Nearly one in four women who get pregnant miscarry, and yet it’s a subject that’s kept hush-hush. Psychologist and founder of the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign, Dr. Jessica Zucker, explains why that needs to change.
In my mid-20s, as some of my friends started getting pregnant, there came a moment that I realized what every woman eventually does: Miscarriages happen to many, many women.
If it’s a fact that becomes less stunning over time, simply because of its frequency, that shock eventually gives way to anger: Why don’t we talk about this?
If as many as one in four women miscarry, how is it possible that it’s a conversation our culture insists must be conducted behind closed doors? How is it that we leave women to deal with this largely in silence?
It’s a question with which Jessica Zucker, an LA-based psychologist specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health, is all too familiar. Not only because she helps women who have gone through it, but because she has, too.
In 2012, on the first-ever International Day of the Girl, she miscarried at 16 weeks while she was home alone. Two years later, still struggling with the sense of loss and isolation surrounding her experience, she penned a vivid essay for the New York Times about her experience, and invited other mothers to share their own stories with the hashtag #IHadAMiscarriage.
Now three years after the campaign began and five years out from her own experience, the @ihadamiscarriage Instagram account has over 20,000 followers, and Dr. Zucker is more committed than ever to fostering a sense of community among women who have miscarried and bringing the conversation out into the open.
In the wake of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on October 15, we compiled stories from women who have joined the conversation, and below, Dr. Zucker explains why this culture of silence and shame exists around an issue that affects nearly a quarter of the child-bearing population.
Where does this collective reluctance to acknowledge the experiences so many women have come from?
Well, we live in a culture that struggles with addressing grief head on, especially when it comes to out-of-order loss, such as miscarriage. As a result, silence pervades. The silence translates into stigma, which spawns shame.
Research has found that a majority of women report feeling a sense of shame, self-blame and guilt following pregnancy loss. And this hush-hush cultural ethos is not only antiquated, it is outright painful.
It’s hard to talk about these things, but unfortunately,nottalking about it doesn’t make it go away. Miscarriage is not a disease. It is not something that can be cured. Therefore, the sooner we institute new ways of discussing these hardships, the sooner women will feel more connected and receive the support they deserve.
Five years after your own miscarriage, what has it meant to you and your healing process, to have women share their stories with the hashtag you created?
As a psychologist, I specialized in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health long before experiencing a second trimester miscarriage firsthand.
This loss gave birth to a passion that seems to increase with each passing year. I am fiercely dedicated to being part of changing culture when it comes to the conversation surrounding loss and grief.
I wanted to establish a way for people to connect after loss, in a concrete way, so that loved ones could support grievers in a meaningful way, which is why I created a line of pregnancy and infant loss cards as an antidote to the comment all too often said: “I just didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.”
I envisioned women turning to their grandmothers, mothers, aunts, and sisters to learn about their reproductive journeys. If we think miscarriage is shrouded in silence now, just imagine how much quieter things were in previous generations.
Trying to let go of anger towards loved ones who weren’t there for me in the ways I needed. It’s really hard. #ihadamiscarriage #grief pic.twitter.com/m6lqghRsU3— Becky w/ the ok hair (@beccafly) October 5, 2017
This year, the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign zeros in on early pregnancy and questions why we are typically advised not to share pregnancy news until we are “out of the woods” after the first trimester. This age-old construct essentially sets us up for silence and isolation if things go awry. In other words, this statement translates into “Don’t share your good news in case it becomes bad news, so that you don’t have to share your bad news.”
Though we would prefer bad news not exist, it does, and therefore it is time to become conversant in talking about this difficult and often murky topic.
It is truly heartening to see women coming out of the woodworks to openly discuss these important and often life-changing experiences. Connecting with women around the world has affected my healing process exponentially.
Though I would forfeit my miscarriage for my daughter in a heartbeat, I am profoundly inspired by being a loss mom and addressing these women’s health issues from the inside out.
What do you wish the public would understand about what women who experience a miscarriage go through, that too often gets overlooked or isn’t considered?
Firstly, grief knows no timeline. Grief is circuituous, and though it may not make sense to other people, the griever may feel like they are on an emotional roller coaster for a while.
Empathy is key. There is no place for judgement in grief. Secondly, platitudes are painful. It can be tempting to say things like, “At least you know you can get pregnant,” “everything happens for a reason,” and/or “you’re young, you’ll be fine.”
The problem with these statements is that they actually don’t address what the mourner is going through, and worse yet, these things might not even prove true. It’s best to stick with loving compassion, consistent care, and being an available shoulder for your friend should she need it.
Third, it’s wise to shy away from comparing and contrasting losses, as this can potentially minimize people’s experiences. No need to get caught up in, “Well, at least you have another child,” or “At least your loss happened early. You can just try again.”
Making assumptions about how our loved ones are feeling following loss doesn’t help. A simple “How are you feeling? I’m here for you if you want to talk” can go a long way.
Lastly, it is vital to remember that bypassing loss doesn’t make it go away. In other words, avoiding asking a friend how she’s doing for fear of entering into an uncomfortable conversation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dare yourself to ask. If she doesn’t want to talk about it, she will let you know.
What resources are out there for women who have gone through a miscarriage? What are some of the most important actions they can take in terms of allowing themselves time and space to recover?
I found writing, psychotherapy, and community to be hugely helpful in my healing process. It is important that women be gentle with themselves as they recovery. There is no need to rush or ignore feelings; it doesn’t ultimately speed up the grief timeline.
Instead, embracing the pain and allowing the grief to take its own time will actually move things along in a more fluid way. Rest, writing, meditation, yoga, exercise, being in nature, and spending time with loved ones are a few activities that allow space for contemplation and being present. There are several support groups on and offline that offer constructive forums for exploring grief.
Dr. Jessica Zucker is a Los Angeles-based psychologist specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health. She is the creator of the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign.