If you ask your mom or grandma about miscarriages and fertility issues from years ago, they may say it didn’t happen “back then.” Or at least, “it wasn’t common.” But the truth is, 10-25 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and 12 percent (7.5 million) of women in the U.S. suffer from infertility.
It does happen. And it’s not uncommon.
Thankfully, more and more women are talking about it now, so those who endure it feel less alone. And in sharing their stories openly, they’re helping to dispel the feelings of shame and failure that women generations ago felt in secret. One such woman is Nancy Kerrigan, former figure skating Olympian, and current cast member of Dancing with the Stars.
This week’s episode of DWTS highlighted personal struggles endured by each contestant, and the pain they’ve overcome was reflected in the dances performed. Mr. T.’s dance was in honor of his fight against cancer. Simone Biles dedicated her dance to her father, showcasing both her love for him and the trauma of her experience in foster care. And Nancy Kerrigan’s performance was in honor of her children. Those she gave birth to, and those she sadly lost.
In rehearsal footage, Kerrigan was seen opening up to her dance partner, sharing that she had suffered for years with infertility, suffering six miscarriages over an eight-year period.
“I always thought I’d have three kids by the time I was 30,” Kerrigan later shared with People, adding that she imagined following right in her mom’s footsteps. And although Kerrigan did go on to have three healthy children — Matthew, 20, Brian, 12, and Nicole, 9 — the years in between their births were filled with heartache over the six babies she was unable to carry to term.
After one particularly painful miscarriage, she recalls how difficult it was to tell her son. “How do you explain [a miscarriage] to a little kid?” asked Kerrigan, in this week’s episode. “Having to tell them that it was now gone and they had to take it out? He asked why and we had to explain, ‘Because it’s dead. It’s not alive anymore.’ That was awful.” She also says it felt shameful because she “couldn’t do it on [her] own.”
“The first time that you go in and they tell you, ‘Oh there’s no heartbeat,’ it’s devastating,” Kerrigan told People, adding that doctors were never able to give her a reason why she kept miscarrying in the years after Matthew’s birth. “I felt like a failure,” she shared.
Thankfully, in vitro fertilization treatments did eventually work for Nancy and her husband, Jerry Solomon, and they welcomed both Brian and Nicole to complete their family of five. It was for them that she danced the foxtrot to “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts this week — an emotional and vulnerable performance that earned her quite a bit of praise from the judges.
One particularly poignant comment during the episode came from judge Julianne Hough, who said that she saw Kerrigan’s childlike beauty and innocence shine through as she danced. “I felt like I was watching your 10-year old self,” said Hough.
It’s hard not to hear those words now and not think of that little 10-year-old Kerrigan once was — the little girl who so long ago dreamed of having three kids by age 30. But if Kerrigan could speak to her now, I’m sure she’d tell her that although her plan may not work out exactly as she’d hoped, in the end, she’d be okay.
Hopefully, infertility and miscarriage will continue to remain a part of the conversation for women, not just for those in the celebrity world, but for everyday moms around the world. Rather than feeling ashamed of our struggles with infertility — or worse, like failures — knowing that we aren’t alone will allow us to love ourselves, and ultimately do the healing that we need.