Renee Chou was 12 weeks pregnant when she received devastating news during a routine doctor visit: The baby didn’t have a heartbeat. There was nothing anyone could do.
It was a personal tragedy that Chou could have kept silent about. She and her husband, Mike, had shared their pregnancy news only with family. Chou hadn’t yet made an announcement to the thousands of viewers throughout the Triangle who watch her anchor the morning and noon news segments every weekday on WRAL.
But Chou, 40, decided to tell her story on her Facebook page – not because she felt obligated to, she said, but for “self-preservation.”
“I could not just go back to work, go back on air, pretending like nothing happened,” Chou said Monday at her Raleigh home.
She never imagined all the love and support she would receive from the April 27 post, which features a photo of her and her 3-year-old daughter, Elsa. The post has been shared more than 900 times and has about 5,000 comments, including some from women who told their own stories about miscarriage.
Chou said she has also received emails and cards from viewers.
“I think that support has really helped,” she said. “I have no regrets sharing.”
Chou, who grew up in Michigan and attended the University of Missouri, hasn’t always been so willing to open up about her personal life. She resisted social media and didn’t join Facebook until seven years ago.
She started her journalism career with a five-year stint in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and she’s been with Capitol Broadcasting Co.’s WRAL since 2004, delivering news in the 24th-largest media market in the country.
When she got married in 2008, she and her husband wanted a year to themselves before starting a family. After trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, the couple turned to a specialist who said Chou had “undiagnosed infertility” and ordered fertility drugs and then intrauterine insemination. When those methods didn’t work, they did two cycles of in vitro fertilization.
“Still nothing,” Chou said.
In vitro fertilization was draining, financially and emotionally, and the couple started the process of adopting a child. Then, suddenly, they got a surprise: Chou was pregnant.
Now she regularly posts photos on social media of Elsa – her “three-and-a-half-year miracle.” For her, it’s a way to express how grateful she is for being a mother.
Last year, Chou blogged about her experience with infertility, which affects about 10 percent of women in the United States. She also did an on-air story about the issue.
I felt like my body had failed me.
“We gave up,” Chou said of her and her husband’s dreams of having a biological child. “We were at a point where we didn’t know if we could take the disappointment anymore. ... I felt like I was a failure. I felt like my body had failed me.”
After Elsa was born, Chou and her husband hoped to have more kids, but they didn’t stress about it. If it happened, that would be great.
They were shocked to find out in February that Chou was pregnant. Elsa was happy about the idea of becoming a big sister, and she liked to touch her mom’s belly.
“The moment you find out, you’re just in love with that baby,” Chou said.
She had some morning sickness, but Chou said there were no signs that anything was wrong. An ultrasound at eight weeks showed the baby’s heartbeat was strong, and she returned to the doctor at 10 weeks to get her blood drawn.
Chou went for a 12-week visit April 24 and found out the baby wasn’t moving. No heartbeat.
“Just the silence,” Chou recalled. “I’ll always remember the deafening silence.”
As nurses tried to comfort her, Chou felt like she was underwater. She could see their mouths moving but couldn’t fully grasp anything beyond “this wall of shock and sadness.”
“I’m hearing these words, and yet it’s not connecting for me,” she said. “I’m in denial, I’m in shock.”
She called her husband, and then her boss to say she wouldn’t be at work for a few days. She wrote the Facebook post three days later and welcomed the distraction of returning to the anchor’s desk.
Chou didn’t want to tell the story of her miscarriage over and over again, and she saw social media as a way to let everyone know what happened. She found comfort in the kind words written by friends and strangers.
By sharing your story, you realize you are not alone. That outpouring of support and kindness helped me.
And she undoubtedly helped other women who struggle with infertility or have lost children. About 15 percent to 20 percent of pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage in the first 20 weeks.
Beth Harris, 38, of Raleigh, didn’t know Chou but felt compelled to respond to the post. Harris lost her daughter, Katie, in 2015 when she was 32 weeks pregnant.
“The phrase that helped me the most was ‘I carried you for every moment of your life and I will love you for every moment of mine.’ Heartfelt prayers for your family,” Harris wrote to Chou.
Harris said a support group and an online community have helped her deal with her grief. She gave birth to her son, Avery, in November.
“It’s just so important for women to speak out and make it so child loss isn’t so taboo,” Harris said. “Women who lose children can feel so alone.”
Chou also wants others to speak out about their experiences, when the time is right for them.
“By sharing your story, you realize you are not alone,” she said. “That outpouring of support and kindness helped me.”