October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and it's such an important topic for women and families all over the world. Having a miscarriage and losing a baby is a tragic, life-altering experience for millions of women, but it's something that bonds so many of us together.
Unfortunately, it's also an experience that many women suffer through in silence. There still exists a stigma around pregnancy and infant loss, a perceived shame that forces women to process and grieve these losses in private. One out of every four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, yet it's still something that we as a society consider a "private" matter. Because of our unwillingness to talk openly and honestly about pregnancy and infant loss, so many women and families suffer in silence.
Yes, it's an uncomfortable topic, but we can't allow our discomfort to cloud our ability to support women through this painful part of the pregnancy process.
In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, Moms.com spoke with Dr. Jessica Zucker about her campaign to remove the stigma surrounding pregnancy and infant loss, and change the conversation around painful, yet inevitable, part of pregnancy.
Dr. Zucker is a clinical psychologist and writer living in Los Angeles, California, and she's the creator of the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign. In her clinical practice, she specializes in women's reproductive and mental health. A background in public health and time spent working in places like Nepal, Africa, India, Israel, and the Netherlands have given Dr. Zucker a unique perspective on pregnancy, loss, and rituals surrounding grief.
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No matter the passage of time, my heart burns on this day every year. The loss of my would-be daughter stings to the core as I sift through the unbearable details. On a cellular level, I remember. Declared the first-ever International Day of the Girl, I lost mine. Olive. My love and compassion for all you mamas who feel this ache is fierce and enduring. May we persist in telling our important stories. _ #IHadAMiscarriage #internationaldayofthegirl // Photo by @elliana_allon.
But a devastating second trimester miscarriage changed the course of her work and passion. Dr. Zucker's loss, and the subsequent mourning and grieving process, gave her firsthand knowledge of the ways our culture is failing women and families during their difficult journey. With the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign, Dr. Zucker hopes to change the way we manage the silence, stigma, and shame associated with pregnancy loss.
After an easy pregnancy and delivery with their first child, Dr. Zucker and her husband decided to grow their family once again. She became pregnant easily the second time around, but began to spot at around 16 weeks. An exam at her doctor's office didn't reveal any problems, but just two days later, the spotting increased and Dr. Zucker began having contractions.
On Thursday, October 11, 2012, her baby girl was born at home. "The trauma of this experience - having to cut the cord myself (coached over the phone by my doctor), subsequently hemorrhaging and needing to get myself and the baby to my doctor's office immediately - changed everything", says Dr. Zucker. She experienced complications following the premature delivery, including traumatic blood loss and an unmedicated D&C, which contributed to her unfathomable grief.
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Tomorrow is the anniversary of my loss. The day she fell from my body while home alone at 16 weeks along. As I meander through the streets of Brooklyn, my mind remains steady on one particular unanswerable aspect of Olive’s demise. Did she feel pain? When her heart ceased beating, was there a flicker of discomfort? Sweet Olive, I think of you still. I’ll think of you always. _ #IHadAMiscarriage // Photo by @elliana_allon.
Following the loss of her daughter at 16 weeks, Dr. Zucker became interested in research that showed a majority of women experienced feelings of shame and guilt following a miscarriage. Patients had shared their own feelings of shame with her in her practice, but after losing her daughter, Dr. Zucker became more and more incensed by the data.
She wondered, "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 conundrum inspired Dr. Zucker to write an essay about her experience for The New York Times, and was the catalyst for launching her incredibly important campaign.
Every October, the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign focuses on a different aspect of loss that Dr. Zucker feels needs to be explored. This month, she is focusing on rites and rituals that honor pregnancy and infant loss, and the lack of standardized rites and rituals in our culture.
Through a series of videos and photos, Dr. Zucker hopes to share the stories of women from all over who've experienced pregnancy and infant loss, to move away from the silence and into a culture of openness.
More than anything, Dr. Zucker wants women to understand that we are part of a global community, and that we are not alone, especially in our times of grief and pain.
"The culture of silence has indeed shifted", says Dr. Zucker. "However, what we continue to lack is a kind of apparatus, a framework: ways to meaningfully honor or memorialize or ritualize our losses in concrete ways." This year, in connection with Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, Dr. Zucker interviewed women who've suffered losses, and asked them how they would feel if we as a culture replaced silence with storytelling. The campaign also partnered with artist and poet Skin on Sundays on a powerful photo collection showing women with their own stories written on their bodies. The results are absolutely breathtaking.
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Unknown __ I am walking through the frozen fields of myself where I find you on the other side of a steel door. If love were a substance it couldn’t reach you here. Only what remains when love is stripped of touch. __ This collaboration with @ihadamiscarriage seeks to bring awareness, understanding, and healing to pregnancy and infant loss through artistic ritual. My hope is that representing this loss through physiopoetry can serve as a vehicle in creating awareness for these losses, an awareness that leads to a change in how society treats them. Photo by: @rebeccacoursey_photosandfilm __ Trisha • @paciaanne • never got to meet her baby alive. At 24 weeks, the heartbeat disappeared without explanation, and she was induced into an excruciating 11-hour labor, knowing her baby girl was already gone. She got to meet her, hold her, but then she had to say goodbye just as fast. The depth of pain of that experience. The hole it leaves, she has to live like now. Loss is permanent. Sure you can find a way to move forward, but you won’t be the same. And you shouldn’t be, I suppose. Not only will Trisha’s eyes likely fill with tears every time she thinks of it, but she can’t go back to not having felt those things, and that is a weight to carry through life. Talking about pregnancy loss more openly as a society will make the world safer for those who have gone through it. It’s so easy to be insensitive when we don’t understand something. A person who has gone through trauma, well the last thing they need is insensitivity from others. If we as a society can do something to help people who are hurting hurt even just a little bit less, we should. Talking about it will make us all more sensitive and empathic, because talking about it will give us at least a semblance of knowing how to talk about it more and more as time passes. Even that little thing can help a person who is grieving pregnancy loss. Thank you, Trisha, for participating in this ritual to recognize your loss. I truly believe this is the kind of thing the world needs to help us begin to understand. __ #skinonsundays #ihadamiscarriage #physiopoetry
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The Soul Doesn’t Start at the Body __ The secret: love is bodilessly (the soul doesn’t start at the body). The murmur here is like the moving air left behind starlings. They are using a tongue so huge, it will break you until you don’t miss it. __ This collab with @ihadamiscarriage seeks to bring awareness, understanding, and healing to pregnancy and infant loss through artistic ritual. My hope is that representing this loss through physiopoetry can serve as a vehicle in creating awareness for these losses, an awareness that leads to a change in how society treats them. Photo by: @rebeccacoursey_photosandfilm __ Meet @drawnbymary - Miscarriage number 1 gutted her heart, but hopeful, she and her husband tried again. 3 more heartbreaking miscarriages followed due to a uterine abnormality. Mary surgically fixed the issue and got pregnant again, only to be shattered for the 5th time. Maybe for some things practice dealing makes it easier, but I don’t think that’s the case here. Instead, a boat of sadness takes sail in the ocean of your soul. Not long after the last miscarriage, Mary discovered she had breast cancer, and because of the treatment, she can’t get pregnant again for 5 yrs, which will put her at 40 yrs old. That kind of news is devastating, and while you can learn to live with it, freeze your eggs and hope for the best, nothing can erase the depth & darkness of emotion that accompanies so much loss. I say that, but Mary might be an angel. She believes, and I believe her, that her last miscarriage was a physical manifestation of her grief, that the universe and her last miscarried baby saved her life. Without that miscarriage, she may have nvr noticed the lump on her breast in time to save herself. Life is a nearconstant give and take, a forever whirling of emotions, and taking what you’re dealt and becoming your best self in spite of so much grief, that is special. Mary, you are so special. Whether or not motherhood is in your path, your gifts to the world are abundant (please check out her beautiful drawings), and so many of us are beyond grateful for what your presence brings to this earth. __ #skinonsundays #ihadamiscarriage #physiopoetry
When it comes to mourning the loss of life, our culture has rituals in place to help and support the bereaved. We provide assistance with day-to-day matters, we bring food, we send flowers and hold hands through the darkest hours. "But when it comes to the loss an imagined family," says Dr. Zucker, "there’s nothing tangible that we can turn to, no standardized rituals to rely on amidst the mourning process. There isn't anything in place that honors the would-be mother that creates healing or facilitates closure. I continue to yearn for ritual and this is in part why this year I attempted to create it for the women who participated in my campaign and for myself."
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Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month is upon us and we’ve decide that replacing silence with storytelling is the most powerful way to honor ourselves and those we’ve lost. Representing our stories might be the very antidote to the lack of rituals that exist in our culture with regard to this fraught topic. We are actively stomping out the silence, bidding farewell to shame, and saying so long to stigma. Join us! The time is now. We are attempting to create compassionate ritual where there is none. _ Massive thanks to @iamwellandgood for featuring the campaign and underscoring the need for ritual. _ These signs are available free for download in my online shop. _ Videographer: @the_jaki Lettering: @annerobincallig Collaboration: @skinonsundays Participants: @drawnbymary @paulamallis @jessicawright1 @judeelocks @bobbievictoria_designs @theclaudbee @compassion_yoga_with_alissa @helloshannoncowan @paciaanne _ #IHadAMiscarriage #stillbirth #miscarriage #infantloss #grief #lifeafterloss #loss
We asked Dr. Zucker how we can do better, for ourselves and for our friends and loved ones who're navigating life after pregnancy and infant loss. Her sentiments were eye-opening, and so incredibly profound. Dr. Zucker says, "I think the tide is really 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 part of life and 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."
She encourages us to remain open and willing to listen to someone working through their pain and grief, and just being there as a sounding board for the myriad feelings that will surface in the weeks and months and years following a loss. Grief is very much like a tide, and we have to remember that even once the waves recede for us, they will continue to come crashing in for those who experienced the loss.
We want to thank Dr. Jessica Zucker for giving us the chance to share her story and work on such an important matter. You can see more videos on the #IHadAMiscarriage channel on YouTube, shot by videographer Jaki Covington. You can also find more stunning images for the campaign, shot by the incredibly talented Rebecca Coursey, at Skin on Sundays.