Just weeks into her second pregnancy in 2020, actress Zulay Henao rushed to the emergency room convinced that her water had broken. "There was a lot happening with my body," she explained in an interview with E! News. "And I was like, 'This isn't normal. Like, I haven't felt this before.'"
She began voicing her concerns around 7 p.m. that night and, after hours of scouring the Internet and reading "all these things I shouldn't have," she recalled, "I was, like, shaking inside of my body, shuddering inside of my body."
That's when boyfriend Kevin Connolly made a call: It was time to go to the hospital. After a thorough check, Zulay got an all-clear from the doctors. "They're like, 'No, you're fine. It's just, you know, your body is going through all these changes,'" she continued.
Which is precisely when she broke down: "I remember sobbing in the hospital room, like, 'How am I going to get through the next, like, seven months of this in one piece?'"
This is what it feels like to experience pregnancy loss.
It's a situation so common that there's likely no way it hasn't affected at least someone you know. But up until quite recently, miscarriages were rarely discussed, expectant moms instead following the well-meaning, but ultimately incredibly isolating, guidance that they keep their pregnancy under wraps lest they have to talk about such an unpleasant situation.
As with so many other things, that particular tide seems to be changing, with everyone from Chrissy Teigen to Meghan Markle to Michelle Obama revealing that they have experienced the loss that affects one in four pregnancies.
Each hoped that by sharing her story, she could help others feel just a little bit less alone. "We have learned that when people ask how any of us are doing, and when they really listen to the answer, with an open heart and mind," Meghan wrote in her searingly raw New York Times op-ed in 2020, "the load of grief often becomes lighter—for all of us. In being invited to share our pain, together we take the first steps toward healing."
And so the retired actress turned duchess and outspoken activist spoke in detail about that otherwise unremarkable July morning that saw her get now-3-year-old Archie Harrison from his crib only to experience the sharp cramp that brought her to her knees, letting her know "as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second."
For Chrissy, that same realization came 20 weeks into her third pregnancy, in the hospital room she'd inhabited for days doing all she could to keep son Jack alive. But, she shared in a tragic September 2020 update, "We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions. It just wasn't enough."
Singer Christina Perri has also spoken about wishing and hoping and praying to make it to a due date that felt so close and yet not close enough. The mom to now-4-year-old daughter Carmella was more than seven months into her third pregnancy, following a January 2020 miscarriage, when doctors discovered a complication with her daughter's intestines.
And after two weeks of prayer, research and making plans for an immediate surgery, "we lost our baby girl," she shared with fans last November. "she was born silent after fighting so hard to make it to our world. she is at peace now and will live forever in our hearts."
With Zulay it was seven weeks in, just a few months after she and Kevin decided the coronavirus pandemic, and the subsequent shutdown of their shared industry, actually provided the perfect time to start building their family. "I was like, 'Okay, everything's shut down. Studios are down. Agencies are down. This is our time," she explained. "As you can see, it wasn't the way that we planned it."
Instead, as she dealt with the physical pain of her loss ("You don't have a miscarriage one day and it just goes away, even physically. You're in this thing for a long time where your body has to heal") the inner turmoil just about destroyed her. "You feel ashamed, you feel like, 'Wow, my body couldn't do it,'" shared the If Loving You is Wrong actress.
"I remember just thinking to myself of every reason, just really microanalyzing everything I did and everything I didn't do," she continued. "Like to the point of, 'I drove home too late that night and drove over that pothole.'"
She even blamed her family for letting her leave her mom's house that night. "There's just so much emptiness and shame and anger that you have toward yourself," she explained. "I was angry toward my doctor. I just lashed out at everyone for a little bit, including my own family. Like, 'Why did you guys let me do that?'"
It wasn't until her doctor looked her directly in the eyes, saying in no uncertain terms that she had done nothing to cause this, that she had done the very best that she could, that she felt just a little of that pain slip away.
The Colombia-born army veteran began expounding on the topic on her Modern Muze website, a lifestyle brand created as "a platform for us to have uncomfortable conversations," she noted. "It ended up being a launching pad for me to have the confidence and create an outlet for myself to talk about it."
She also set up a memorial for her first child at her mother's nearby home, a decision she struggled with at first. "I go to my mom's a lot and she's got a beautiful backyard and I'm like, I don't know if every time I come here I want to remember this," she explained.
But now, she continued, the spot, situated under a lemon tree and surrounded by flowers, is always abuzz with hummingbirds and other signs of life. It's a place she's long dreamed about taking now 16-month-old daughter Kennedy.
Because once given the okay by her doctor, she and Kevin slipped off for an extended stay in Napa to "drink some wine and unwind." Shortly after they returned to their L.A.-area home, roughly a month-and-a-half removed from her miscarriage, she announced that she needed to make a trip to CVS to confirm what she was absolutely certain was true.
"I knew it instantly. Everything in my body told me that I was," she said of her second pregnancy. "Sure enough, I came home and we both watched that stick and then we both, like, our faces lit up. But after that immediate place of excitement and joy and elation and all those feelings that you want to have and that you're waiting for, they were overshadowed almost immediately by this fear. And, you know, projecting the past onto the present."
Which brings us back to that tumultuous first trimester. Though she nixed the idea of an at-home heart monitor after much consideration ("I would be on that thing all day and then that would create its own level of anxiety") she didn't stop herself from scavenging the Internet to study up on every worrying pregnancy malady.
"I was a mess," she admitted. "I cried and cried. I was overanalyzing everything, reading everything."
At some point, though, in her second trimester, she found a way to release just a bit of that trauma and worry. "Now I'm in a much better place, where I'm pretty confident in, like, 'Okay, your body's stretching, your body is supposed to go through aches and pains,'" she noted. "If there's a pain, it's like, 'Okay, your rib cage is hurting for reasons other than maybe your placenta broke.' I started talking to myself in those terms and it did help a lot."
Shawn Johnson-East can relate. Having suffered a miscarriage with her first pregnancy in 2017, when she discovered she was expecting again in early 2019, "it was absolutely terrifying," she told E! News in 2021. "The first time, when I found out I was pregnant, it was, like, the greatest day of my life. The second time I found out I was pregnant, I was so afraid that I couldn't celebrate it because it wouldn't last that it almost stripped all the joy out of it for me for awhile."
For the first 30 weeks she carried now 2-year-old Drew, she felt as if she was holding her breath, bracing for the worst as she endured a few "health scares" and the near constant ultrasounds that accompanied her high-risk pregnancy. Even with her third pregnancy, now-14-month-old son Jett, the ever-present anxiety didn't exactly vanished.
Her belief that she would one day hold her baby in her arms pushed her through those hard early days as she dealt with the cruel blend of agonizing physical symptoms and emotional despair that pregnancy loss can bring.
"I remember the day after I miscarried, I felt like I had the worst case of the flu. I literally could not get myself up off of the bathroom floor," she recalled. Because at that point her body had for all intents and purposes gone through a labor. "You basically go through contractions and, you know, your body is ridding itself. And I think because you don't have any of the joy and you have just traumatic pain and loss, it makes it harder. And then weeks following, having your hormones completely out of whack and, again, not having any of the joy there, it's a very physically emotional thing to go through."
In those darkest of moments, she found solace in a surprising place. "Honestly, the thing that helped me the most was social media, which sounds comical to a certain extent," she shared. Because when she and husband Andrew East uploaded that first emotional YouTube video, "I personally didn't know how to heal from it. I didn't know, even though my doctor had said it was common, I didn't understand that it really was," she said. "And so I kinda went out on a limb, almost talking about it asking for help more than anything."
She received it in the form of thousands of stories, all with a shared message. "It was no longer me posting something to the world and it being one-sided, it became an immediate community," she explained. "I would sit there and I would read these comments and these stories from woman after woman after woman after husband and spouse and partner and it was like, 'Oh, we went through this and this is how we felt and this is how we healed.'"
That last bit was something she desperately needed to hear.
Because like Zulay, she was certain at times that she was at fault, no matter how much evidence she amassed to the contrary. "As much as you can try, you just have that feeling for some reason of, well, if I truly was supposed to be a mother, my body, the choices I made would have kept this pregnancy," Shawn explained. "You want to be able to be the best mom in the world and to start out that way, is very difficult and very emotional. And I read every statistic knowing that I didn't do anything wrong, but still in the back of my mind I'm like, 'Well, was it because I was so emotional?'"
The third time around, she experienced an entirely different pregnancy, one that often saw her too busy dashing around after her curious toddler and trying to come up with dairy-free options for a lactose-intolerant Drew (she's "obsessed," Shawn raved of Harmless Harvest's coconut-based yogurt) to consume herself with worry. Still, she's not entirely sure there's anything anyone could have said to her at the time that would have taken those negative internal voices away.
"I've had friends ask me, you know, what could they have said or what could they say to other friends? And, honestly, that's hard because there's nothing that makes it okay," she said. "I think just, especially as a community of people, having someone tell you, 'It's okay. And you're going to get through it,' is probably the best."
For Zulay, "surrender" was the watchword.
She reflected on attending crucial doctor's appointments without Kevin thanks to COVID, worrying about receiving any potentially devastating diagnoses alone. "And so I was like, 'Okay, if he were here and there was any sort of news, it would still suck. So you're strong and you can get through this,'" she said.
It's a riff on her favorite "If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain" quote from Dolly Parton, the basis for an internal pep talk she finds herself having often.
Sometimes she thinks, "Maybe this is better timing," she said of her second pregnancy. "Everything is always working out in the best way for everyone and I truly believe that. Not that I'm okay with what happened. What I'm saying is that, I have surrendered to what has happened. And while it wasn't a good experience and while I don't wish that on anybody, it happens and we have to be okay in dealing with it and getting ourselves out of the deep dark hole that it really, really is."
A version of this story was originally published on Friday, April 23, 2021 at 12 a.m. PT.