Christina Perri has not had an easy year. In July of 2020 the singer-songwriter shared that she was expecting another child with her husband, comedian Paul Costabile. The couple was overjoyed; this would be their rainbow baby after experiencing a pregnancy loss at 11 weeks in January of 2020. But in November of 2020, in her third trimester, Perri was hospitalized with pregnancy complications. Two weeks later, she and her family shared the devastating news that they had lost their daughter. “She was born silent, after fighting so hard to make it to our world,” Perri, who had been 33 weeks along, wrote at the time.
The ensuing grief, she says, was unimaginable. By and large, Perri retreated from her public life, sharing occasional, emotional updates with her fans on social media. But with the anniversary of her family’s loss coming up, she feels ready to speak about what she’s been through—both to shed light on the earth-shattering, incomprehensible heartbreak of stillbirth and to share the memory of the daughter she lost with the world.
Starting with her name: Rosie.
“This is my first time talking about it,” Perri tells me over Zoom from her home in Los Angeles. “I have done so much work to be able to talk about it. I feel not just ready to talk about it—I want to. I want to be that voice.”
Perri’s voice is, of course, what made her famous, beginning with her breakout hit “Jar of Hearts” more than a decade ago. Now she’s using it to aid in her healing by releasing an album of lullabies on November 24—the anniversary of the day Rosie died—called Songs for Rosie, an achingly beautiful tribute to a painfully short life. (In the lead-up to the release, Perri debuted her cover of “Here Comes the Sun,” the album’s first single.)
“This record means the most to me because it carries forever the narrative—the correct narrative—that she exists,” says Perri. It also builds upon Perri’s legacy of commemorating her love for her children via song.
In 2019, to celebrate her older daughter Carmella’s first birthday, Perri released an album of lullabies and sing-alongs titled Songs for Carmella. The companion album for Rosie had long been in her mind. “I want to make a lullaby record for every baby,” she says, “so the whole time I was pregnant with Rosie I kept a track list on my phone of songs I planned to [sing to her].” The song selections took on a heart-wrenching new meaning after Rosie’s passing—like “Smile,” which repeats the directive to “smile, though your heart is breaking,” a challenging missive for anyone parenting an energetic preschooler after losing a baby—and drove Perri on her mission to record the songs. It was now imperative for her to build something concrete to honor Rosie’s life. “There was a moment where I was like, Should I [make the album]? And then I was like, Oh, I absolutely should,” she says. “I have Songs for Carmella, and this is the same album cover. It uses the same font. It’s the second volume. Because Rosie is my daughter. And she will remain part of our family forever.”
Perri’s resolve to create a tangible memorial with Songs for Rosie is almost revolutionary. Grieving a miscarriage or stillbirth can be complicated in our culture, which already “doesn’t have the best language around death generally,” says Perri. And while we do have some expected rites and rituals around loss—funerals, wakes, visiting gravesites—these rites are not always offered as standard practice for families who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss.
“Parents can feel adrift without these cultural touchstones which, in their own way, do offer a kind of stability and a profound acknowledgment that their loss was in fact real,” explains Jessica Zucker, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in reproductive and maternal mental health and the creator of the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign, which aims to end the culture of silence, stigma, and shame around pregnancy and infant loss. As a result, “people who have experienced these losses really have to write their own way when it comes to the grieving process,” Dr. Zucker says.
This was exactly why Perri wanted Songs for Rosie out in the world. One of the things she’s learned over the last year, she says, is that she had to normalize the grief for herself by acknowledging the hole in her heart would be a part of her forever and by not being afraid to speak about it. “I had to integrate the trauma,” she says. “They say when someone passes away, say their name because you don’t want to lose their memory…. That’s also why I made Songs for Rosie. My heart is broken, but I’m honoring her.”
For Perri to be able to get to this place where she could not just make the album but also talk about it was a monumental challenge. “I’ve been calling grief a house,” she explains. “When it all happened, I was in one room in the house, and I’ve slowly moved from room to room. The good news is, in my experience, you don’t really go back to a room once you’ve left it, but you’re still in the house. And I’ve been very present in each room, in each phase of grief.”
The first room, she says, she made her way out of thanks to the gift of a foster pug puppy. “The first week was pretty much a blur, but then we [got the dog],” she says. “He kept me just a bit busy. That little pug really carried me through.” Her subsequent metaphorical room graduations have happened through a lot of dedicated, deliberate work. “I had to make it almost like my job to heal my body because I had gone through so much, and also my spirit,” she says. “There wasn’t a day I wasn’t doing a healing thing, whether it was yoga, EMDR [eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy], being in a sauna, eating really healthy. I did a lot of therapy: regular therapy, trauma therapy, couples therapy. I really just did the most I could possibly do.”
She had to. The scars left by a stillbirth can be visceral, both figuratively and literally. “My body was truly, truly broken,” she says. “One of the hardest parts was having the postpartum body without the baby. Looking like I just had a baby, and not having the baby‚” Perri says. “I actually would get mad when I looked at myself. It was a reminder, every time, of not having her.”
Sobriety has been a surprising source of comfort for Perri in this time. “I’ve been sober for almost 10 years, and I remember thinking, Oh, this will be the thing that breaks me,” she says. “But then I thought to myself: It wouldn’t take away the pain. I just knew. I think I’d been sober long enough to know it’d be one more problem.” And interestingly, she says the tools she learned in recovery helped her reach out and ask for help from others. “When you get sober, that’s your first dose of humility where you’d say, ‘Hey, I have a problem,’” she explains. “So I really asked for what I needed and took the time for what I needed. I didn’t realize that being sober this long was giving me some life skills or some tools to get through this. I have to give credit there.”
Perri has also made an effort to connect with other parents who had lost babies. “It’s a club nobody wants to be a part of, but the women in that club are phenomenal. Their love, and understanding, and compassion, and feeling like I wasn’t alone was a huge part of [my healing].” When she shared what had happened on social media, the incoming support was immediate and overwhelming, too. “I don’t think I’ve ever been reached out to more,” Perri says, mentioning she heard from first-grade classmates, long-ago teachers—people from all parts of her life. “When we lost Rosie, I feel like it broke the hearts of everyone that knows me,” she says. “And in pain, sometimes we really feel connected.”
That response, and a general cultural shift toward increased openness about these losses, made sharing pieces of her story less intimidating. “In the last five years or so, a lot of people have been sharing their experiences [with loss], and I don’t know if it’s the women who came before me that gave me the confidence to be out loud with it, but I just felt really supported,” she says. If sharing her story now helps another family feel less alone, or helps them process their grief? “I’d love that,” she says. But ultimately, sharing her story—Rosie’s story—is a part of Perri’s personal journey. “Rosie’s life was really important for that short amount of time that she got,” says Perri.
Lately, what brings Perri additional solace is believing Rosie will get more time someday. “I only recently decided that I like believing that she’s going to hop in another body and do this again. I’ll run into her one day, we’ll connect again. And that? That makes me feel like I can get out of bed and live life.”
As much progress as Perri has made with her healing, the truth is that grief is not linear. There is no finish line. “I don’t have all the answers,” she says. “I’m still sort of in it. It’s only the first year.” But Perri can see how far she’s come with the effort she put in. “While I was healing from losing her, it felt like I was coming into my body for the first time,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever taken care of myself as much as I have this year. I stopped looking in the mirror. I stopped trying to fit into my old clothes. I stopped trying to hide my body. It’s probably the most gentle I’ve ever been with myself.”
That’s allowed her to let go of the anger and uncertainty that lurk, understandably, after two back-to-back pregnancy losses. (Perri is not ready to share what she has learned about any potential physical reasons for her losses just yet.) “I still have faith in my own body,” she says. “I mean, I made Carmella.” This perspective is a testament to all the therapy she has done. “I’ve been pretty type-A, perfectionist, hard on myself my whole life, and I just had to get rid of it. I wish I didn’t have to go through such trauma to do all this, but I don’t think I’ll ever unlearn it.”
The 23rd and 24th of November, Perri says, “will always be the worst days of the year.” And while this year she has the release of Songs for Rosie to look forward to, she says that in this and future years, she and her family plan to make an annual trip to Disney World on those days for Rosie. “I’m trying to find ways to honor the spirit of a little kid,” she says. “It might sound silly, but we’re trying to celebrate her. That’s how I, personally, am going to get through that week. We’re just trying to do something beautiful with something really, really sad.”
In addition to their annual trip, Perri tells me she and her husband have worked on integrating smaller reminders of Rosie into their daily lives. She and Costabile both got rose tattoos, and Costabile planted a rose tree for her at their home. “And because of the symbolism of her name, we think about her all the time,” says Perri. “I’ll light a rose candle, and I can honor her. I didn’t realize when we named her that I was making it so we could think of her all the time.”
It might sound gutting to have grief be able to surprise you like that; to be constantly, unexpectedly awash in reminders of a baby you lost. But Perri doesn’t think of it that way. “That’s how she’s living in our lives.” She pauses. “Gosh. She’s in my breath, you know?”