Miscarriages are rarely talked about. It’s been a taboo topic for generations in our culture, and stories are only ever revealed in soft whispers. When they happen, it’s made to seem it was a rare accident and probably best to keep it a secret.
But miscarriages do happen, and keeping them secretive further instills that miscarriages are something to be ashamed of. According to established research, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a miscarriage. New research by the University of California, Santa Barbara, has released findings that “more than half of successful fertilisation will end in miscarriage.” The research has not been peer reviewed yet, but even previous research concludes that 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Medical News Today confirms that 80% of miscarriages happen in the first 13 weeks. The chances drastically drop after each week, and the risk in weeks 13-20 is less than 1%. By week 20, a miscarriage is known as a stillbirth. Stillbirths are rare and becoming even more so due to increased technology in the field that allows premature babies to survive outside of the womb.
Though the research is obviously worthwhile and insightful, none of these numbers showcase the emotional, mental, and physical pain that women and families endure.
In 2014, psychologist Jessica Zucker wrote an incredibly heartbreaking and eye-opening piece for the New York Times, Say It Loudly: I Had A Miscarriage. In her essay, she describes her miscarriage at 16 weeks; she was home alone and in labor. Over the phone her doctor told her what to do, advised her to come into the office immediately, and bring with her her baby in a plastic bag to send for testing.
My window-clad house should have shattered from the pitch of my prolonged primordial howl. It didn’t. I did.
The aftermath of this experience led her to ask some tough questions: Why do we culturally never discuss miscarriages? Why are they filled with so much stigma and shame? And how do we honor our losses?
Trying to find answers to these questions, she launched a social media campaign #IHadAMiscarriage and asked women to share their stories. Over 20,000 women participated online, allowing women to feel less alone in their miscarriages and stillbirths. The social media campaign has brought so much awareness to this topic that has been silenced for far too long.
Every October, Jessica focuses on a new aspect of grief and loss. Her most recent campaign focuses on finding rites and rituals to honor these experiences and losses, something she says our culture today does not support or honor. She wondered, how do we support women and families who have gone through this painful experience? How can women honor the experience, the loss, and their grief?
Jessica’s campaign invites women to create their own ways of honoring these experiences by removing the shame and remembering their loss; learning how to honor the life they created.
In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, I reached out to Jessica and asked her to share her intention in starting #IHadAMiscarriage. Here she talks about why it is important to invite women to share their stories, her new campaign, and what makes her vulnerable in this work.
My ultimate aim is to galvanize community around an all too common topic. I hope women feel a sense of comfort and connection upon learning about the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign. With the statistics being what they are, and the fact that pregnancy and infant loss is not a disease and not going anywhere, we need a community that accurately reflects the feelings we feel but may be too afraid to say out loud. I want women to feel, and not just intellectually know, that they are not alone and that there is absolutely no shame in loss. My hope is that future generations won’t struggle with the silence, stigma, and shame that is currently so prevalent in our society after a miscarriage. If I can help make a dent in changing the way we talk about this loss through this campaign, all this hard work will have paid off.
It is my sincere hope that women and families feel the silence being replaced with storytelling, and in this change, the stigma surrounding pregnancy and infant loss will soon be a thing of the past. The less alone we feel in our pain, the sooner we embrace the complexity of grief, and perhaps, trust that we will at some point emerge from the suffering. Women want to be heard, seen, and understood. This campaign aims to facilitate that. We want to help women find their voice after pregnancy and infant loss, and in their lives afterward.
Every October, our campaign shifts to focus on a different aspect of pregnancy and infant loss and the life after. We try to spotlight a topic that needs further investigation. This year I zeroed in on the lack of standardized rites and rituals that could be practiced after someone experiences this kind of loss. We need a framework for grieving and for honoring ourselves and the babies we’ve lost. When it comes to the loss of a parent or grandparent for example, we are culturally well-versed in how to honor these losses. Reflexively, we know what to do for our loved ones, whether it’s sending a card or food, or attending the funeral. But when it comes to the loss an imagined family, there’s nothing tangible that we can turn to, no standardized rituals to rely on amidst the mourning process. There isn’t anything in place that honors the would-be mother. There’s no culturally ingrained guidance that creates healing or facilitates closure.
In connection with Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, I interviewed women about how they’d feel if storytelling replaced the silence. After our interviews, poet and artist Skin on Sundays adorned the women’s bodies with words from their individual reproductive stories. We captured photo and video of these women expressing their histories and stories through way of their bodies. In sharing stories in this format, we want to encourage others to do the same, or at the very least, convey to women worldwide that they are part of a global community. No one is alone in this.
It is vulnerable to share pain and love and hope. But if I choose not to, I believe we stymie our ability to truly evolve. Leaning into the pain just might be the very antidote to drowning in it. Attempting to stave off difficult emotions sometimes yields the opposite of what people are hoping for. More often than not, when we ignore gnawing feelings, they hold on longer, they grip on stronger. When we turn toward what is difficult, we have the opportunity to investigate the very things that make us who we are. The vulnerability of being intimate with ourselves and others has the potential to bond us in ways we all ultimately crave and deserve, in ways that heal.
Leaning into the pain just might be the very antidote to drowning in it.