After suffering baby loss, Selling Sunset star Maya Vander is speaking out in hopes of helping other women and parents.
The realtor and mother of two, who had documented her latest pregnancy on season 4 of the Netflix reality show, just shared the tragic news on Instagram two weeks ago: “Yesterday was the hardest day of my life. I had a still birth at 38 weeks. I always heard of it but never imagined I’ll be part of the statistics. Instead of delivering a baby, I get to go home with a memory box.”
When Vander spoke with ELLE.com last week, she was still figuring out her next steps after losing her baby son, Mason. “I’m looking like a mess here,” she explains on the call from the cemetery, where she would choose a plaque for her child. She’s coping with the loss “one minute at a time;” she and her husband, David Miller, have been trying their best to stay strong for their son, Aiden, who is two and a half, and daughter Elle, who is 19 months old. “Even with my two kids,” Vander says, “I still have that big void, that something is missing.” Still, she wanted to share her story.
Opening up about what happened, Vander reveals, “A few days prior to losing the baby, I felt less movement. I went to a private ultrasound…Normal heartbeat, baby was moving. So at that point I’m like, ‘I’m just being paranoid. Clearly I’m two weeks away from delivery, probably less room to move. And that’s why I feel the baby move less.’” She continues, “Four days later. And I still felt the baby move, here and there. Not as much, but I still felt movements. And then when I went to the checkup, put the Doppler on my belly, [the doctor] just couldn’t find a heartbeat.”
At 38 weeks pregnant, she knew that something was wrong. “At that moment I just had a very bad feeling. And then I went to do an ultrasound in the clinic, and they confirmed [there was] no heartbeat, the baby had basically died.” Because she was so close to her due date, Vander had to deliver her baby, knowing that he was no longer alive. “So within three hours, I was already at the hospital basically ready for delivery.”
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Stillbirth still isn’t widely discussed, even though it affects as many as one in 160 births in the U.S. every year. “It’s a traumatic experience to the dad, and to the mom, and people don’t talk about it because it’s so traumatic,” Vander tells ELLE. However, now that more women are being open about baby loss, from Meghan Markle to Chrissy Teigen, the world is gaining a better understanding of the formerly taboo topic.
“When Chrissy Teigen talked about her baby loss, I saw it,” Vander says. “…I looked at her photos with the baby, and my hope is to do the same. Maybe it will help other women. Hopefully, with time, I can come back and say, ‘I’ve been through this, and look at me now and where I am.’ But right now, everything is just so fresh.” Expanding on how she’s feeling, Vander explains, “I mean, yes, I lost a grandparent, but it’s a different kind of grief. It’s still your child.”
The silence surrounding stillbirth can lead many to feel unduly ashamed or somehow responsible—but that needs to change. Vander tells us, “I tend to blame myself, and [think] ‘I could have paid attention more,’ and ‘Why couldn’t I save him?’ and so on, and all these crazy thoughts running in my head.” She continues, “So to all the women out there, just know, it’s not our fault. It’s no one’s fault. And unfortunately we are in that bad luck of the statistic number…And I’m trying to convince myself saying that, but I really hope that whoever reads my story or went through this knows that it’s not their fault.”
With a worldwide audience following her every move on Netflix and beyond, Vander knew she had the potential to reach a lot of people. But speaking out about losing her son was far from an easy decision. “Obviously, being on a TV show, you are exposed. You are exposing your life. People know what’s going on with you,” she says. “I obviously filmed pregnancy photo shoots for season 5 [of Selling Sunset], my baby shower…And this is unfortunately part of being in the public eye; you share things that maybe you wouldn’t share otherwise.”
However, Vander has already seen the positive effect that reality TV can have, particularly in its ability to tell real-life stories that connect with viewers in very palpable ways. “I share my pregnancies in the show,” she explains. “Before that…I had two miscarriages. I had a lot of women approaching me, and I gave them hope because then they saw that I was pregnant again.” Her goal is to be able to do that again. “And my hope is that if I share my story, people can relate.”
Filming on season 5 has already wrapped, but Vander may be open to sharing her baby loss on Selling Sunset in the future. “If they would want me to, and they would want to film something like that? Yes, I’m okay sharing it.” She explains, “I’m a very open person. I share things. I don’t sugarcoat situations. I don’t hide things…I feel like it happens and it’s reality and that’s real life.”
While her future on Selling Sunset is unclear—“I’ll probably not be a full cast member just because logistically, it will be tough”—her friendships with the cast endure, and she’s found great support in all them following her loss, particularly new mom Christine Quinn. “Christine had a terrible situation in [the] delivery [of her baby],” Vander says. “…And I told Christine, I know you had a traumatic birth experience and thank God you are safe and your baby is safe, but it could have ended where I am right now.” The rest of the cast and the crew have been just as loving and supportive, with Vander receiving multiple flower and food deliveries daily. “Honestly, I’m shocked. I did not expect it. And it just warms my heart that people care.”
The real estate agent has also found a kinship in people posting about their own experiences online, discussing stillbirth and baby loss openly. “Honestly, looking at videos of women that went through this and actually had kids after…Those women moved on. And they love their child that they lost, but they have kids and they’re happy and they’re just in a better place right now. So that helps me to know that, maybe not next week, not next month, but maybe a few months down the road, the pain will be less severe.”
In the midst of her grief, Vander isn’t sure what comes next. “I’ll take it one day at a time. And hopefully a few months from now, I’ll be in a better position to decide, do I really want another baby or not? It’s the tough decision to make.” She isn’t ready to make a decision just yet. “Because my first initial thought is, I’m not young, yeah? So I’m hoping I can get pregnant again. But also being pregnant again, [means] nine months of anxiety and anxiousness and trauma. And do I really want to go through this again?”
Right now, her priority is honoring her son. When I ask what she wants people to know about her experience, she replies, “Just that Mason, [when] he was born, he was healthy looking normal baby, and nothing that could indicate what happened. He looked like his brother, which means like my husband, all my kids look exactly like my husband. And he just looked like a normal baby that was ready to come to the world, perfect size, perfect everything. So that’s what I want people to know.”
For more information about stillbirths and baby loss, visit the American Pregnancy Association or the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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