Carrie Johnson won widespread praise yesterday for revealing a previous miscarriage heartbreak in her announcement that she is expecting another baby.
The Prime Minister’s wife said she decided to be open about the tragedy she suffered earlier this year because she ‘found it a real comfort to hear from people who had also experienced loss’.
Announcing the news in a post on Instagram at the weekend, she added: ‘I hope that in some very small way sharing this might help others too.’
The 33-year-old environmental campaigner said she and husband Boris were ‘hoping for our rainbow baby this Christmas‘.
A rainbow baby is the term given to a child born to a family that previously lost another to miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death.
The Prime Minister’s wife (pictured with Jill Biden) said she decided to be open about the tragedy she suffered earlier this year because she ‘found it a real comfort to hear from people who had also experienced loss’
Mrs Johnson illustrated her post with a picture of a Christmas tree decoration in the shape of a blue pram. She and Mr Johnson, 57, had their first child, Wilfred, in April last year. The new arrival will be the Prime Minister’s seventh child.
Mrs Johnson’s honesty has led to praise that she is helping to break the miscarriage taboo by sharing the experience with others.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer put politics aside to send congratulations to the couple and said he was ‘very sorry’ to hear about the earlier miscarriage. ‘I’m sure that Carrie speaking out will be of comfort to others and make them feel less alone,’ the Opposition leader added.
Ruth Bender Atik, national director of the Miscarriage Association, said: ‘Not everyone wants to talk about their experience of miscarriage, they may feel it’s private to them or they’re just not comfortable talking about it.
Mrs Johnson illustrated her post with a picture of a Christmas tree decoration in the shape of a blue pram
‘They might worry that people will say the wrong things, but also it’s important to talk about pregnancy after loss because it can be a very anxious time.
‘I think a lot of people say they lose the kind of innocence and optimism that they had the first time around because they’re always concerned that something might go wrong this time – and for most people it doesn’t.’
Zoe Clark-Coates, chief executive of the Mariposa Trust, a baby loss and bereavement charity, told BBC News: ‘We see a massive influx of people asking for support if anybody of note or even a TV show covers the story of baby loss. It just means to a lot of people that it’s OK to talk about this subject and, sadly, for generations people have been told to not talk about loss or miscarriages.
‘When people of note, people in the public eye, talk about their own personal losses I think it gives a lot of people the confidence to start speaking about it and sharing their own personal stories.’
A series of high-profile public figures have revealed their trauma over miscarriages recently.
In November, the Duchess of Sussex wrote in The New York Times about losing a baby following the birth of son Archie. ‘Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few,’ she wrote. The Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall has spoken about her two miscarriages after the birth of daughter Mia. She and husband Mike went on to have two more children.
She and Mr Johnson, 57, had their first child, Wilfred, in April last year. The new arrival will be the Prime Minister’s seventh child
And Michelle Obama wrote in her bestselling book Becoming about suffering a miscarriage and undergoing IVF treatment before having two daughters with the future US President Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, model Chrissy Teigen and singer husband John Legend last year shared photos of them saying goodbye to their little boy who was delivered at 20 weeks.
But she had to defend herself against critics of the pictures being taken and published, saying: ‘I lived it, I chose to do it, and more than anything, these photos aren’t for anyone but the people who have lived this or are curious enough to wonder what something like this is like. These photos are only for the people who need them.’
JENNIE AGG: She’s breaking a taboo – but there’s a long way to go
When the midwife first placed my son on my chest after I’d given birth, I kept saying the same thing over and over: ‘It’s OK, it’s OK…’ It was the first time in nine months that I could say those words and really believe them.
Because for the whole of my pregnancy – after four miscarriages and four long years of trying for a family – I never once felt certain that I would get to bring a baby home. And now, he was here. He was safe. He was ours.
Edward, who has just turned one, is our ‘rainbow baby’ – a child born after previous pregnancy loss (whether that’s a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy, a stillbirth, neonatal death or a termination for medical reasons).
A rainbow baby, just like the one Carrie Johnson announced she and the Prime Minister are expecting around Christmas after a miscarriage at the beginning of the year that left her ‘heartbroken’.
The label is supposed to signify brightness after storm clouds. Joy and hope breaking through once more after the interminable grey grief that can follow a miscarriage.
Despite being incredibly common – affecting an estimated one in four women and their partners – it can still be a lonely experience. A disappointment you feel in every fibre and cell.
But as much as a rainbow baby story can give much-needed hope to others, as I know from my own experience, it’s not necessarily the straightforward happy ending that the name implies. Pregnancy is never quite the same after one that doesn’t make it.
As Carrie herself said in her announcement on Instagram, she has felt like ‘a bag of nerves’ up until this point. This kind of anxiety can be very hard for other people to understand.
And innocent questions such as ‘Are you excited?’ and ‘Is it your first?’ have complex and emotional answers. Who, after all, would find it easy to tell a well-meaning stranger that yes, you are excited – but you are also deeply afraid that this baby might die, too?
Even once your rainbow arrives, you do not just drive off into the sunset with your pot of gold safely in their car seat. As much as there is no doubt in your mind that this baby was always the one you were meant to have, they still do not – cannot – replace the one (or ones) you lost. There will always be a shadow of that grief. The child who should have been a certain age but isn’t. (Had I not lost my first pregnancy, our eldest child might have been starting school in September. Something I try not to think about for too long as it is still painful and probably always will be.)
Indeed, research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that anxiety and depression triggered by a miscarriage can persist even after the subsequent arrival of a healthy baby.
Previous loss can spill over into your parenting style, making you hyper vigilant to the point of paranoia. A year on and I still cannot go to bed without listening outside my son’s door for the comforting, rhythmic sound of his breathing.
Since I had my first miscarriage in 2017, we are talking about pregnancy loss more and more openly.
Carrie joins a long line of high-profile women who have shared their own experience in recent years from the Duchess of Sussex and Michelle Obama to Jools Oliver. Even MPs such as Stella Creasy and Olivia Blake have spoken out in the hope of changing the narrative and breaking down this taboo.
However, there is still some way to go. Not least that many women still feel they have to wait until they have happy news to share before they can also speak about the sadness that came before.
But what about those who never have another baby? A rainbow is undoubtedly a beautiful thing. But we should remember that it is also a complicated, somewhat contradictory phenomenon – yes, there’s sunshine but the rain is still there, too. The same is true of rainbow babies.