The cultural schlockfest of ABCs Dancing With the Stars became very real on Monday night as Dawson’s Creek star James Van Der Beek revealed that he and his wife had suffered a dangerous miscarriage over the weekend. What was so striking about the moment was that Van Der Beek was breaking a taboo by talking about the loss of pregnancy on national television. But more than that, as a dad, Van Der Beek was showing vulnerability and grief that men often hide in the wake of a tragedy. If there can be any silver linings in a moment as terrible as a miscarriage, its that Van Der Beek and Dancing With the Stars is helping to legitimize talking about the losses very many parents experience while trying to start a family.
It’s important to consider how many expectant parents will experience what Van Der Beek and his wife have been through. About 20 percent of confirmed pregnancies will end in miscarriage. If that statistic is surprising, it’s likely due to the fact that talking about miscarriage can be extraordinarily difficult.
For expecting mothers, the loss of a pregnancy can be loaded with an inordinate amount of guilt. They may feel they could have done something to be a better prepare themselves, or simply feel broken. Along with these feelings, there is a sense of mourning both for the pregnancy that was lost and the future as a parent. Combined with physical trauma and hormonal shifts the moment can become profoundly lonely and isolating.
It no less so for men. When my wife and I suffered a miscarriage, we were in different states. I wasn’t there to hold her and cry and mourn the moment with her. And even after, because I wasn’t the one carrying the pregnancy, I felt I had very little right to the sadness. I hadn’t been the one to experience the pain and bleeding. My job was to be a supportive rock for my wife and to help her with her grief. I’m not sure I ever spoke to my friends about the loss. I know the conversations, if any, were brief.
Van Der Beek could have danced without the interview in which he calls the moment a parent’s “worst nightmare.” He didn’t have to sit and cry in front of America and talk about the burden of telling his children about the miscarriage, or how broken and human he felt. He could have kept it to himself or released a statement through his management. Instead, he made sure that the vast television audience could look into his eyes and see the pain that comes from a pregnancy loss.
I would like to hope that more expecting parents will follow his example. There is a good deal of solace that can be found in talking about miscarriage. We don’t need to suffer in silence. That silence is neither healthy or healing. And I hope in being frank about their loss Van Der Beek, his wife, and his children will find comfort and peace in the midst of darkness.