Pregnancy loss is one of the hardest experiences to talk about, and as a result, women often feel alienated from friends and family after dealing with this struggle. Now, you don’t have to be alone. Jessica Zucker, a clinical psychologist who specializes in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health, created an entire line of pregnancy loss cards after experiencing a miscarriage at 16 weeks. We were lucky to be able to speak with Jessica about her struggle, the creation of her pregnancy loss cards, and why we need to change the way we talk about grief. You can buy her pregnancy loss cards here.
In an article you wrote for The Washington Post, you mentioned after your miscarriage you felt “temporarily quarantined.” Can you tell us a bit what that was like and how you managed to deal with it?
Throughout that piece, it’s a metaphor for the idea that people thought miscarriage was somehow contagious, that somehow in talking about loss, we become more vulnerable to experiencing a loss ourselves. So, I really wanted to underscore the point that by sharing and getting closer to it, and having the wherewithal to talk through these issues, we help the griever and our society. We get a better sense of being able to talk about loss, and not get ourselves into situations where we leave these women isolated, or feeling ashamed, or feeling like something is wrong with their bodies.
So, yes, in my experience, while I had so much love and support, I also felt some sense of people pulling back in some cases. At the time, I was so vulnerable and so raw after what I had just been through, so I initially took it to mean something that it didn’t. Now, I see it more from the perspective that they didn’t know what to say, and were afraid that it would happen to them. I’m trying, particularly through the creation of these cards, to provide us with concrete ways to connect in times of loss. To connect in ways that can help the griever transform, feel validated, and cared for in a time when their world has just been turned upside down.
What advice would you give to someone experiencing miscarriage during their first pregnancy? And in general?
I would say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” That would be the card I would give them. It just depends how they feel. I would also ask, “how you are feeling?”
Let’s say there are two women who are pregnant for the first time, both only 6 weeks along. One woman might sit there sobbing in total disbelief, saying, “I don’t think I can go through this again. This ruins the experience of pregnancy fully for me.” While the next woman can say, “Eh, I’m totally disappointed, but this probably means something was wrong with the baby, and I’m cool. I’ll try again in a few months.” Or something in between. That’s why we, as a society, cannot make assumptions, and to know grief is different for everyone, that grief knows no timeline, that it’s circuitous.
It’s that simple. It sounds ridiculous, but it isn’t.
You often write about your miscarriage with a sense of urgency, of needing to speak out, which is indicative of the fact that you immediately contacted your friends and family after your miscarriage. Would you say writing is particularly therapeutic, and also a way to honor your losses?
For me, it has been tremendously helpful and healing, or therapeutic as you put it. But that’s not for everybody. I also want to state that not everyone has to share. I know right now, there’s such a brewing of miscarriage stories, or pregnancy loss stories, maybe because of the Zuckerberg news, or because when others speak out, it’s inspiring. Yes, if writing is helpful, do that. For someone who is more private, or isn’t a writer, or doesn’t want to share publicly, then don’t. There are other ways to deal with grief and manage pain.
So, these are pregnancy loss cards, not miscarriage cards. I have a card that I think is revolutionary, because it’s about pregnancy after pregnancy loss, and many are in excruciating pain and fear with subsequent pregnancies; this card doesn’t exist in the world, and it’s already selling a lot already. I also made these stillborn baby loss announcement cards, which are sold in a box of 10, which provide an opportunity for a grieving couple to share their experience with others if they so choose.
We love the honesty and fierceness of your Pregnancy Loss cards. There is definitely a lack of awareness regarding miscarriage, so people often don’t know what to say, and in a lot of ways, this fills that gap.
What was the impetus for this project? How did you come up with it, with cards in particular? Is it because it’s tangible and you can physically hold it?
For me, again, I wanted to do something concrete. Reading essays is one thing, but not everyone reads essays, not everyone is reading stuff on The Huffington Post about women’s losses. But many people know when there is a difficult experience in someone’s life, they should do something concrete. While we don’t know to do that with pregnancy loss so much, I’m trying to give people a great option to do so. When a grandparent dies, for example, and hopefully has led a long and meaningful life, people send flowers, food, go to a funeral.
But when it’s pregnancy loss,or any out of order losses, people are confounded. These cards are a way to connect during a time of grief, and it felt like a natural extension of everything I’ve been doing. The essay is one thing, and then I did an illustrative piece, which is a sort of break down of what to do and not do. It seemed like a natural next step where someone could actually show their intentionality, show their care and concern through something actionable.
I had this vision of the “Fuck Loss” card as something someone can buy for themselves. And maybe it’ll make them laugh for a second, too. An e-card is almost too easy for someone to do, so again, I wanted to create something beautiful that someone can keep in their drawer next to their bed when they need it, so they have validation in a time where they might be questioning a lot of things.
What have responses been like to the pregnancy loss cards so far?
When I showed them to friends ahead of time, everyone said they were revolutionary, and how they didn’t understand that we [as a society] didn’t have them yet. Of course, these are my friends, though, but then in the press, everyone went crazy for them.
It’s so wonderful, because I envision people pinning them and using them in ways where you don’t necessarily just send it. I hope the messages are shared in a bunch of different ways.