Tuesday night a highly anticipated new dramedy premiered on NBC: “This is Us.” The series, created by Dan Fogelman, chronicles the stories of several people who share the same birthday. The pregnancy, infant, and child loss community buzzed about this show several months ago, as the official trailer of the series premier showed the loss of a triplet during delivery.

This is Us

Photo courtesy NBC

While the trailer and the buzz seemed optimistic about the treatment of the topic of loss, I’m always a wee bit reserved in my own optimism. Grey’s Anatomy addressed loss through termination for medical reasons (TFMR) a few seasons ago, and the character, April, had a pregnancy after loss during last season. She delivered her baby during the overly dramatic season finale. The Lifetime movie, Return to Zero, was inspired by screenwriter Sean Hanish and his wife, Kiley’s, stillbirth and subsequent pregnancy. In general, though, pregnancy and infant loss is not well represented in movies and television. If done right, “This is Us” could bring significant awareness about the challenges of stillbirth, as well as parenting after loss.

The powerful premier got it right. The pivotal scene to the storyline of the couple (Jake and Rebecca) that lost one of their triplets came when the OB, Dr. K, told Jake that they lost the last triplet. After telling Jake the news, twice so he could process, he sat with Jake and asked, “Is it OK if I try to say something meaningful?” Dr. K goes on to explain that his wife of 53 years had died recently, and they had lost their first child during delivery. The moment between the two fathers showed heartbreak and hope.

After giving a little more history about his family, Dr. K says to Jake, “I have spent five decades delivering babies. More babies than I can count. But there is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think of the child I lost. And I’m an old man now. I like to think that because of the child that I lost, because of the path that he sent me on, that I have saved countless other babies. I like to think that maybe one day you’ll be an old man like me, talking a younger man’s ear off, explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade. If you can do that then you will still be taking three babies home from this hospital. Just maybe not the way you planned.”

When I first saw the clip of that scene being shared on Facebook, I cringed at the description, “Share this moment if you know life is all about the art of making lemonade.” I thought, “Oh, no. You did NOT just go there and turn the loss of a child into a cliché.” I hadn’t watched the episode yet, and I lost a bit of my optimism. But watching that moment of the episode (which I’ve embedded below), I realized it was anything but cliché. It was as if Dr. K was making that metaphor for the very first time, actually giving meaning back to what has been a cliché for so long.

I don’t want to spoil the episode too much, but this scene depicts an accurate and respectful account of stillbirth and its aftermath. Dr. K sets the expectation that the loss will change Jake and Rebecca and that they will want to honor their son in some meaningful way. They cannot replace him, but if they can make that meaning, they will “still be taking three babies home from this hospital.”

The episode didn’t completely suspend disbelief. Whenever a topic like this is covered, especially in fiction, not every detail will be realistic. Some might even think that this interaction between two fathers was contrived. But something very similar happened to me during my pregnancy after loss, which made this particular scene resonate with me more than it might for others.

After a hospitalization at 33 weeks due to high blood pressure, one of my doctors called in a favor and referred me to a specialized integrative medicine clinic. My anxiety was at its highest level. I saw the head of the program to talk about holistic ways I could reduce my anxiety and possibly also my blood pressure.

The doctor really felt that between the mindfulness exercises I was already doing and my weekly therapy I was probably doing everything that I could. But, he stepped back for a moment and shared a bit of his life with me. He and his wife had experienced loss as well. In fact, the day that I saw him was the second anniversary of their loss. He told me that they had released balloons that morning before they both went into work. And then he showed me pictures of their beautiful 11-month old daughter, their subsequent child. He talked about how difficult his wife’s pregnancy after loss was, but here was evidence that they made it. They had a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Of all the doctors I could have seen that day, I saw the doctor who knew what I was going through because he had been there. I may not have needed his medical services that day, but I certainly needed the hope and reassurance that his life experience gave me.

I don’t know where “This is Us” will go from here. We have yet to see how they will depict the aftermath of loss and parenting after loss. But, the moment shared between Dr. K and Jake gave me hope that the taboo around miscarriage, stillbirth, infant and child loss is shifting. That too makes me optimistic.

Did you watch the episode? What did you think?

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