normal if you weren’t pregnant.”
“This bleeding means that not only have you miscarried,” the doctor adds. “But it looks like you probably took care of it all on your own, which is probably a good thing.”
Later, in his office, he offers some reassurance: “You didn’t do anything. Your level of activity, the medicines [you take], your proximity to people that are smoking… that didn’t cause this…. There’s no blaming.”
Before the video cuts out, we hear Shawn trying to process everything: “We somehow lost the pregnancy already. It sucks. It’s definitely not fun. I felt like, going into it we didn’t know if we were ready for it. We weren’t sure if we could do it, we were overwhelmed, but… I was ready to buy baby clothes, and think of names.”
The response to Shawn and Andrew’s video has been incredible, with so many people offering their condolences and sending virtual messages of love and healing. There have been other reactions, too, though, with some wondering why they would want to share something so personal with the entire world (“anything for attention, right?” writes one viewer).
I cried when I watched this video, but I’ll admit it was unsettling to feel as though I was in the doctor’s office with a complete stranger as she hears she has had a miscarriage. It’s unsettling to watch it on YouTube, alongside bad karaoke and back yard stunts, to have it packaged up as one more thing you see online in the course of a day. “What song is playing in the background at 18:58?” reads one comment, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this is real life and real loss we are witnessing.
I am grateful to Shawn and Andrew for being willing to share this overwhelming, devastating, incredibly personal loss, though, because it reminds everyone else who is suffering that they are not alone. This is something that so many women and families go through. According to BabyCenter, 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and more than 80 percent of these losses happen before 12 weeks.
“I felt guilty,” Shawn admitted in an interview with PEOPLE after her video went viral. “I felt sad and I remember telling Andrew, ‘I’m sorry I lost your baby.’ I felt like it was something that I did….All these different guilts and thoughts and negative feelings of ‘I failed my baby.’ I felt like I was [uninhabitable], like, ‘No baby’s gonna live inside this belly.'”
There is nothing shameful or abnormal about miscarriage, and there is no wrong way to respond and to grieve that loss, whether it was a long planned and hoped for pregnancy or one that came along by surprise, whether it happens hours or months after you see that positive pregnancy test.
There are hundreds of comments on Shawn and Andrew’s video, and so many of them tell similar stories. I think it’s important that we hear them.
Image via PR Photos