GOOD

Finding the Right Words After Infant Death and Pregnancy Loss

These new cards break the silence around one of the last taboos in women’s health

Jessica Zucker is a therapist who specializes in women’s reproductive health. This means she’s counseled women struggling with infertility while she herself was pregnant; she helped women work through miscarriage as she transitioned between her own first and second trimester. “Philosophically, theoretically, emotionally, I guess on some level, I was quite attuned to their experience of loss and grief … but had yet to experience a loss in a corporeal sense, in a bodily sense myself, until my 16th week miscarriage.”


Three years ago, Zucker had been home, sweaty, spotting blood, cramping, alone. Her doctor told her to just continue her day as normal, and Zucker thought if she could empty her bladder, breathe, everything would be okay. There was a pop (maybe that’s a trick of memory), but her baby slid out, centimeters above the toilet bowl water. Zucker bled. She texted her family, friends, “I HAD A MISCARRIAGE.” She cut the umbilical cord. She was in shock. Her doctor told her to place the baby in a plastic bag and come into the office. Once there, she had an unmediated D&C.

Her trauma was in some ways unusual (many miscarriages happen early, most women don’t deliver so prematurely and on their own). But miscarriage is incredibly common. (According to the March of Dimes, about 15 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.) Yet its reality—and its grief—is often locked away. Women often feel ashamed, as if their bodies have failed them. Almost half of people who have experienced a miscarriage or whose partner had one feel guilty. It’s an out-of-order (child first) loss, and in the face of that, otherwise supportive loved ones can balk. Withdraw. What can you say?

Dr. Jessica Zucker. Photo by Bonnie Tsang

If acknowledged by anyone other than the grieving parents, miscarriage is often treated with tropes like “your angel was too good for this world,” “everything happens for a reason,” or reassurances like “at least you know you can get pregnant.” Words intending to express care can come off as minimizing. Now Zucker is trying to change that.

Today, in boutiques in Los Angeles and at her online shop, Zucker is launching a new line of empathy cards designed to stamp out the impulse to say nothing, to fight the miscarriage taboo. Her goal is simple: “that people can no longer say ‘I didn’t know what to say’.”

Some of Zucker’s cards come with an edge: there’s a #FuckLoss card. There’s a card for women who get pregnant after miscarriage that acknowledges the terrifying anxiety of creating life again after loss. And there’s an “I’m sorry I’ve been M.I.A., I didn’t know what to say” card. There are also ten-packs of stillbirth and baby loss announcements, a sign that late-term and newborn babies were here, were real, were loved.

Zucker wants to help people find the language for our most incomprehensible loss. To her, “having words for that is part of public health.”

There’s a “lack of clear and defined etiquette,” says Tara Shafer, co-founder of Reconceiving Loss, a resource center with a rich online support community for those grieving miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss. “People don’t know what to do. They feel like anything that they do might be an invasion of privacy, or they’re not certain it’s appropriate.”

Without being offered space to discuss the loss, grieving people become more isolated. Receiving cards or being invited into a support group, notes Shafer, can open communication, and the chance to talk can stave off anxiety, PTSD symptoms and strains on grieving partners’ relationships.

“People looking for a card are often defeated by what to send,” says Shafer. “[They] don't say anything even though they would like to."

Finding the right words for unspeakable moments has been a mission for Zucker since her tragic, traumatic loss. She knew people might distance themselves—one pregnant friend did. (Miscarriage isn’t contagious, Zucker notes without malice.) Zucker knew what the grief process would look like, how “the isolation can be so awful and piercing.” Two years after her loss, she launched a hashtag campaign with a New York Times Motherlode piece, and #IHadAMiscarriage became a way for women to break their silence. It was an effort at destigmatizing loss.

The greeting cards are launching at a time when the public is beginning to open up about miscarriage. Mark Zuckerberg’s viral post earlier this summer detailed how he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, had struggled through three miscarriages, and shared the news with the hope of helping more people feel comfortable telling their stories and feel less alone. And since 2006, October 15 has been recognized in the U.S. and Canada as Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day.

Yet miscarriage remains one of few remaining medical taboos.

Ours is culture in which positivity and good news are applauded, says Zucker. “I think it’s hard to stay with grief and not try to make it better. I think the taboo comes from this idea that we’re supposed to be happy, and we’re supposed to focus on good things.” That, to her, is a part of why women keep quiet about their losses. The self-blame, the guilt, the awkwardness of broaching the topic of grief, can also cause women to turn their pain inward. Some women distance themselves. That silence breeds isolation, creates shame.

Even in her own life, Zucker saw her “mom friends”—the fellow mothers at her son’s preschool—sort of step back. “I just felt this sense that people thought something was wrong with me, or that they didn’t want to be around something that was so devastating and uncomfortable.”

Alas, Zucker adds, miscarriage isn’t a disease. It’s an organic part of family building. It’s heart-breaking and messy. Yet, she adds, “if we endeavor to create life, we’re inevitably going to face the potentiality of death.”

The reality of miscarriage is what Zucker is hoping to make plain with her cards. Expressions of empathy—not just sympathy—but real, felt acknowledgements are a way to help women recover.

Articles
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

Climate change means our future is uncertain, but in the meantime, it's telling us a lot about our past. The Earth's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, but as the ice dwindles, ancient artifacts are being uncovered. The Secrets of the Ice project has been surveying the glaciers on Norway's highest mountains in Oppland since 2011. They have found a slew of treasures, frozen in time and ice, making glacier archeologists, as Lars Pilø, co-director of Secrets of the Ice, put it when talking to CNN, the "unlikely beneficiaries of global warming."

Instead of digging, glacier archeologists survey the areas of melting ice, seeing which artifacts have been revealed by the thaw. "It's a very different world from regular archaeological sites," Pilø told National Geographic. "It's really rewarding work.

Keep Reading Show less

When former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Mike Webster committed suicide in 2002, his death began to raise awareness of the brain damage experienced by NFL football players. A 2017 study found that 99% of deceased NFL players had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Only one out of 111 former football players had no sign of CTE. It turns out, some of the risks of traumatic brain injury experienced by heavily padded adults playing at a professional level also exist for kids with developing brains playing at a recreational level. The dangers might not be as intense as what the adults go through, but it can have some major life-long consequences.

A new PSA put out by the Concussion Legacy Foundation raises awareness of the dangers of tackle football on developing brains, comparing it to smoking. "Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn't let me smoke. When should I start tackling?" a child's voice can be heard saying in the PSA as a mother lights up a cigarette for her young son.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about some favorable economic numbers, claiming that annual household income is up, unemployment is low, and housing prices are high.

Now, just imagine how much better those numbers would be if the country wasn't mired in an economy-killing trade war with China, bleeding out trillion-dollar-a-year debts, and didn't suffer from chaotic leadership in the Oval Office?

At the end of tweet, came an odd sentence, "Impeach the Pres."

Keep Reading Show less
Politics

October is domestic violence awareness month and when most people think of domestic violence, they imagine mostly female victims. However, abuse of men happens as well – in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. But some are taking it upon themselves to change all that.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture