When I saw the previews for last night’s episode of This Is Us (warning: lots of spoilers ahead), I was both intrigued and nervous. It had already been revealed that Kate lost her baby to miscarriage, and the ad suggested that we’d see how the miscarriage played out, as well as the emotional aftermath between Kate and Toby.
The first time I watched This Is Us, I was observing the fifth anniversary of my own miscarriage. I connected with the Pearsons’ loss of one of their triplets in the pilot episode. Although that baby was at term, and mine didn’t have a heartbeat at twelve weeks in utero, the compassionate yet complex way the show dealt with the death of a child resonated with and comforted me. A child lost, even at such a young age, can never be replaced with another. And yet there can still be joy in raising other children if that’s the family’s situation, as it was with me.
That tangle of hope and sadness, of joy and helplessness, was at work again in last night’s episode. We could count the number of times I cried—starting with the flashbacks from previous episodes and ending with the revival of the once-torn-down shower curtain—but I’m sure I’m not the only one who had to reach for the tissues. But what really struck me as I watched This Is Us was how it managed to convey miscarriage in a way that felt real to me—a representation I don’t often see in mainstream media.
Because there’s nearly always a twist at the end of an episode, I worried that in the final moments, we’d see Kate, sister to Randall and Kevin and daughter of Rebecca and Jack, and her fiancé, Toby’s, relationship in a precarious place. Initially Kate seems to believe that the loss is only hers, and it takes her a while to process the gravity of what’s happened. Among other things, she shuts Toby out when he articulates his sense of loss with dignity and raw honesty. I was grateful to see that, sooner rather than later, Kate lets first her mother and then Toby into her grief. She doesn’t try to carry it all alone. We can see the beginning signs of healing.
I don’t fault Kate for trying to keep moving forward, even though she did take on too much, too soon. I experienced a similar kind of shock; when I told my husband we’d lost our baby, I didn’t cry. I remember telling him I knew it was going to get harder, but I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know when. Grief can be unpredictable. You can’t rush it in or out. That’s why it’s so important that those who are a support system are willing to just be there when they’re needed, as Rebecca and Toby do for Kate. With this, the episode ends on an uplifting note. I expect there are still trying times ahead, but the foundation to handle them has been established.
My other concern hinged on an episode a few weeks prior, when Randall made a comment about his eldest daughter not being real as a person to him until she was born. I bristled at this suggestion that a baby isn’t realized until he or she draws a breath. I was surprised, then, in Kate’s episode to see that no one made that implication in the face of her miscarriage. It seemed clear to me that Toby experienced the loss as a father (and as Kate’s partner), and Rebecca drew connections to losing Kate’s brother Kyle at birth.
Even more so, in a flashback where Rebecca tries to explain to a teenage Kate how much she loves her, she says Kate will understand when she’s a parent. When Rebecca appears at adult Kate’s door, it’s as a mother comforting her daughter, but it’s also as a mother supporting another mother.
I appreciated so much about this episode. The stillness and near silence of the early scenes, full of blank stares and tear-filled eyes, speak to the pain and bewilderment of learning your child is gone. The missteps in learning to manage the pain both individually and within various relationships are an unfortunate reality that can be difficult to navigate. Ultimately, the recognition that the loss is real but that something positive can come from the devastation is something I’ve experienced firsthand.
This time six years ago, I was pregnant with a child I never met, never held in my hands, never saw outside of an ultrasound monitor. Today I am a different person because of that child. This kind of loss happens more than many of us realize, so I am grateful that it was handled, in prime time, with grace and sincerity.
But then, that’s what I’ve come to love about this show: It acknowledges the pain and the joy of living, without making excuses for either. This dichotomy is what it is to be human and what a beautiful and moving reality that can be.