The Perils of Celebrity Pregnancy
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The media's obsession with celebrity pregnancy -- from Mariah Carey to Pink -- has a devastating downside, reports Nicole LaPorte.
"Raise your glass... If you spot a baby bump."
That was a recent post on TMZ.com, accompanied by a paparazzi shot of Pink, texting while wearing very maternity-like denim overalls. Within hours, it was confirmed that, yes, the pop singer is preggers!!
A few days later, it was celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, who saved everyone the suspenseful agita by confirming on Twitter that "I am pregnant!," following weeks of tabloid rumors. Instantaneously, the news went viral.
The media's obsession with famous mommies-to-be is no secret, and is certainly nothing new. But the ever more aggressive, 24/7 coverage of celebrity bump watching by everyone from New York magazine to X17.com, has a far less joyous downside. Because celebs are now in the spotlight virtually from the day they conceive, when things go wrong, that, too, becomes a headline, forcing women to live out a very painful process in the glare of the public eye.
Case in point was this month when 25-year-old British pop star Lily Allen suffered a miscarriage (her second), six months into her pregnancy. It wasn't something Allen was necessarily ready to announce, but because she was so far along, her suddenly slim belly immediately stirred rumors, and the press "went berserk," Hassan Shehata, a London-based obstetrician and gynecologist who specializes in maternal medicine, told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview.
Shehata said he received a call asking him to speak about Allen on British television, but declined because "I didn't feel it was right for me."
Beyond the fact that Shehata does not know Allen, nor the details of her situation, he also said no because he is aware of how traumatic a miscarriage can be.
"As people are getting older and starting to have kids later, there are more fertility issues and more miscarriages, and so that makes people more open to talk about it," says Us Weekly entertainment director Dina Sansing. "And that's going on with celebrities, too."
"It's one of the most devastating problems that people come across in their lives," he said. "If a couple loses a pregnancy, especially after they've seen the baby's heart, they crash down big time.
"I've seen people separate because of a miscarriage," he continued. "Though that's the most extreme scenario. Most of the time, it brings couples closer together."
Miscarriages were not always treated so cavalierly. Because they commonly incite unwarranted feelings of shame and a sense of fault in the woman who's lost her pregnancy -- as well as discomfort among friends and family members who are unsure what to say or do -- they have historically been treated with kid gloves.
"If you look at older generations, your mother, your grandmother, a lot of them had miscarriages, but people didn't open up about it then. It was taboo," Shehata said.
Even today, in a culture where women openly gab about in vitro fertilization, surrogacy and fertility-boosting pills like Clomid, there is still a lingering sense of stigma surrounding miscarriages.
Brooke Shields waited two years to talk about the fact that she'd had one, opening up only in 2003 to report the joyful news that, at 38, she'd had a baby girl. This tactic, which is common, was also taken by Pink, who, when she confirmed her pregnancy on Ellen, brought up a past miscarriage. And the now-pregnant Mariah Carey, 40, was recently on the cover of Us Weekly for a story about her pregnancy struggles, which involved a miscarriage two years ago. (The same issue featured a story on "Lily's Baby Heartbreak.") Carey told Us that, back then, that she was unprepared to talk about it: "I didn't share what happened with anybody," she said. "Nobody knew." But with a new pregnancy securely under way, she felt more at ease.
Dina Sansing, entertainment director for Us, told The Daily Beast that getting Carey to discuss her miscarriage was a "delicate process, but it was something she didn't shy away from. At the end of the day, she's really excited about having a baby, and that was our focus. But her journey is also an important aspect and something that was interesting to us, and something she was willing to talk about."
But even when celebs do open up, they tend to not go overboard with details. When 42-year-old Celine Dion -- who has a 9-year-old son, but has been trying for years to have more children -- was on "Oprah" last February, she kept her answers brief and upbeat when discussing her numerous miscarriages ("It's all right. It's life, you know?"). The singer was not nearly as loquacious as she was on the subject of her son's lost baby lamb toy or the new family puppy.
"I think part of that might have something to do with the press, who actually only want to talk about miscarriage when there is a good news story at the end," said Ruth Bender-Atik, director of The Miscarriage Association. "And also, if you talk about it even years later, there can often be a tremendous welling up of emotion, and people don't necessarily want to break down. They don't particularly want to go back to that dark place, which is what pregnancy loss is for many people."
Still, the fact that so many celebrities are at least talking about their experiences shows progress. "I think it's a reflection of what's going on in society," says Sansing. "As people are getting older and starting to have kids later, there are more fertility issues and more miscarriages, and so that makes people more open to talk about it. And that's going on with celebrities, too."
Sansing also said that there has been a ripple effect in that "once one celebrity talks about it, others feel more comfortable."
She credited stars like Courteney Cox for being one of the first high-profile women to be candid about the subject. In 2003, Cox, who was then 39, sat down with Barbara Walters and talked at length not just about her "many miscarriages," but the fact that she and her husband, David Arquette (from whom she is now separated), had done in vitro in order for Cox to become pregnant. They had their first child in 2004.
Some women have even turned talking about their miscarriages into a kind of crusade. "E! News" host and reality-TV star Giuliana Rancic, who recently spoke about her miscarriage on "The View," has said that she is trying to destigmatize the subject.
However a celeb chooses to handle disclosure, what's certain is that the spotlight on the issue -- and any issue related to babies -- is not going away any time soon. As Life & Style editor-in-chief Dan Wakeford said, "Starting a family has always been one of the biggest choices people have to make, so stories about babies are always emotional and expose feelings that the reader can identify with. They've always been popular with readers, stories on babies. They're the biggest sellers, always. It used to be celebrity weddings, but not anymore. It's all about babies."
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.
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