Dr. Jessica Zucker: Shifting The Miscarriage Conversation
Meet Dr. Jessica Zucker, a psychologist and writer based in Los Angeles who specializes in women’s reproductive health and maternal mental health. Jessica is a mother herself, and was working in this area long before her devastating 2nd trimester miscarriage. In 2014, bravely launched the #IHadaMiscarriage hashtag campaign with a viral New York Times Motherlode piece that lit up the internet and revived the hearts of women who felt they had no voice and no space in a conversation about loss. Jessica has contributed to The Washington Post, The New York Times Opinion section, BuzzFeed, Brain Child Magazine, Mashable, Bitch Magazine, Glamour, Mother, Goop, collaborated with Christy Turlington of Every Mother Counts and now sits on the Every Mother Counts Medical Advisory Council. She’s been featured on PBS, Modern Loss, Darling Magazine, Well Rounded NYC, The Huffington Post, anthologies, and more.
Good Morning America and CNN interviewed her about her extensive writing on pregnancy loss, the #IHadAMiscarriage hashtag campaign, and her practice as a psychologist specializing in these issues. Jessica has a master’s degree in public health, advanced degrees from Harvard University and New York University as well and has worked in international women’s health for a number of years which informs her work and subsequently her writing.
On 10/1/15, at the beginning of Pregnancy and Baby Loss Awareness Month, Jessica launched a line of beautiful pregnancy loss cards that help those who don’t know what to say, who don’t have the words to help console, offer condolences and support. There are no cards in the market place that speak to these more challenging times that occur in one’s life. It’s almost as if we as a society want to just push loss aside. We expect women to be able to move on and don’t have proper vessels for processing the actual experiences in a healthy way. Thank goodness for people like Dr. Zucker who’s mission is to spark the conversation and keep it going, who is committed to transforming the way we view and process loss. She’s aiming to shift the cultural conversation (that doesn’t yet exist) around miscarriage, pregnancy loss, stillbirth, etc.
We caught up with the incredible Dr. Zucker who shared her nuggets of wisdom with us. You will be transformed after reading her inspiring words:
What have you learned from loss?
JZ: What have I NOT learned from loss?! I have learned that grief knows no timeline and that leaning into it rather than resisting it might be the very antidote to drowning in it.
I have learned that although I specialized in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health long before experiencing miscarriage firsthand, I didn’t have a raw sense of just how complicated mourning can be. Now I do.
I have learned that pregnancy loss often has reverberating affects–leading to profound insights and perspectives about identity, relationships, and endeavoring to create life.
I have learned that transformation is inevitable in the wake of trauma.
I have learned that a majority of women feel a sense of shame, self-blame, and guilt after pregnancy loss. I am dedicated to being part of unearthing these feelings in the aftermath of loss–I long to help women feel at home in their skin, while honoring their losses without judgement.
I have learned that our culture eschews out-of-order loss which results in silence, isolation, alienation, stigma, and haphazard social support. We would benefit greatly from reworking our cultural framework to include discussions around pregnancy loss so that women and families feel a sense of global community.
I have learned that talking about loss helps people feel less alone.
I have learned that in the darkness, there are nuggets of wisdom previously unknown to me. I have learned that retrospect can be a wonderful teacher.
I have learned a lot about my fortitude, my sensitivity, my passion, my anxiety, my hope.
How did your own miscarriage impact your personal life in a way that has informed your work?
JZ: After my 16-week miscarriage, I had a very different understanding of the circuitousness of grief and the complexity of mourning. Before my loss, I understood my patient’s experiences from a theoretical perspective. Since my loss, I understand their stories from a corporeal perspective. More than just my mind, my body now understands. The body grieves, our psyches grieve, our spirits grieve. My subsequent pregnancy was tough. I was inevitably concerned that my pregnancy might end abruptly. Hearing about other traumatic losses throughout those 10-months may have increased my fear in a way that wasn’t obvious to me at the time. Retrospect has taught me a lot about the extend of my pain and the anxiety that followed.
Living through loss firsthand while specializing in this very thing situated me in a very unique position to empathize deeper than I could have before. Though I wish I hadn’t lost that pregnancy, I am incredibly heartened by the meaning I’ve made of it, the passion it gave rise to, and the creative projects (i.e., my extensive writing on the topic, the creation of the #IHadAMiscarriage hashtag campaign, as well as the pregnancy loss card line) I’ve given birth to which have helped me heal. I love differently now.
So many women who experience loss blame themselves or feel guilty. What words of advice or support can you share on “guilt” as it relates to this topic?
JZ: I have come to believe that women turn to guilt whereas not to sink as deeply into the grief. In other words, if people believe they somehow did something to deserve this loss, than they might believe that there is something they can do differently next time. I think this conceptualization of loss shores up a sense of control in a situation where there is very little. “If only I try harder next time, I might have a different result” or “If only I wanted this baby more” or “If only I had a stronger faith” are some examples of sentiments I commonly hear after pregnancy loss. It can be tempting to blame one’s body, one’s personal history, or one’s partner, but the research supports that a majority of losses are chromosomal. In other words, there is nothing anyone did or did not do. Cells are cells. We don’t have a lot of control when it comes pregnancy and understanding this can potentially stir a lot of anxiety.
My words of advise: Dare yourself to consider that you did absolutely nothing wrong. You are whole just as you are. Nothing you did or did not do led to this disappointing outcome. See if you can stay with the your feelings: the sadness, anger, and/or fear. Resist being hard on yourself. Stay with your feelings and see what transpires.
What words of support or encouragement would you share with a couple who is ready to begin the journey again of getting pregnant after loss?
JZ: It is expectable to have concerns as you undertake pregnancy after experiencing pregnancy loss. Though couples might express their feelings differently, it is of utmost importance to aim to have an open dialogue, to communicate thoughts, and to try to support one another throughout the journey. If additional support is indicated, it can be helpful to seek couples counseling to provide a safe environment to explore feelings that arise. Especially because many people are still grieving when they go on to get pregnant again, honoring the complexity of feelings (i.e. sadness about the loss alongside hopefulness/excitement about this new pregnancy) is vital. And this can be dizzying. Having the infrastructure of therapy can prove fruitful for couples as they sort out what is what, to feel validated, and to honor both the loss and the hope.
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Jessica Zucker and her cards have received international press (i.e. People Magazine, Real Simple Magazine, BuzzFeed, Today Show, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Women’s Health Magazine, Time Magazine and hundreds more.
Check out her online shop to purchase: shop.drjessicazucker.com
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