On Monday, Manchester United footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and partner Georgina Rodriguez announced the tragic news that their baby boy had died during childbirth.
Sharing a joint statement on social media, the couple described the loss of a child as “the greatest pain that any parents can feel [sic]”, before thanking the medical staff who cared for and supported them.
Since, there’s been an outpouring of support for both the Portugal captain and his girlfriend – from the heartwarming scenes at Anfield on Thursday, as both Man U and Liverpool fans observed a minute’s silence; to the official responses from his teams and beyond.
This is, of course, the correct response to such devastating news. But not everyone is met with the same level of respect and compassion.
Just two years ago, on 30 September 2020, Chrissy Teigen and husband John Legend shared that their son Jack had sadly died after he was delivered at 20 weeks of pregnancy. The model posted a series of incredibly intimate, powerful images from the hospital, along with a caption that read: “We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before.”
She added that “on this darkest of days, we will grieve, we will cry our eyes out. But we will hug and love each other harder and get through it.”
I recall seeing her post as I woke up, swiping through the tender, black-and-white images, and being reduced to tears by her beautiful homage to her lost son. It never once occurred to me that anyone would feel differently, that someone could look at such a display of raw emotion and feel anything but sadness and admiration.
Really, imagine hearing the gut-wrenching news that someone has lost their baby and judging that person for sharing their experience. But that’s exactly what did happen in this instance. People commented on how “tacky” it was for her to share photos of her; how she treated her suffering from her as a photo opportunity; how it was somehow wrong of her to open up about her experience.
How devoid of human decency do you have to be to criticize and condemn someone in their hour of need? How cynical and scornful you must be to judge someone’s motives in a situation like that; and make them feel as though they’re anything but brave and commendable for sharing?
Both of these situations were excruciating for the parents. Both of these situations involved high-profile celebrities. Both of these situations included public announcements. Yet just one was treated as the tragedy that it is.
That’s not to say the way that men and women react to the loss of a child is always the same – a recent study by the University of Adelaide, for example, found that men often prioritize the need to be a “supporter” and resort to compensatory behaviours, such as alcohol consumption.
Everyone’s response to loss will be different; every experience of grief will be unique. But, ultimately, it’s not too much to expect that the general response to such news should be the same – irrespective of gender.
To me, the difference in these two types of responses seems drenched in misogyny. Men are applauded for their bravery. They are treated with respect and receive messages of support. Women, however, are criticized about the way they handle their grief. They are made to feel as though it’s their fault; and that they need to shoulder not only the pain of losing a child, but the weight of public opinion, too.
More must be done to raise public awareness of miscarriages and stillbirths, and it is essential we keep the conversation going.
It is awe-inspiring that those in the public eye choose to share their deeply personal experiences with the world, in order to remove the stigma associated with such loss. But what we cannot keep doing is shunning grieving mothers, while upholding grieving men. It’s time to close the gap on grief and, speaking in the plainest of terms, be kind.
If you identify with the topics raised in this article, you can find support via the NHS website here and here