In Defense Of Courtney Stodden’s Public Grief
I never thought I’d have anything in common with Courtney Stodden, the model and reality TV show contestant. But this week, we’re sharing something powerful: We’re both grieving a miscarriage.
This isn’t to say we’re handling our tragedies in the same ways. In the wake of her miscarriage, Stodden shaved her head and posed for a sexy pin-up-style Instagram image, pouting with red lips, sporting a leopard print bikini, and holding a glass of champagne. As for me, I’m laying around in pajamas, finding it hard to run basic errands. When I do leave my apartment, I give babies in strollers the stink-eye as I shuffle past them in the street.
When dealing with something like miscarriage, there are myriad ways to cope. Some people, like Courtney, choose to make their experience public. Some, like me, retreat. Some throw themselves into work. Others scour pots and pans or sink into World of Warcraft.
But is there really a right and wrong way to cope with the loss of a pregnancy?
Miscarriages are like dirty secrets; no one wants to hear about the baby that wasn’t. No one wants to see your abnormal sonogram or images of the diseased tissue that the doctors pulled out of you to send to the lab for a biopsy. So awkward is the thought of conversing about your still-throbbing breasts that friends change the subject.
Over the past two years, I’ve experienced an ectopic pregnancy and two miscarriages, including this last one. It doesn’t get easier, and each time the grief feels different. You feel more broken, more dysfunctional with each loss. The hope you had the first time is still tentatively there the second time, but by the third time, it’s completely absent. When I found out I was pregnant this last time, I immediately had a sinking feeling that something would be wrong. “You’re a pessimist,” my friends said. “It’s going to be fine.”
It wasn’t fine.
After I learned I had miscarried again, I decided to refuse silence in service of some antiquated notion of how grief should be expressed. Too many people don’t talk about their miscarriages because they worry it’s inappropriate or that they will be accused of attention-seeking behavior, so I decided to share with friends and post on social media. But even though I received positive responses, I still felt at times like I was annoying people with my grief. After all, some people believe that mourning is monolithic, and all grievers must act in accordance with an established set of archaic rules that favor silence.
I call bullshit.
We shouldn’t shame someone for sharing these excruciating emotions with the public. We shouldn’t judge someone who is in pain and searching for a way to get relief. We should allow them to bring healing into their life, no matter how unconventional that healing might look.
This is why Stodden publicly sharing her miscarriage experience is empowering. Yes, she’s made a career out of exploiting herself, and over the course of her public life I have felt uncomfortable reading about her in the gossip columns. But as I read the open letter she wrote about her miscarriage, I felt my skepticism slide away: “I’ll never get over this . . . losing you. I hope you know how much I miss you growing inside of my tummy . . . I hope that you know I wanted to give you life . . . a beautiful life — and desired so much to watch you grow into an incredible human being.” When Stodden writes, “Having trouble eating. Seriously can’t take a bite out of even a piece of bread without feeling like I’m gonna get sick #anxiety,” it feels like she is asserting agency in spite of those who would prefer her to mourn in the shadows.
Right before Stodden shaved her head in what she called “a symbolic gesture” of mourning, she visited her idol Marilyn Monroe’s grave at Westwood Memorial Park on the anniversary of Monroe’s death, August 5. While Stodden’s obsession with Monroe is well-known, there’s a more poignant connection these two women share now: the loss of a pregnancy.
Monroe had to famously deal with the public after her own miscarriages, and there is a haunting photograph of Monroe being transferred from the hospital in a gurney post-surgery for her ectopic pregnancy. She is smiling for the crowd, no doubt gritting through that moment of vulnerability when you emerge from the sterile world of the hospital into the world that does not know and does not care if you have just lost a pregnancy — or in Monroe’s case, the world that only sees you as a spectacle. The image is disturbing because of the complete lack of dignity being afforded a woman who has just undergone a heart-wrenching loss.
Stodden has a luxury Monroe did not — to choose to publicize her experience. So when I see Courtney Stodden preening before the camera in these post-miscarriage portraits, I both waver with concern (please go see a therapist if you aren’t already!) and smile wistfully (you reclaim that body; it’s been through so much!). Others see her as a “lunatic” or “garbage” and have written cruel, judgmental comments calling her a bitch, saying she’s milking her tragedy for attention, expressing that she’s “not parent material,” and pointing out her botox and fake boobs, as if that had anything to do with her experience.
I don’t know Courtney Stodden or how she grieves in the privacy of her own home, but I do know grief is complex and often doesn’t make sense. I’ve experienced the strangeness of fumbling toward coping after each lost pregnancy. Most recently, all I could think about was that I desperately needed a new ear piercing. When I realized I’d have to wait until I completed my antibiotics, I became irate.
A few days later, I found myself writing this essay — and judging myself for hitching my own miscarriage to a timely news peg for a byline. After all, this is most certainly not a “proper” way to grieve.
So you can judge me for that. You can judge Courtney Stodden for publicly grieving the loss of her pregnancy in a way that might not seem authentic or appropriate. Judge away. But know that this judgement is not something that I condone, or that our culture ever should.
In any case, I know that it was Courtney Stodden’s bravery in grieving the way she wanted to that inspired me to get out of bed today. And that alone can’t be too bad.
Lead image: Instagram