Friday, August 14, 2015

Trigger Warnings

A sweet friend of mine (Kendra of Catholic All Year) recently warned me that the new Sherlock Holmes movie, Mr. Holmes, features a prominent miscarriage story line that may be difficult for some to watch. She also said the movie, which stars Ian McKellen as an old Holmes, was really well-done. I'll probably watch it (eventually, when it comes out on video - getting to the movie theatre is a rare occurrence for me) but I cannot explain how much that warning means to me. I don't outright avoid movies, books, or other media that contain elements of pregnancy loss (in many ways, I often find the inclusion of them to be very validating), but I do like the ability to prepare myself beforehand. It's the element of surprise that makes those scenes so difficult to handle.

Perhaps you've heard the term "trigger warning" before. That's exactly what I'm talking about - a warning of the presence of a certain topic that may trigger a strong emotional reaction. My triggers are pregnancy and infant loss and, to some extent, infertility. Perhaps those are your triggers too, or maybe they are cancer, or sexual abuse, or domestic abuse, or divorce, or death of a parent, or any great number of things.

Knowing and understanding your triggers is important. It does not make you weak to know what you should avoid, or what you should only confront after preparation and in certain cultivated circumstances. You are honoring yourself when you acknowledge and adequately address (even completely avoid) the topics that have the ability to distress you.

Last summer, I was in a very vulnerable state. I'd gone through my second miscarriage in February and we were actively trying to conceive again, with nothing to show for our efforts but negative pregnancy tests and tears. And it seemed that EVERY. SINGLE. book, movie, or TV show I watched quite unexpectedly included pregnancy or infant loss in the plot line. It got to the point where I started writing them down because it was just absurd how many their were: (Amazon affiliate links below)

The Help, Downton Abbey, Gran Hotel

This was within a month, folks. A month! Three books, three TV shows, and a movie. None of which I had any clue would have any baby loss story line, but it was in each and every one. Some had not much more than a short scene or brief background story, but it was there all the same, startling me to my core. And the thing is, each of these was pretty great, I'd recommend anyone watch/read them (well, except maybe the Tudors - the sex scenes in that one were a little too much for me so I only made it a few episodes in). I'm sure I would have watched or read them anyway even if I had known they contained loss BUT I wouldn't have watched them that summer. Or one right after another. Or without a bit of forethought and preparation. Or with people other than my husband. I would have cushioned them between light, bright little comedies and feel-good stories.

I'm not quite sure how to avoid something like this in the future. Do I go on Wikipedia and read the detailed plot before I watch any movie or read any book? I frequently do this for movies and books anyway and don't really mind the spoilers BUT there is no guarantee if it's a more minor element that it will even be included in the plot summary. I don't think I'll quite go to those lengths, but I do appreciate a heads-up from my friends and I do keep my ears open for any potential "trigger warnings".

I asked on my Facebook page about any other movies, books, or television shows that have pregnancy or infant loss and for you, dear readers, here are some other trigger warnings:

(many episodes of) Call the Midwife, House M.D. and Law & Order SVU
Labor Day
What to Expect When You're Expecting

Feel free to leave any you've encountered in the comments as a trigger warning to others.


  1. You are so right. I really appreciate knowing in advance to prepare myself against things like violence, especially against women & children.
    -The TV series 'Outlander' has infertility as a minor plot issue (and tons of sex, and threat of sexual assault).
    -The book (&movie) 'The Time Traveler's Wife' has infertility & miscarriage as a major theme.

  2. I absolutely hear you. Right after our miscarriage, I picked up a novel by an author whose books I had enjoyed before ("Ordinary Grace" by William Kent Krueger) and it turned out the whole plot turned on finding out that one of the main characters lost a pregnancy at almost the exact age as our baby. Had it not been on my Kindle, I would have chucked it across the room - I was so mad! Much later my husband and I were able to laugh about the awful irony in that dark humor that sometimes comes with grief. But boy, I wish I had known to steer clear and read it in another season of life. The last thing I needed then. Thank you for this list.

  3. I just finished reading What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (a great Australian fiction writer - I definitely recommend her other works!) and infertility is a big sub-plot in the novel; I immediately thought of you and would add it to the list!