Halsey’s miscarriage story expands the definition of womanhood

Women's empowerment shouldn't depend on their reproductive histories

Halsey's infertility discussion opens a dialogue about reproduction.
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Since coming onto the music scene back in 2014, Halsey has proved she’s not afraid to get personal. 

The singer has been famously outspoken about her bisexuality, her personal experiences with sexual assault and rape, and—a year after suffering a miscarriage onstage in 2015—even her reproductive health. Recently, though, Halsey revealed that she wishes she’d kept the latter to herself.

In an interview with The Guardian published at the end of February, Halsey opened up about her miscarriages, a part of her personal journey that made her the target of online abuse. “It’s the most inadequate I’ve ever felt,” she said. “Here I am achieving this out-of-control life, and I can’t do the one thing I’m biologically put on this earth to do. Then I have to go onstage and be this sex symbol of femininity and empowerment? It is demoralising.” 

The singer has endometriosis, something she publicly spoke about dealing with in 2016. Endometriosis is a disorder characterized by the growth of endometrial tissue—uterine lining—in abnormal places such as the fallopian tubes and ovaries. The condition can cause infertility, but its hallmark is sometimes debilitating, chronic pain—painful menstruation, urination, bowel movements, and sexual intercourse.

This pain, which Halsey herself has called “excruciating,” was also a source of anxiety for the singer before she was diagnosed. At first, medical professionals thought she was dehydrated, stressed, or dealing with chronic fatigue. When the singer was finally given the news that she had endometriosis, she recalled feeling relieved, as well as dispirited by the realization she’d have to live with the condition forever.

Two years later on a special segment of The Doctors, Halsey shared the story of her onstage miscarriage, caused by her endometriosis, from a few years before. “The sensation of looking a couple hundred teenagers in the face while you're bleeding through your clothes and still having to do the show, and realizing in that moment […] I never want to make that choice ever again of doing what I love or not being able to because of this disease,” she told the doctors. 

She followed by revealing to them that the experience pushed her to seek treatment and undergo surgery. “I feel a lot better,” she told her interviewer.

Despite Halsey’s willingness to share her diagnosis and use her celebrity status to educate others on endometriosis, her bravery wasn’t always met with sympathy and understanding. When she first came forward about her miscarriages, people claimed she was lying and actually had an abortion instead. Some even came to one of her shows in Toronto and held up bloody baby dolls in the crowd. Her WhatsApp account got hacked and she received multiple pictures of fetus parts.  

Still, the singer continues to share her struggle with the disorder and several miscarriages, along with their impact on her dream of being a mother. In her new song “More,” released this past January, she sings about her intense desire to have a child and the feelings of hopelessness and hopefulness surrounding successfully conceiving. One of its most touching lines is “And when you decide it's your time to arrive / I've loved you for all of my life.” 

It’s easy to take away from Halsey’s story that celebrities like her wield the power to bring important publicity to sensitive issues like miscarriage and reproductive disorders given their major public platforms. That’s true, but I believe Halsey’s candidness about her feelings of inadequacy following her miscarriages bring something else to light: the link we reinforce between womanhood and maternity.   

As women, we often place a lot of our value on our bodies: their sizes, shapes, what they do for us, and what they can sometimes lack. For some, the body is a source of power, pleasure, and joy. For the majority of women, it’s also a source of trauma, inadequacy, and pain, which can bring up conflicting emotions. Women’s bodies are vehicles that carry with them the stress of not being able to squish into the right pair of jeans, or the fear of being violated without our consent. They can also be things that house lifelong cycles of pain, through menstruation, giving birth, miscarriage, or menopause.

For Halsey, the female body is seemingly defined, in part, by its biological function to bring life into the world. So, for her, it’s exceedingly frustrating to struggle with infertility. As she said in her interview with The Guardian, it’s demoralizing for her to go onstage and be an empowered sex symbol of femininity when she can’t do the thing she feels she should biologically be able to.

In other words, she seems to feel that her womanhood is threatened by her lack of control over her body and its workings.

The heartening part of Halsey’s difficult story is that, when women share stories like Halsey’s, our collective concept of womanhood can expand. Miscarriage or endometriosis doesn’t have to be seen as an anomaly or unwomanly. Instead it becomes part of the larger experience of being a female-bodied person. In the same way, being inclusive of age, ability, race, class, gender identity, and sexual orientation opens up our idea of womanhood for everybody who identifies as a woman. It makes the umbrella term ‘woman’ more inclusive.

Given the personal nature of her struggles, Halsey has every right to feel demoralized about her situation. She’s also allowed to wish she never told anyone. But I hope that she knows that, by being honest about her experience with a miscarriage, she’s helped to expand the concept of womanhood.

The ability to reproduce and the inability to do so is all part of being a woman. Halsey’s struggle isn’t something that excludes her from being a woman—it’s something that expands what being a woman means.  

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