Meet Jessica Zucker, Creator Of The #IHadAMiscarriage Campaign

Los Angeles based clinical psychologist and writer, Jessica Zucker, has specialised in women’s reproductive and maternal for over a decade. But, it wasn’t until she experienced a 16-week firsthand that she could truly grasp the anguish and the circuitousness of grief she had heard her patients speak of. Determined to make a difference to the conversation surrounding, feelings experienced and perceptions of miscarriages, Zucker chose to amplify her voice. As part of this movement, she also  created dialogue with other women by using the hashtag #IHadAMiscarriage. We sat down with Zucker to hear about her reasons for creating the campaign, what she thinks needs to improve in the motherhood conversation and her hopes for the future.

We love that you are using your understanding of the psychological effects of reproductive and maternal health on women from both a professional and personal point of view. What made you want to study this topic and did your own experience of a miscarriage solidify or question anything for you?

My miscarriage ultimately gave birth to a passion for changing the way our culture manages loss: the silence, the shame, the stigma. In 2012, on the first-ever International Day of the Girl, I miscarried at 16 weeks while home alone. Two years later, still struggling with the sense of loss and isolation surrounding my experience, I penned an essay for the New York Times about my miscarriage, and invited other mothers to share their own stories with the hashtag #IHadAMiscarriage. It has been deeply 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 (and hopeful theirs, too) 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 was your aim in creating the #IHadAMiscarrige hashtag?
After my 16-week miscarriage, I became that much more interested in the recent research which has found that the majority of women report experiencing feelings of shame, self-blame, and guilt following pregnancy loss. Patients had reported these feelings during our sessions together, but after undergoing this profound loss myself, I became incensed by these unfortunate research findings. Why do women feel so alone, isolated, and badly about themselves when the science clearly states that pregnancy loss is not a fault of their own? Approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies result in loss and a majority of these are due to chromosomal abnormalities. If this many pregnancies end, why would women feel inclined to think they did something wrong, rather than viewing this as a natural (albeit incredibly sad) part of the pregnancy process? This theoretical and cultural conundrum inspired me to write myriad essays challenging these very notions. By using myself and my story–in all its detail–to illustrate the importance of sharing our journeys and questioning the way our culture handles this ubiquitous topic, I hoped to inspire others to question their feelings of self-blame. I launched the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign in an effort to put a face to these stories that exist worldwide. To own what is ours, to dispel myths, to galvanize community, to clear the cobwebs of antiquated silence. The outpouring of candor and compassion was uncanny. It is incredibly profound to witness women of all generations sharing experiences they previously felt they shouldn’t. There’s something truly liberating in that.

“Why do women feel so alone, isolated, and badly about themselves when the science clearly states that pregnancy loss is not a fault of their own?”

Do you feel that women’s reproductive and maternal mental health is becoming more openly spoken about everyday & in the media, or, is it still quite an isolated topic?
I think the tide is beginning to change. The more we share our stories of heartache and hope, the sooner we normalize the pain of grief. With this shift in our cultural narrative, we begin to witness women feeling connected rather than isolated during these life-changing experiences. This is the goal. Death is as big a part of life as birth. Yet, when it comes to pregnancy loss and infant death, we lack a vocabulary for this experience despite the fact that its survivors number in the millions. The more readily we integrate these concepts, the better off we are at conversing about them and doing right by each other. There is no shame in loss and without secrecy, shame continues to get pulled back. Shame will eventually get disbanded if we keep at these efforts long enough.
Unfortunately, we live in a world brimming with platitudes. When it comes to pregnancy loss, too many well-meaning strangers and loved ones alike say things like: “Everything happens for a reason”, “At least you know you can get pregnant”, “Be grateful for what you have”, “God has a plan”, “At least you weren’t very far along”. When we are met with comments like these, it can be tempting to shut down or worse, to feel ashamed of our grief. In addition, women often fall silent in their grief because of how complicated it can be to justify or understand it. For example, when a grandparent dies we are well-versed in how to respond. When it comes to pregnancy and infant loss, because we don’t have standardized rituals in our culture to honor these losses, we stumble. We go numb, we turn inward, we feel alone. So the more we speak, the closer we get to making sure that future generations don’t feel this sense of alienation in the aftermath of something so common. Miscarriage is not a disease; there is no ultimate cure. All the more reason why we must embrace this topic and find a sturdier way to support women and families as they face reproductive hardships.

“The more we share our stories of heartache and hope, the sooner we normalize the pain of grief. With this shift in our cultural narrative, we begin to witness women feeling connected rather than isolated during these life-changing experiences.”

How do you think the power of the internet today can better women’s access to the conversations and support they may need on these issues? 
Community helps us feel less stranded while in the depths of despair. The internet allows for access to these types of stories and much-needed support at the click of a button. Though, of course, not all of us are prone to sharing about these life events so publicly. I can relate. The first time I wrote about my miscarriage, I did so anonymously. It was just three months after the traumatic event and I wasn’t quite ready to attach my name to it. I was still processing the tragedy, the pain, the shock. It was relieving to feel unconstrained in how I spoke about my experience knowing it was anonymous. Knowing my name wasn’t attached provided the privacy I needed.

Over the last five years, my name is proudly emboldened in various publications on the topic. When I was ready, I dove in and haven’t stopped since. And I encourage others to do the same, if they are so inclined. My Instagram page is primarily used as a place for others to share stories, both anonymously and by name.

I think it’s interesting to use social media in this way because there’s so much focus on striving for perfection with images on Instagram. There’s something refreshingly real and powerful about showing other perspectives. Women need to know they are not the anomaly. Pregnancy loss occurs too frequently for people to think they are in this alone. Reading other women’s words can provide a healing salve. 

If you had to give one piece of advice for women that have suffered a miscarriage what would it be?
Suspend self-judgement and know that there is no timeline for grief. Be sure to take all the time you need to process what you’ve gone through, as their is no time limit for this kind of heartache. Additionally, since there is no road map for this type of experience you might be prone to rush or even feel angry that your feelings are lingering. Do remember that countless women have undergone this experience, too, and understand the sadness, bewilderment, the alienation. You are anything but alone.

Talking about your own pregnancy loss may be difficult, but can also be extremely powerful—it helps you realize you’re not alone and can mitigate some of the shame and guilt that commonly surrounds such an experience. To prepare yourself to open up about your loss(es), take time to reflect on and identify your feelings. Writing, meditation, movement, and being in nature can be especially useful tools for contemplation.

Seeking therapy, support groups, or people in your tribe who you’re comfortable confiding in might also ease the journey through grief. Lean on trusted loved ones who provide understanding. There is no right or wrong way to discuss these things. Just know that you are in control of who you talk to and how—and if you’d prefer to be private about this, feel free.

When a woman talks about miscarriage, she’s not just helping herself; she’s also helping other women feel less alone. It takes unabashed courage to walk the vulnerable line of publicly sharing the experience of pregnancy loss. Upon opening up about our nascent experiences of grief, we often find our tribe. And if a grieving mother can help bring more women into the healing fold, all the better.

 

Follow Jessica Zucker here.