CLEVELAND — October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and perhaps no one has shined a brighter spotlight on the issue than cookbook author and model, Chrissy Teigen.
Local support groups are grateful that Teigen shared her story of pregnancy loss, which is a topic that is still considered taboo in society.
"She started conversations that are hard conversations, that people don't want to have, that people are suffering silently in their homes," said Julia Ellifrit, a bereavement counselor and Executive Director at Cleveland's Cornerstone of Hope. "I think it's reality therapy for people. If you lost an infant, that means I can lose an infant, and I don't want to talk about that, because I don't think about that." she explained, as to why the subject is so taboo.
Teigen shared her pregnancy journey with her tens of millions of followers on Instagram and Twitter, including her loss at 20 weeks. The dramatic images shortly after her stillbirth were photographed by her mother and husband John Legend. One depicted the grieving couple cradling their son, whom they named Jack.
However, Teigen received criticism from some on social media, who questioned why anyone would photograph and share their moments of grief. In a moving essay on the website Medium posted Tuesday, Teigen clapped back at her critics, writing, "These photos are only for the people who need them.”
Ali Furtwangler understands all too well why those photographs are so important.
"That's what I think is one of the fears of being a loss parent -- is that you're worried about forgetting," said Furtwangler, from the non-profit organization, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which has a worldwide network of volunteer photographers who are quickly dispatched to hospitals to provide free portraits for grieving families.
Furtwangler lost her son, Zachary, at about 20 weeks in 2011, and is thankful that she agreed to a photo session with her husband and their firstborn son at the hospital. "We held him. We loved on him. We cherished him. He was very real, and tangible to us in those moments," she explained. "For me, having three kids after that, and with family all remote who didn't get to know Zachary, those pictures are all they have to get to know him."
Furtwangler was so moved by her experience, that she became a volunteer photographer for the organization. She explained that grieving parents don't ever even have to look at the portraits. They arrive in a discreet email, and are there if a family chooses to view them some day.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 24,000 stillbirths every year, and about 15-percent of first-trimester pregnancies end in loss. Local support groups want women to know that they are not alone.
For help with your grief, or to donate to Cornerstone of Hope, contact them here.
For more information on Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which is also looking for volunteer photographers who are either professional, or willing to be trained, contact them here.