It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed since my first miscarriage. If you would have asked me then, I would have told you I was one of the few women to have ever had the dream of a baby stolen from her womb. Not knowing a single woman who had suffered similar loss, I began to lose faith in the possibility of hope.
In those dark summer days, I remember praying for small signs or promises of better. Thankfully, those promises revealed themselves to me in the form of miscarriage survivors. One by one, they reached out to me, offering the unique support and understanding only they could. Many of these women I’d known my whole life, and yet, I suppose, never really knew. They’d suffered in silence through feelings of guilt, sorrow, and fear. And they’d done it alone. But thanks to their bravery and support through my journey, I wouldn’t have to.
Courage through community is something Dr. Jessica Zucker knows all about. As a clinical psychologist and writer specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health, Zucker is on a mission to bring pregnancy loss out of the shadows of shame and into the light of our collective consciousness.
I had an opportunity to sit down with this incredible woman to discuss the next chapter of her #IHadAMiscarriage campaign as we acknowledge October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
You’ve been busy! You launched the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign in 2014 with your viral New York Times piece. In 2015 you created the pregnancy loss card line. How has the campaign been received by miscarriage survivors?
The campaign has sprouted in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It is remarkable to see the statistics of pregnancy loss come to life through sharing stories of heartache and hope and in so doing, bolstering community and a sense that we are not alone.
When I launched the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign in 2014 my aim was to de-stigmatize loss through owning the details of my loss without shame. I hoped it would spawn a global conversation about a topic all too pervasive and often too silent. The goal of the pregnancy loss card line is to fill a gaping hole in the marketplace as well as in the cultural conversation surrounding loss. It provides a concrete way to connect with the griever, rather than shying away from the topic. The line attempts to capture the entire spectrum of feelings grief can provoke whereas to normalize just how circuitous grief can be and how many different emotions may arise.
I have written dozens of essays about loss — how they affect friendship, marriage, mother-daughter relationships, body image, and more. Recently, I began curating Stories From Around the World on Instagram (@IHadAMiscarriage) — pregnancy loss stories being shared by women worldwide.
What are you working on now in your mission to bring awareness to the survivorship of miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal loss?
This year I am focusing on the importance of promoting intergenerational conversations about pregnancy loss. If we think our generation doesn’t talk much about pregnancy loss, we can only imagine just how quiet things were in previous generations.
I’ve created tees and totes for rainbow mothers and babies. Rainbow babies are babies born after loss. With approximately 20% of pregnancies resulting in loss and many of these women going on to get pregnant again, the number of rainbow babies is enormous. The shirts aim to: de-stigmatize loss, put a face to the statistics and move away from shame, to own our stories, to foster connection and community.
Furthermore, these shirts are not only for women with rainbow babies. They are in fact also for women who themselves are rainbow babies! Hence the focus on intergenerational dialoguing. My hope is that women turn toward their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, great-grandmothers and so on to learn about their reproductive histories, bolstering communication around this vital topic that needn’t remain on the fringes.
What do these items symbolize for those affected by pregnancy and infant loss?
They are a way to express pride about who we are, our lived experiences, our stories. We need not be ashamed of our reproductive losses. Pregnancy after pregnancy loss can be quite harrowing for some — these items also aim to stimulate conversations among women who have been there. Who have struggled. Who know what it’s like.
My hope is that this promotes conversations within families about these stigmatized issues (especially because these conversations were even more silent in generations past). Also, there is such a thing as “reverse rainbow babies” and these women/kids can also be represented in these shirts. A reverse rainbow baby is a child who was born previous to losses, with many losses taking place afterward (and no other children born). Clearly, not everyone ends up with a rainbow baby, but many women who lose pregnancies still consider themselves mamas. These items suit them, too.
In your practice, and in your experience, how does a public declaration like #IHadAMiscarriage or display of these items representing such a profound personal experience help us all?
It allows us to feel more connected, less alone part of a larger community of women who “get it”. Research has found that a majority of women experience a sense of shame, self-blame, and/or guilt following pregnancy loss. Sharing our stories helps work against the current cultural ethos by modeling through sharing that there is zero shame in loss. You did nothing wrong. Loss is a normative and unfortunate occurrence that can stir a wide range of emotions, impacting various parts of our lives. The more we talk about our heartache, the sooner we acknowledge grief, and can experience feelings of connection rather than isolation or alienation.