I love This Is Us. When I heard there was going to be a stillbirth depicted on a major network show, I was excited about it! It is so rare to see stillbirth even mentioned, whenever it is part of a story arc, I am eager to see if the portrayal is real. How well do the actors manage to show the difficult emotions? How well do the writers do in showing how all encompassing grief can be?
As a LAMB mother (that’s Loss of All in Multiple Birth), I was disappointed to see how Rebecca’s triplet pregnancy was portrayed. The reality is that even today, as recently as 2014, triplets have 10 times the rate of stillbirth than single babies. In 1980, when the show takes place, the Pearsons would not have been left to go into labour naturally. She would have been on bedrest, in hospital. They also would have been woefully aware of how lousy their odds were. Some research has estimated that 40% of triplet pregnancies end in the death of at least one child. Nothing close to the happy-go-lucky images of multiples we usually see.
To be fair, there are many things This Is Us has done well. An earlier episode had the Pearsons crying in one another’s arms as they missed their lost baby. In those rare times stillbirth is mentioned, too often it is forgotten in the next episode. Worse, women who’ve had a stillbirth are often shown as completely unhinged and dangerous. These are the women who kidnap kids or murder other mothers (like in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle!). At least in This Is Us, the stillbirth is both a severe blow to the couple, and still survivable. The character of Dr. P also does a realistic portrayal of grief.
If you’re American and reading this, you won’t be familiar with the British soap, Coronation Street, but you don’t know what you’re missing. A recent story arc in this soap has the character Michelle lose a baby in the second trimester. While the writers have done a great job, credit really must go to the actors who play Michelle and her husband Steve, as this story was close to their hearts. Both these actors (separately) have had second trimester pregnancy losses, which makes their portrayal all the more poignant.
Of course, television is not real life, and never can be. In 22 or 48 minutes, which is the length of a standard television show, you couldn’t begin to show the hard ups and downs of life, but especially the downs. How many times have we wanted to change the channel on our own lives? To turn off the grief and cut to commercial, even if only for a few minutes. But there are still 24 hours in each day and even in the darkest moments of grieving, we do not get a rest. I’m still grateful for television that seeks to show stillbirth as something real, something tragic and something that can happen to anyone.
Have you seen an example where television has got stillbirth right? What about where they got it horribly wrong? Let us know!
PS. For American viewers who might want to see the scenes.
This post first appeared on Still Standing Magazine.