Dr. Jessica Zucker, Ph.D. is a Trailblazer. She is a Los Angeles-based Psychologist and the creator of a line of Pregnancy Loss Cards and the #IHadAMiscarriage Campaign. Her writing has appeared in popular publications such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and Buzzfeed– and she has been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, and NPR. Dr. Zucker’s message is simple: a call for the de-stigmatization of Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss– and an increased understanding for Women experiencing this type of loss. She is passionate, because she’s been there herself. She knows firsthand the heartbreak of Miscarriage– and she has turned her pain and what it has taught her in to a movement helping Millions. I first came across her work on Instagram, during the hardest period of my life– the aftermath of the Miscarriage of my second child. Dr. Zucker reached out to me on the social media site after I had written a post about my own loss, and she offered her condolences and support. I was struck by the hashtag she used in her message: #IHadAMiscarriage. At that time, I knew almost nobody who had experienced a Miscarriage. Little did I know that in fact these women were all around me, suffering in silence. I was so appreciative to find another woman who was using her loss to educate and heal others, and it inspired me to continue sharing my own story.
Dr. Zucker’s Pregnancy Loss Cards are the cornerstone of her mission– in a society where Miscarriage is rampant (10-25% of pregnancies) there is no socially accessible way to provide comfort or offer condolences. We do not see “Miscarriage Baskets”, “Miscarriage Flower Arrangements”, or “Miscarriage Condolence Cards” at the supermarket. It’s incredible that Dr. Zucker is able to provide this for the loved ones of people who suffer from pregnancy loss– the sentiments on her cards express what loved ones sometimes cannot find the words for. I was so moved by these cards because they are brutally honest depictions of the feelings the come after a Miscarriage, from all sides. While I hope to never have to send another Pregnancy Loss Card to a loved one, the truth is that we all know women and families who continue to experience them. I urge you to check out her full line of cards not only if you care to send one, but to feel her support if you are experiencing a loss yourself.
As a Psychologist who has treated many sufferers of Pregnancy Loss– and as a fellow Woman and Mother who has experienced Pregnancy Loss personally– I was honored to get the chance to ask Dr. Zucker a few questions about Miscarriage, feelings of loss, and the road to recovery:
What inspired you to create your line of Miscarriage Cards?
After my 16-week miscarriage I was surrounded by extraordinary support. However, as the weeks pressed on, I began to feel more estranged and isolated in my grief. What I quickly learned is that our culture is challenged when it comes to talking about out-of-order loss and as a result, many people fall silent. This cultural ethos leaves women who have lost something longed for living on the outskirts, bewildered. As a psychologist I specialized in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health long before experiencing pregnancy loss firsthand. I had heard countless stories strewn with painful isolation. Until I went through it myself, I only understood these feelings from a theoretical perspective. Soon after my miscarriage I began writing about the pain and the politics of loss. I found writing to be psychologically healing and I also took great comfort in connecting with women around the world who had been through similar experiences. The through line of many of these conversations was, “Why doesn’t anyone talk about miscarriage?” The statistics are staggering. Approximately 10-25% of clinically recognized pregnancies result in loss. But here’s the thing: we DO talk about it, but my sense was that we weren’t talking about it loudly enough or consistently enough. Given that I’m a psychologist, I wasn’t sure how much of my personal story I wanted to share publicly until I realized that doing just that–owning my experience with ease out loud–modeled something I was searching for in culture. An end to the silence, shame, and stigma associated with miscarriage. In 2014 I wrote a viral essay for The New York Times and with it launched the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign with the aim of normalizing loss and validating the mourning process. Many essays later I felt poised to reach people in a different way–to create something that could be shared, tools for loved ones to show support in a concrete and meaningful way. In 2015, I launched a line of pregnancy loss cards to fill a void in culture and in the marketplace. With the statistics being what they are, we needed these cards as a way to show support but also to have this very real experience recognized on store shelves. Miscarriage is not a disease, there is no cure. Therefore, it behooves us as a culture to get more comfortable confronting these difficult experiences women and their families go through. The cards provide validation, care, sensitivity, recognition, irreverence, and most importantly, love.
As a therapist yourself, as well as somebody who has dealt with pregnancy loss, what do you think are the biggest emotional roadblocks for women and families who have suffered a pregnancy loss?
Research has found that a majority of women experience feelings of guilt, self-blame, and shame following pregnancy loss. This is incredibly troubling to me. As a psychologist working with women and couples who have lost pregnancies, I all too often hear people judging their grief, being angry at their bodies, and getting caught in blaming themselves for something over which they had no control. Society grooms us to think that if we try hard enough at something we put our minds to, we ultimately yield success. This notion underscores that we have agency and control over most things that we create in the world. However, when it comes to pregnancy and pregnancy/baby loss, this is not necessarily the case. We don’t always have control. I impress upon my patients that grief knows no timeline, that rushing grief doesn’t actually siphon the pain, and that they did nothing to deserve this loss. Oftentimes women search high and low for something they “must have done wrong” to create this outcome. It isn’t so. It is not their fault. I have come to think that women in part turn to self-blame because if it is in fact something they did “wrong”, next time they can do it “right”. But, this just isn’t how it works.
What can friends and loved ones of those suffering a pregnancy loss do to help or be there for them? What are some helpful things to say or things to avoid?
The most helpful thing loved ones can do after a friend experiences a loss is to show support in a consistent way. Reaching out days, weeks, and maybe even months later to let her know you are thinking about her or to check in to see how she’s feeling might make a world of difference. Of course grief is unique to each individual, but knowing you are being thought about by your friends and family can potentially turn a rough day into a bearable one. Simple empathic statements convey compelling love: “How are you feeling?”, “I’m thinking of you”, or “I’m always here for you if you want to connect” are a few examples of sentiments that open the door for her to share what’s on her mind. It can be tempting to think that grief fades fast, but for some it doesn’t. There is no timeframe when it comes to mourning so it’s best not to make assumptions that she’s “back to normal” simply because a few months have passed. Also, getting pregnant again and even giving birth to a healthy baby doesn’t mean that the memory of the pregnancy loss has gone away. Asking her how she’s doing reveals more empathy than assuming she’s OK or being altogether silent about her miscarriage. This topic–the subject of out-of-order loss–makes most people uncomfortable. Unfortunately, not talking about pregnancy loss won’t make it disappear and it surely doesn’t help the griever if we act like it will. Being emotionally present can make all the difference to a friend whose had a miscarriage.
From your own personal experience, what has helped you move forward in your own grieving process?
Time has helped enormously. I was in a haze for some time after my loss, though I was seemingly engaged in my everyday like. Retrospect gave me insight into just how heartbroken I was and how emotionally affected I was by my loss. I am a huge believer (go figure!) in psychotherapy, so I found the consistency of talking about my miscarriage incredibly healing. In addition, writing about pregnancy loss in general and specifically about my own experience is what I think ultimately glued my heart back together. My loss greatly impacted my professional life as I was rendered better able to actually understand from a corporeal perspective many of my patients stories. Two years after my loss I launched the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign with the hope of helping others feel less alone, to model that there is no shame in loss, and to illuminate the statistics in individual stories. We are 1 in 4. The hashtag campaign went global and I watched in awe over how many people participated and felt heartened by this political and personal endeavor to peel away the stigma from miscarriage.