In her professional life, psychologist Jessica Zucker was no stranger to loss.
“For over a decade, I’d been sitting across from women and families struggling with fertility, pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss, termination for medical reasons, perinatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and the complexity of grief,” says Zucker.
She knew how to respond to her clients professionally and help them heal. But until Zucker experienced her own miscarriage at 16 weeks, alone at home, she didn’t really understand what her clients were going through.
Suddenly, Zucker had a whole new perspective on pregnancy loss, seeing it from an academic perspective that looked at the way society contributes to stigma over miscarriage; and the deeply personal perspective of a mother who has experienced loss. She talks about both in her new book, I Had A Miscarriage: A Memoir, a Movement, out today (March 9).
Since having her miscarriage, Zucker has learned a lot about navigating pregnancy loss.
“I wish I knew that pregnancy loss has the potential to rattle you to the core,” Zucker says. “I wish I knew that grief comes in waves, is unpredictable, has no definitive beginning, middle or end. I wish I knew that the wild ride of post-traumatic stress deserves and requires pointed attention. I wish I knew that navigating postpartum hormones with empty arms might catapult me into another galaxy. I wish I knew that pregnancy after pregnancy loss would be fraught from start to finish.”
However, she’s also found more positive lessons:
“I came to learn that heartache and hope intermingle,” Zucker says.
The Cycle Of Silence, Stigma, and Shame
The loss of a wanted pregnancy would be difficult no matter what, Zucker says, but our society’s inability to talk about grief and address difficult topics amplifies the loss.
“There is a strident trifecta swirling around the topic of miscarriage — made up of silence, stigma, and shame,” Zucker says. “Each aspect of this trifecta stokes the next. The cultural silence provokes the blanketed stigma. The stigma ignites the insidious and all too pervasive shame.”
This affects everything about how women are treated after a loss.
“It’s a troubling cycle we find ourselves in as we navigate life after loss, as we are slapped by a society that shuts down when it comes to conversations around loss. In turn, grievers are often met with stilted, awkward platitudes, whispered saccharine-coated sentiments, or worse, complete and utter silence,” she says.
All too often, this leads to women blaming themselves for a miscarriage, when in most cases the miscarriage is due to chromosomal abnormality with the fetus.
“People blame themselves because, with the lack of a cultural framework for speaking openly about and addressing pregnancy loss, they turn inward,” Zucker says. “I think we can agree that women are groomed to blame themselves for too many things from the get go, and miscarriage is a ripe opportunity to hurl harsh statements at oneself.”
An Antidote to Blame and Shame
In order to have a healthier discussion around miscarriage and help women heal, we have to start talking openly about pregnancy loss, says Zucker. That’s why she started #ihadamiscarraige in the wake of her loss, inviting other women to talk about their loss and their healing process.
“The simplest way to achieve an antidote to this unhelpful cycle is to speak our truths. To persist in telling our stories. To gently and unequivocally resist self-blame — looking to the science and research about the actual reasons miscarriage occur, rather than creating elaborate stories in our minds that all too often center on somehow having had the control to bring about a different reproductive outcome,” Zucker says. “To remember that we are, in fact, not alone.”
Our generation is in a unique spot, she says. With social media, we are able to share our experiences, and hopefully make pregnancy loss less taboo for the next generation. Our daughters, like us, will likely face the reality that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage.
“Miscarriage is not going anywhere,” Zucker says. “There is no cure. This is a constant. It is therefore time that we collectively determine to normalize what is in fact a normal outcome of pregnancy.”
Supporting Yourself Or A Friend Through Loss
When you’re going through a loss, remember that any reaction is normal.
“I suggest allowing yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling, because no one feeling lasts forever,” Zucker says.
If you find yourself thinking, “no one understands,” try to gently offer yourself perspective: millions of women are familiar with the pain of pregnancy loss.
It’s also important to acknowledge that miscarriage isn’t always accompanied by grief. Sometimes, there’s a sense of relief — for any reason. Other times, grief and relief can coexist. This complicated reaction is one of the most difficult to talk about, Zucker says.
“Those who feel a sense of relief after loss might tiptoe on eggshells as they try to share their candid feelings,” she says.
If someone you love is navigating a miscarriage, try to be with them in their pain, without feeling that you need to fix it.
“The most profound thing we can do for our loved ones in their time of pain is to meet them where they are — resisting temptations to ‘fix,’ predict the future, or make unsolicited suggestions,” Zucker says.
Here are the words she suggests:
- Do say: “How are you?”
- Don’t say: “It’ll be different next time.”
- Do say: “If and/or when you’d like to talk about your experience, I’m here.”
- Don’t say: “Stay positive”
- Do say: “I’m here to support you through whatever it is you are feeling.”
- Don’t say: “Maybe you should do IVF next time or adopt…
“It’s tough to figure out what you think you might want to hear in the aftermath of a loss,” Zucker says. “Stick with consistency, compassion, and love.”
For more from Jessica Zucker, follow her on Instagram.
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