When the celebrity with arguably the biggest star power in the universe speaks, the world puts down its smartphones, perks up its ears, and listens. And on Monday morning, with the reveal of her Vogue September issue cover story, the world was listening attentively as Beyoncé opened up about toxemia, a dangerous pregnancy complication.
The notoriously private singer pulled back the curtains for the rare “as told to” article, getting candid about her pregnancy with twins Rumi and Sir—from weight gain (her 5’7” frame was 218 pounds when she gave birth), to her post-pregnancy FUPA (that’s a “fat upper pussy area” for those who don’t know), to her long-road to recovery following the dramatic emergency C-section performed as a result of the condition.
In the tabloid era, it’s not unusual for stars to tread into previously guarded, supremely personal territory, especially if they believe that by sharing their own stories, they can help others. But as of late, many celebrity women have gone above and beyond when it comes to discussing their complicated paths to motherhood—and according to some in the medical community, that's a positive thing.
"Brave and influential celebrities have shown that complications associated with pregnancy and postpartum do not discriminate against your social status, ethnicity, or how many Instagram followers you have," Dr. Sherry Ross, Women’s Health Expert and Author of she-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period, tells InStyle.
In addition to Beyoncé, whose words sparked conversations surrounding toxemia—a conditions that affects 5 percent of pregnancies—both Kim Kardashian and Serena Williams opened dialogues about pregnancy complications after delivering their own children.
Back in 2013, when Kim Kardashian was pregnant with North West, the reality star led fans through her struggle with placenta accreta, a rare and dangerous condition which Kardashian recalled (with cringe-inducing detail) in a blog post on her website. She has since used her platform to raise awareness about high-risk pregnancies, and become one of the most well-known advocates for surrogacy.
In her February Vogue profile, Williams also detailed complications with the birth of her daughter, Alexis Olympia. After an emergency C-section, a coughing spell caused Williams's incisions to re-open, leading to clots which required an additional surgery. She has since made a full recovery, competing at Wimbledon less than a year after giving birth and making it all the way to the finals.
Given that the U.S. was recently named “most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth,” according to a report from USA Today, these stories help raise awareness of everything from fertility struggles to birth complications to postpartum depression—a subject which another household name, Chrissy Teigen, has spoken at length about.
"The courageous celebrities who have stepped out and shared their personal medical complications with the world have brought a lot of comfort to others affected by similar medical struggles," said Dr. Ross, adding that their candid words have helped normalize conditions like postpartum depression.
For Beyoncé and Williams— two women of color— to speak of their dangerous pregnancy complications is particularly important because “the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is 3 to 4 times higher than those of white women” in America, according to the CDC.
Openness, especially in an age where mom shaming on social media is rampant (Carrie Underwood was the most recent celebrity on the receiving end of mom shame after she shared that she was worried about her fertility at age 35), is commendable, but some detractors have wondered, can celebrities—who are not doctors, in case you forgot—possibly do harm by sharing their unique medical experiences?
For the most part, Dr. Ross says that common sense can be used to parse the nonsense from legit medical advice. "Trusting 'vaginal steaming' to treat fibroids or infertility or avoiding the HPV vaccine because it can cause seizures since A-List celebrities say so, can be extremely dangerous for your health," she says. On the other hand, she continues, Angelina Jolie's op-ed about about her own experience with breast cancer "made high-risk women aware and encouraged them to get genetic testing. There was a two-fold increase in genetic testing referrals for 5 months once Angelina Jolie shared her personal story. Angelina has definitely saved lives!"