Dr. Jessica Zucker
Miscarriage has come up a bunch in our community lately and since we’re always talking about the brilliance of the body, we’re especially interested in honoring the times when it feels our bodies aren’t being so brilliant. We’re so excited to welcome Dr. Jessica Zucker, creator of the #ihadamiscarriage campaign and a unique line of beautiful and no bs pregnancy loss cards that are changing the way we speak about loss and helping women around the world normalize their experiences.
So here’s Jessica on how she was almost born in the back of a yellow VW bus, her own miscarriage, and how the body can also cry.
HOW WERE YOU BORN?
I was born in a hospital in Albuquerque but they were pretty certain that I was going to be born in the back of their yellow VW bus. It was quite a drive to get from the reservation (we were living on an Indian reservation for my dad’s medical training at the time) to the hospital and the contractions kept getting stronger but the car would only go so fast. My dad loves saying he was ready to catch me! Looking back it’s interesting that a lot of my mother’s friends in the reservation were having home births and she had been to many of them, but because my dad was a medical student he wasn’t as open to that. Ironically, I was almost born in the car. But because of her experience in the reservation my mom was very interested in the Bradley Method. She had her mind set on doing an unmedicated birth and ended up having it. It was a pretty quick labor, they were only at the hospital for about 3 hours before I was born. She was very proud of herself and the fact that she had set her mind to birth this way and she was able to do it. They didn’t know if I was going to be a boy or a girl and she was so thrilled to have two daughters. My mom loves to remember that as soon as I was born, they put me on her chest and I peed on her.
DOES your story make you feel connected to your mother in a new way?
When I was gearing up for my daughter's birth, I did feel that if my mom could do it I could do it. My mom doesn’t see herself as particularly strong so it is very impressive to know that she followed through on what she wanted and was able to have the kind of birth she desired. It is interesting to me that she showed up in that way and it was definitely inspiring.
I was recently featured in the 4th Trimester Bodies project. I sent it to my mom and she said, "You’re such an inspiration to me and so many other women. If only I had read this when I was in my 20s... I had such negative feelings about my postpartum belly as a young person and I wish I had been less uncomfortable about my body." So I am definitely learning a lot more about who she was through my work now. It’s hard to hear and a little sad but it is also very meaningful and important.
tell us about how you became a mother
I got pregnant straight away with my first. I didn’t feel nauseous or sick at all, I felt strong and wonderful the entire pregnancy and had no complications. At the time I was already working with women’s maternal mental health and I would sit with women who had had losses or terminations due to complications with their pregnancies, as well as women experiencing postpartum depression and fertility issues, and yet their stories felt really separate from mine. I didn’t feel more anxious or worried after hearing what they were going through.
After my son was born we waited a bit before we started thinking about having another baby. My husband travels for work and we’re both quite busy so it was hard to imagine stretching things in terms of everything that we juggle. But my husband is a twin so he couldn’t imagine not having another child. I got pregnant again easily but this time I really did not feel well. We were waiting to do an amnio and then on a Tuesday, I was 16 weeks pregnant and I started spotting. I went to see my OB and everything looked OK with the baby’s heart, the placenta and everything else so they sent me home. We weren’t sure what was going on and so we just had to wait and see. The next day I worked all day and then on my way home I started having Braxton-Hicks and feeling very crampy. I knew it wasn’t normal but I wanted to believe it was. That night I didn’t sleep at all because I was so uncomfortable. As soon as my son got up I went to take a bath and just had a sense that it wasn’t going to be a good day. My husband went to work and my son to school. At some point in the afternoon I started feeling a little better but then the bleeding started getting heavier and more red so I knew something was wrong. Then I started what I now know was transition -It felt like I was having a panic attack. I felt that if I could just get myself to the toilet to pee I would feel better. But then as I sat down, she came out.
I was on the phone with my stepmom and I started screaming at the top of my lungs. I then called my husband and my OB who basically walked me through what to do. I had to cut the cord myself which then caused me to start hemorrhaging. We went to my doctor’s office and brought the baby with us for testing. I was bleeding so much that if I waited to get anesthesia for the D&C, I was going to need a blood transfusion so I opted for the unmedicated D&C. That was yet another level of trauma and disbelief. Not only did I just lose this baby but then also I am in this excruciating pain... I was close to fainting a few times. A lot of the patients that I work with that experience miscarriage never find out why it happened but we were lucky we were able to. She had a chromosome abnormality, which we would have learned from the amnio that was scheduled to happen 2 weeks after I had the miscarriage. Knowing what had happened helped us trust the future pregnancy that we went on to have. My OB suggested we wait for at least 3 cycles before trying again. I got pregnant 4 months later with my now daughter who is 2.5 years old.
WOW. THANK you so much FOR SHARING. WHAT WAS YOUR DAUGHTER’S BIRTH LIKE?
After having had the D&C with no medication, when I was pregnant with my daughter it felt very important to have an unmedicated birth and go through that process fully aware. After having been so physically and emotionally present during the D&C, I thought, how amazing would it be to be as present and begin a relationship with this person that I will hopefully get to hold. After the miscarriage, all the stories I had heard in my practice were now under my skin because now I knew anything was possible. The 10 months of pregnancy with my daughter were wild and terrifying... if I could have held my breath for 10 months I would have. It was incredible to be able to have the experience of her birth. Until she came out and she was actually sucking on my breast I was in disbelief, it was almost like I was too worried to be fully committed.
UNDERSTANDABLY SO. WHAT GAVE YOU THE PUSH TO SHARE YOUR MISCARRIAGE STORY?
Soon after my loss I wrote an anonymous piece because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share my personal loss as a psychologist. But then 2 years ago I decided to go for it, partially because my daughter had been born and also I had more space from the horror of what had happened. I decided to write this piece which was run by the NYTimes and I wanted to start a hashtag because I knew from talking to my patients, but also from the research, that people often experience shame and guilt after a loss. I honestly didn’t relate to those feelings - maybe because we knew that there was a chromosomal issue or maybe because I had my son, but in sharing my story in real detail and starting the campaign I hoped to model that there is no shame. The campaign is a way to normalize loss, a way to create more of a fluid conversation within our culture about something that is normative and unfortunate, but that if you’re going to endeavor to create a family there is this real possibility that it might happen, so I decided to put it out there. I also thought, this is something that so many women experience and so many people are feeling disappointed with the reaction of their families and friends. I was hoping to validate the experience and feelings that people are having and help them feel a lot less alone. Since then I’ve written countless pieces about miscarriage, about the politics of it, about my personal experience, how to support friends etc.
WHAT ARE YOU BIRTHING THESE DAYS?
Last October I decided to create my Pregnancy Loss Cards, as something that was a concrete way for people to express their care and meaningful words when people experience miscarriage. Cards did exist in the marketplace but not with messages that resonated with me or anyone I knew. I like the idea of an actual card, not an e-card, but something on paper for people to sit down and write a note. The cards try to express a lot of different feelings and to validate anger, sadness, disappointment, isolation, alienation. I also did a card about being pregnant after a loss - about how scary it can feel. The cards offer the griever a lot of comfort and hopefully gives the person who loves them a way to express themselves and their sympathy.
My original goal was to get some press going to make some sort of global impact but before I knew it I had 300+ pieces of press; It’s been huge. Within the first couple of days I sold out of a bunch of cards! I’ve been so grateful to be able to connect to people and hear the stories that so many people are sharing with me on Instagram and social media as a result of the campaign.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE LABOR LIKE?
In general it’s been a very fluid process. I just sat down one day and wrote what I wanted them to say. I was working with a friend that is a calligrapher and has also experienced loss so it felt very special. Not everyone wants to read an essay. I loved the idea of being able to reach people in a different way and provide ways for people to find comfort. We launched on October 1st and I’ve created at least 6 additional cards including some for the holidays and a Rainbow Baby card - a baby that comes after a loss.
Looking back it’s crazy to think that this is where I ended up. Who knew that this is what I was going to focus on? It’s such a gift to be able to turn trauma into something transformational and I was in the position to do that because I am a psychologist and specialize in all of this. It’s been very healing to connect with women around the world and it has made me feel a lot less alone. Opening up about my stories has connected me with many people that have been through similar experiences and has allowed me to build a community that’s supportive, nurturing and validating.
SOUNDS LIKE A LOT HAS BEEN BORN AFTER YOUR LOSS. lots of rainbows! has the labor of your loss shaped you in some way?
I came to trust my body in such a profound way through this experience. I don’t share that a lot because I know a lot of women feel the opposite, but I do feel the miscarriage woke me up to not taking my body for granted on any level. As heartbreaking as it is, there is something profoundly beautiful about it. And I agree with you. I think the body totally grieves. The experience itself is way more full body than just in our head. It’s not just emotional, there’s a lot of physical exhaustion, bleeding and pain -in a way the body is crying with you.
ANY #BRILLIANTBITS TO SHARE?
In a culture that doesn’t know how to stay present with difficult topics, most people want to rush through grief, or get to the other side or get back to who they were and do all these things that are not really possible. The grief is going to be there whether you try to squirm away from it, or you just hang out with it. It’s just going to be there. So I always say: