If you are at the stage of your life when you’re entertaining starting a family, chances are that you or someone close to you has suffered a miscarriage. With approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in loss, it is a common but devastating part of the conversation that often gets brushed under the rug. Shame, feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment can often prevent those who have experienced miscarriage to share with friends and on the flip side, others can worry that they wont know how to provide comfort or will say the wrong thing.
Dr. Jessica Zucker, a psychologist and writer based in Los Angeles, who specializes in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health launched the #IHadaMiscarriage hashtag campaign and pregnancy loss cards after suffering a 2nd trimester miscarriage herself in order to help shift the cultural conversation (and lack of it) around miscarriage, pregnancy loss, stillbirth, etc.
What was the most surprising thing for you about the experience of miscarriage?
As a psychologist, I specialized in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health long before I experienced a 16-week miscarriage myself. From a theoretical and professional perspective I thought I was well versed on the topic of pregnancy loss. But it wasn’t until I experienced loss first hand that I really understood from a corporeal perspective just how intense so many elements of one’s life can be affected. I was most surprised by how isolated I felt in the aftermath of my loss. Though I had heard countless stories about emotional isolation, I was still stymied by the loneliness that accompanied my miscarriage. I was surrounded by loving support but felt isolated nevertheless because in our culture we tend to show care and concern as soon as loss occurs, but have difficulty following up over time. Women often crave support in the weeks, months, or even years following a pregnancy loss.
Up to 20% of pregnancies result in loss, why do you think so many shy away from being honest about the experience?
Unfortunately the research states that a majority of women feel a sense of guilt, self-blame, and shame following a miscarriage. These findings might be a direct result of the fact that our culture struggles when it comes to talking about out of order losses. Therefore, the cultural silence might be provoking a sense of shame alongside stigma. When it comes to reproductive traumas, we have a hard time adequately supporting women through the process of loss, mourning, and eventual hope. Perhaps people shy away from talking about their miscarriage experiences because of this resounding lack of community-level support. In a culture that is more comfortable talking about “happiness” and “positivity”, we inevitably quiet the experiences of so many when we don’t acknowledge the potency of grief. Grief is circuitous and knows no timeline.
How do you hope that your cards and movement will change the conversation that women have with each other as well as the way general society treats the situation?
My aim in creating the pregnancy loss card line as well as the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign is to indelibly shift the cultural conversation surrounding loss. In sharing our stories of heartache and hope, we help normalize grief and in so doing there is the potential for a sea change with regard to talking about reproductive hardships. My cards are a concrete way for people to express care during a tender time. By having these cards in the world, we legitimize that approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies result in loss and with this often comes emotional pain. Miscarriage is not a disease–there is no cure. It therefore behoves us as a culture to become more comfortable with the uncomfortability of pregnancy loss, especially since it’s not going anywhere. The feedback from my cards has been tremendously heartening! Through emotional validation we can feel a lot less alone as we navigate these challenging experiences. Of utmost importance to me is to help women feel less ashamed after losing something longed for. I want to help us be gentler with ourselves as we meander through the mourning process. I’m honored to be part of a global community working tirelessly to help women feel more supported in the aftermath of pregnancy loss.
Jessica Zucker, Ph.D. is a psychologist and writer based in Los Angeles. She is the creator of a line of pregnancy loss cards and the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign kicked off by her first New York Times piece in 2014. Find her online www.shop.drjessicazucker.com and follow her on Instagram @ihadamiscarriage.