Why We Need To Have More Open Conversations About Miscarriages
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.
On this day, I sit and remember the 2 angels I carried. Both left me at 9 weeks. The first, I was 16, I was shaken to my core to find out that I had lost a baby that I never knew about. The second, I prayed and prayed and begged for a full week knowing that he/ she wasn’t going to make it. Early in my pregnancy, I had a vision of that sweet angel baby surrounded with white light and in the presence of my brother who had recently passed. It felt peaceful despite the heartbreak we endured. I remember those angels and honor them as much as I can. They were loved. They will always be a part of me. They will always be honored in this family. #iam1in4 • • #pregnancyloss #pregnancylossawareness #ihadamiscarriage #rainbowbabies #honoringmyangels #foreverinmyheart #guardianangels #makemattproud #rainbowmama #momofrainbowgirls #rainbowgirls
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.
🚫This is not a pregnancy announcement!🚫Quite the opposite actually. Please read. In the past few months Sean and I have been through the ringer: INFERTILITY TREATMENT (IVF) PREGNANCY MISCARRIAGE We have felt all the things that you’d imagine would go along with that: Sadness. Frustration. Joy. Relief. Exhaustion. Guilt. Confusion. Anger. Hopefulness. And so much more. We continue to grieve and are navigating this the best way we know how by taking it day by day and clinging to what is good. There is ALWAYS good. Our good is by far the community that has surrounded us. Because we chose to share this journey with close friends and family, we have never been alone. We’ve experienced the kind of love, support and encouragement that brings me to tears. We’ve received warm meals, sweet “just thinking of you” texts, “checking up on you” phone calls, sat and had hard, meaningful, tearful conversations - all which have truly carried us. Bringing others into these raw and imperfect life moments is vulnerable and uncomfortable. “To show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling. To have the hard conversations. It’s daring greatly and it means having the courage to be vulnerable” @brenebrown It’s important. It’s what binds us. It’s what creates true community. And it’s life giving. _________________________________ October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness month. I’m so happy that I live in a time where people are working hard to do away with the stigma and silence that surrounds miscarriage and infertility. If you have gone through anything like this, are going through it now or know someone who is… reach out. Invite the ones you love to walk this road with you. We don’t have to do any of this alone. We weren’t created to. (I’m here if you need someone to talk to who’s been there!) . “And if not, He is still good.”
It's hard to talk about these things, but unfortunately, not talking 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.
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."
Today marks 3 years since our miscarriage and it just so happens that it also falls on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. At first I thought that having my miscarriage be on this day felt like a cruel joke but I'm so thankful that this day not only represents the loss of my sweet baby but also remembering the heartbreaking loss of so many babies around the world. I'm thankful that we live in a time where people are working hard to do away with the stigma and silence that surrounds miscarriage. That people can be open and not have to suffer in silence. So many people who have heard my story have been surprised by the fact that there is another option besides d&c and that I had a homebirth miscarriage but because we don't often talk about loss, we don't know what other options are out there. We still miss our boy everyday, I still recount the kids and feel as if someone is missing, I still wonder what color his eyes are, I'm still another day closer to meeting him. If there is anything good that could come from this tragedy it is the blessing I have in being able to walk alongside other mamas going through the same thing. I'm so thankful to be a listening ear and to support people the way I needed it during that season. We weren’t created to walk through difficult circumstances alone so if you are going through this, please reach out to someone. And if you have no one I'd be happy to talk to you! Take a look at #englexasmiscarriagejourney to read about more of our journey.
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.
Today is pregnancy & infant loss awareness day. I never thought it would happen to me. Especially after 2 healthy babies. I took this picture because when I found out I was pregnant I had planned to take a postpartum photo documenting how badass my body was after delivering our 3rd baby. This is as close to that as I was going to get. I was around 12 weeks here, when I was having contractions and knew it was officially ending. I never, ever planned on sharing it, but the stigma surrounding loss is so intense and I think it's important to be open about it. #1in4 #ihadamiscarriage #postpartum #babyboosh
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.
My dearest Parker - I love you baby girl. And I'll never, ever forget you, or the lessons I learned during the time you were with me. They say newborns are visited by angels, so whenever your sister smiles randomly in her sleep, I like to think the two of you are playing in her dreams... laughing, smiling, and being the happiest, carefree babies in dreamland. I still miss you and think about you everyday. Continue to watch over us from heaven. 👼🏾🎀🇨🇲 • • • Stillbirth and miscarriage are not the same. Although stillbirth is often simplified as miscarriage, each is its own unique experience. And while the two are equally painful, please be mindful they are very different. On this day, where we recognize those who've suffered any kind of infant loss, I send love, prayer and positivity to all the mothers, fathers and families touched by this type of devastation. It's not easy, but often viewed as something people should easily get over. People say things like "you can always have another one" or "imagine how you'd feel if he/she was older". To be honest, I used to share this train of thought before my losses, so I know they mean well - but the truth is loss, no matter what kind, is devastating. And most times, people don't know what to say unless they've experienced the same type of situation. So if you don't know what to say, just be there, available to listen with an open heart -- sometimes that's enough. #1in4 #ihadamiscarriage #pregnancyloss #infantloss #iam1in4
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.
Words: Deena Drewis