Actress Laura Benanti shared Tuesday that she and her fiancé suffered a miscarriage, a revelation that she hopes will open the conversation on what she calls the “Voldemort of women’s health issues.”
The reference to the villain in the Harry Potter series whose name is rarely spoken aloud came to her as she was re-watching the films and realized the characters’ fearful reaction to Voldemort’s name and Harry Potter’s choice to say it freely reflected how she felt about her miscarriage.
“[It’s] ridiculous,” Benanti, who most recently played Sadie Stone on “Nashville,” told FoxNews.com. “Saying something out loud doesn’t make it worse, it just makes it true.”
“The pain of losing a pregnancy is hard enough, but we’re only as sick as our secrets and having to keep quiet about something so painful, to me, is an unnecessary source of added pain,” she said.
“I felt a sense of shame.”
About a month ago, Benanti, 36, and her fiancé, Patrick Brown, found out they were pregnant. At the second sonogram, Benanti was a little over 7 weeks and they saw the baby’s heartbeat. In her essay published in the Huffington Post, she describes how, 30 minutes after their appointment she began cramping and bleeding. For the next 18 hours, she suffered until they went back to the doctor the next morning and found that their baby’s heartbeat was gone.
Benanti underwent a dilation and curettage (D&C), a surgical procedure where the miscarried child is removed.
Soon after, she ran into a neighbor at home in New York City, who asked how she was. In that moment, Benanti thought she couldn’t tell her the truth, that she had lost a child, because as a culture, we’ve decided it’s an overshare, she recalled.
“It made me feel so lonely and isolated,” she said. “I felt a sense of shame and obligation to protect her from my sadness.”
With that realization, and knowing that she was fortunate enough to have a strong support system, Benanti started thinking about women who didn’t have support, and about common culture approaches fertility and pregnancy.
“Even the fact that doctors don’t suggest telling anyone [about a pregnancy] until the second trimester, I started to think, what is that for? Noone has to know so if I miscarry, then I just go back to work three days later pretending nothing happened. If I have the flu, I tell my employer and when I come back they know and are more gentle for a bit,” she said. “It started to make me feel angry.”
Benanti decided to stop hiding and start telling people and once she did, discovered that she wasn’t alone.
“Countless women and men opened up to me about their own stories, I could see the relief wash over their faces,” she said.
“That added stress and guilt.”
Benanti’s career commitments added another layer to her news. Rather than wait, she had to let two employers know immediately, as pregnancy would affect her physical stunt and costume requirements on the upcoming TV show, “Supergirl,” and her casting in the February production of “She Loves Me” on Broadway.
Benanti, who won a Tony Award in 2008 for her role in “Gypsy,” will play Supergirl’s mother in the CBS show, which premieres in October. Fortunately, both employers were supportive of her pregnancy and loss.
Four days after her miscarriage, Benanti had been scheduled to fly to Los Angeles to film “Supergirl,” but was unable to as she needed to be near her doctor to ensure she didn’t become anemic or contract an infection. Plus, her body was rapidly losing hormones and she was essentially experiencing post-partum depression, but without a child.
“It became tricky because that meant ‘Supergirl’ having to push my work by a significant amount of time, like three weeks. That’s hard, there are millions of dollars at stake, in terms of something like this, I understand how difficult and tricky that is for them,” she said. “That added stress and guilt.”
Benanti acknowledges her situation is unique, but it made her realize so many women have miscarriages and go back to work within days, unable to share their grief.
“I’m here for you.”
With her essay and through her active social media following, Benanti hopes to open the conversation on miscarriage. According to the March of Dimes, first trimester miscarriage occurs in about 10 to 15 percent of pregnancies and as many as half of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage, but the number isn’t known because many may happen before a woman is aware that she’s pregnant.
When she first shared her news, reactions ranged from comforting to uncomfortable, as people were unsure what to say.
“There’s no dialogue about how people are supposed to react to you if it’s not something that’s part of their conscious mind,” Benanti said.
At a time when she felt more powerless than she’s ever felt, Benanti found relief in the company of friends, but acknowledges that grief is very different for everyone.
“I feel like it’s always safe, in terms of suffering and loss, to just say to someone, ‘I’m here for you and I love you and please let me know what I can do that would be meaningful to you,’” she said.
As she responds on Twitter to those who are sharing their own miscarriage stories, Benanti wants to continue the dialogue.
“Certainly this is not something I ever anticipated having to talk about.. I’ve opened up conversation and if people want to have a conversation with me about it, I want to talk to them about it,” she said. “Women’s issues are near and dear to my heart because to me they’re not just women’s issues, they’re human issues. That is something that I have been and always will be an advocate for... This one just happened to affect me really personally.”