You are currently viewing Episode 54 – #ihadamiscarriage with Dr. Jessica Zucker

Episode 54 – #ihadamiscarriage with Dr. Jessica Zucker

Today’s guest has broken the conversation about miscarriage wide open. Dr. Jessica Zucker is a Los Angeles-based psychologist specializing in reproductive and maternal mental health. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, and Vogue, among others. She is the creator of the #IHadaMiscarriage campaign and her first book I HAD A MISCARRIAGE: A Memoir, a Movement is out now (Feminist Press + Penguin Random House Audio).

We’re talking about everything today, including a question no one has ever asked her before. You don’t want to miss this one! 

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Music provided by ZingDog / Pond5

Photo provided by Dr. Jessica Zucker


Welcome to the podcast. I am truly glad that you’re here, and I’m so excited today. I’m gonna get right into the episode. I just need to tell you a couple of things. First, today I was able to interview Dr. Jessica Zucker, who is a Los Angeles based psychologist specializing in reproductive and maternal mental health.

Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post. New York Magazine and Vogue among others. She’s the creator of the, I had a miscarriage campaign in her first book. I had a miscarriage, a memoir, A movement is out now, and you can get it pretty much anywhere and you can find. Dr. Jessica on Instagram at, I had a miscarriage.

You gotta follow her if you’re not following her already or just look her up. She has done amazing things for this community and I loved her book so much that I wanna share it with you. So I am gonna do a giveaway and there’s only one thing you need to do. Go to smooth stones Book and there’ll be a form there where you can enter the giveaway.

And I am not sure. I’m thinking I’m gonna give a couple of copies away to anyone who hasn’t already bought this book. And if you have already bought the book, I want you to go and enter anyways because if your name is called, then you can gift it to a friend. Right. If you have a friend who could really enjoy this book or if you already have a copy, then enter on behalf of them.

It is gonna be for us and Canada residents only, unfortunately. But I’m really excited to give this book away. I think it’s an amazing story, and I’m just. So excited to spread this around. Now. If you do already have the book, I’d really encourage you to go on Amazon and give Jessica a review. Give the book a review.

I. And also I wanna send out some extra love. In the middle of this book launch, Dr. Zucker has found out that she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. So I want you to just take a minute if you pray and give her a little prayer, send her good vibe, send her love. She’s going through a lot and she’s doing a lot to share her story, and so I just can’t thank her enough for giving of her time and her wisdom.

So, Without further ado, here is my interview. Welcome, Dr. Jessica Zucker. I am so glad that you are here with us today. Thank you so much for having me on your show. I’m so honored to be here. The first thing I always ask my guests is about their baby, and so many times, and you know this because you’ve written this book that in great detail explains what happened when your baby was born and how she passed away.

But I like to give people an opportunity to talk about their baby’s life. So no matter how short it was. So I was wondering if you would share maybe a favorite memory or moment from your baby’s life and tell us about her, and then maybe any lessons that she taught you. I think that’s such an amazing question, but tell me, do you mean during my pregnancy with her or when she, when I had my miscarriage?

Or either, yeah. Just from, from like. Her little life of that 16 weeks that you guys were together. I see. Yeah. Okay. That’s amazing. I’ve never been asked this before, so I really appreciate it. You know, I, I’m somebody who loves the state of pregnancy, so my time with her was, you know, just 16 weeks. I. Had been, you know, this was my second pregnancy.

I already had given birth to a healthy son, and I really did not feel well in my pregnancy with her. Uh, and so I was worried for some reason that something wasn’t going well. But, uh, I, I did feel connected to her. I felt like, You know, my, my son was gonna be this like beautiful big brother and I really just started envisioning the four of us, um, having this, this beautiful and meaningful life together.

And, She came out, so you probably know my story, but, uh, I was 16 weeks along, I was home alone. Uh, when the baby emerged and coached by phone by my doctor, I had to cut the umbilical cord myself. So I was basically, you know, able, I, I, it was a home birth essentially, and I had the chance to be with her Now as I detail in my new book, which is called, I had a miscarriage, a memoir movement.

I, I do wish that I had spent more time with her. I do wish that I had. Had the presence of mind to kind of slow down and study her a bit more and sort of have this, this time with her. But I think because of course the situation was so emergent and, you know, I was hemorrhaging and it was obviously the most traumatic thing, uh, imaginable.

It was hard to kind of, I. Take that time right then to, to, to be with her. So I have memories, of course. I wish there were more, but uh, she’s had an enormous impact on, on my life. I think, you know, of reading your story, that was something that just touched my heart. ’cause I volunteer and help like when people have babies and help, you know, address them and take care of them and make those memories.

And I. You know, it’s unfortunate that, you know, we don’t all get the same, um, experience, but it is amazing that you, you know, you were able to have those, those moments with her and get to meet her and in, in the way that it was. There’s a part in your book where you said, um, that. A lot of moms who go through something like what you went through end up with a lot of, you know, shame and blame and something that you said was you want them to know that their losses have absolutely nothing to do with something they did or didn’t do.

Mm-hmm. They’ll not hate on themselves, period. Mm-hmm. That’s the world I want to live in. That’s the world I’m humbly hoping to create. So. How have you as a mom going through this, how have you been able to find peace with your experience and, and like let go of that blame and shame that is so incredibly common.

Yeah. Well, so, right. I mean, it’s, it’s. It’s really one of the most unfortunate outcomes I think, of pregnancy and infant loss, that the research shows that a majority of women experience a sense of guilt, self-blame, and shame after losing a pregnancy. It, it’s just compelling and. Frightening to me that this is the case.

So I think, unfortunately, given the sort of patriarchal culture that we’ve grown up in, I do think that we are groomed from the get go to blame ourselves as women particularly. And so, you know, I think that’s where it all begins. Unfortunately, uh, it starts, you know, As soon as we begin to, uh, go through I think, reproductive milestones in our lives, uh, that we somehow feel we’re not met necessarily with a society that embraces these things, and instead, women, girls, and women end up feeling like, maybe something’s wrong with me, or maybe I shouldn’t talk about this, or maybe this is gross, or maybe, you know, something’s wrong with my body.

I did not, I. Experience a sense of self blame after my miscarriage. I don’t know if that’s born out of the fact that I already had had a healthy child and sort of trusted that my body knew how to do this. Um, ’cause it had, uh, or if it’s just my own sort of personal psychology that that’s not where I went.

When I, like my mind did not go there. It didn’t even occur to me to think that maybe I did something wrong. You know, and, and may, or maybe it’s because I’m aware, you know, of the science and the research, uh, you know, that that tells us that a majority of miscarriages are due to chromosomal and genetic issues.

So, but I love your question about how did you, how do you make peace? Um, and in this case, it’s not, I didn’t have to make peace with blaming myself, but having to make peace with the fact that. Our bodies do things that we wish sometimes they didn’t do. Yeah, and I think,

you know, it’s an interesting thing because I actually believe in some ways that miscarriage is very kind of healthy and normative, right? So that’s why it’s problematic that we don’t talk about it. Openly in our culture because given the fact that one in four pregnancies result in loss and given the fact that, um, a majority of those have to do with chromosomal issues, it’s like a body letting go of a pregnancy that isn’t necessarily healthy is actually our bodies working.

Yeah, that’s how I see it. And so I was able to make peace with having this traumatic loss when I received a call from my doctor about 10 days after my miscarriage. Uh, and she did have the chromosomal information and I found that we both, my husband and I both found that incredibly heartening, incredibly helpful, uh, because, you know, it was possible that.

Maybe the baby had a syndrome. Things like that are incredibly rare, that are really understudied. Uh, so we, my OB G Y n was a little bit concerned that maybe it was something like that and that we wouldn’t be able to find out anything specific. But it turned out, you know, that we were able to find out what was the matter.

And although of course it was horribly sad and you know, It, it did change the course of my life, both professionally and personally. Uh, I do think when we have information about what went wrong, it, it really settles the mind and maybe even the heart. Yeah, and I think even for some people who maybe don’t have answers or don’t, yes.

You know that at some point you can choose. Just to believe, you know, this was maybe not what’s meant to happen, of course, but, you know, just allowing for not having answers and allowing for what happened to just be what it is. I think that’s hard. Yeah. Yeah. Well, yeah, I mean, I, I, yes, uh, ideally we can do a bit of that, um, or a lot of that, and I, and yet it is, it can be a tall order.

To make sense of something this horrifying when you don’t have concrete solid answers about why, you know, because the mind just scurries around trying to make sense of things. And so that’s why people turn to self-blame and shame and even guilt because they, they, they do this. What if. Cycle. What if it was what I had for breakfast?

What if I didn’t drink enough water? What if it was because I had sex or exercised or you know, so it’s like, You know, the mind really wants to be able to put things to rest and works incredibly hard to do so. And when there isn’t outside information that can provide a sense of, you know, peace or closure or.

Something, uh, I think people then turn it on themselves for sure. And that’s what I mean, our, so we had a stillbirth and a miscarriage. And the miscarriage. We kinda, that’s a whole other story. But yeah, we never got really any answers, um, about what happened. And so I think that’s what I just had to figure out on my own was like, you know, it, it is what it is and it happened, how it happened and wow.

Um, just kind of accepting that, how it went, so I know what it feels like. You know, answers are amazing and I think sometimes we just have to come up with our own mm-hmm. Answers even though that’s a process. Um, for sure. Yes. And not, not easy, but I did wanna ask you a little bit about how your beliefs could be, like your religious beliefs and also you know, your beliefs based on your life experience.

How did that shape or affect the process you went through as you, I guess process? Sorry, I’m saying that a lot, but mm-hmm. Um, just went through this experience when it was fresh and maybe even now, how do, how do your beliefs, how did your beliefs affect you? I, I do get into this a little bit in the book that, you know, I’m, I grew up in a culturally Jewish family.

We are not, Religious necessarily. Uh, but I do have a lot of ties to, uh, the culture and, you know, grew up going to Israel a lot and camps there, and, um, spent a year there after college on a social service program. And so, you know, it, it, it is an important part of my identity for sure, but I. It’s not like God was at the center of that.

It’s not, I didn’t grow up in a family where God was invoked on a kind of daily basis or an ongoing basis. Um, I’m not sure that my loss impacted a faith or my spiritual life, or my religious trajectory, or the way that, you know, I think about a higher power or. Uh, the meaning of life, even if that makes any sense.

Does that answer your question? Yeah. I just, yeah. I always think it’s, you know, fascinating that the beliefs that we hold, like I said, whether it is from a religion or just our upbringing mm-hmm. Like how it affects how we look at something that is just such an event in our lives. I know, I mean, I think that in a way, and I, I do talk about this in the book, I think it’s because I grew up in a family with doctors that like, I think I thought about the pregnancy.

Well, no, and I think it’s like, you know, and a Jewish family as well. Um, I didn’t initially think of my 16 week loss as a baby. It wasn’t really until I spent more time within the pregnancy loss community, you know, online and the people I met through a lot of my freelance writing on the topic. I just. I think because I grew up in a family of doctors, I, and because the Jewish community doesn’t necessarily, um, you know, talk about pregnancies as babies and doesn’t really ritualize the loss of them, I thought of it more like a fetus, you know, because, because she couldn’t have lived on her own and it wasn’t like she had been, you know, sort of in my arms and in my life for.

An elongated period of time. Yeah. But yeah, so it’s interesting. I mean, I just don’t feel a sense of connection to this idea that I know, you know, I, I actually was conversing over Instagram last night with somebody who is, who identifies as Orthodox Jewish. And she was talking about turning to prayer and I compassionately and, and earnestly was asking her like, do you feel like prayer really helps you?

Like, do you believe that it does something? And for her, it really does. It really, she was saying it really grounds her and she feels that there’s this sort of overarching, um, Support in the world through thinking about God in that way, or believing that dedication and, uh, you know, prayer leads to something or connects you to something and I just, I, I genuinely just don’t, that doesn’t connect for me.

I almost envy people who do have a strong faith and who do believe, uh, that belief. Can, can do something. Uh, but I am, I just, I’m not one of ’em. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I thought that was interesting, like how you had decided you didn’t name Olive until quite a bit later. Could you Right. Just talk a little bit about like what.

What made you wanna do that? Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting, like, right, I, I didn’t even, it wasn’t even a consideration. I mean, I think part of that may have had to do with the fact that when I was at my doctor’s office and because it was a 16 week loss and it wasn’t a stillbirth, uh, you know, and a stillbirth situation as you know, like, The, the doctors and hospitals often and, and maybe midwives as well, you know, often offer aspects of the loss to be able to sort of bring home with you.

Yeah, so a, a lock of hair, hand prints, footprints, photographs, uh, holding the baby a memory box. So I didn’t get any of that. And, um, because, you know, I, I think my, for my doctor, it was the first time she had ever actually experienced a second trimester loss in this way. You know, like most of the time I.

People show up at the doctor and there’s no heartbeat, and then you go from there. Right. But mine was so different. So all of that to say, yeah, it didn’t occur to me to to name her because it wasn’t like anyone was saying anything about this baby or this short life, or this potential or this. Yeah. So it took me some time to realize, wow, you know, Oh, all these people I’m connecting with on Instagram and Twitter and stuff, you know, some of them have tattoos, some of them have named them, some of them.

Had funerals, uh, or cemetery plots. Um, some have ashes. You know, all of these various things that symbolize the fact that the baby existed and, and create in a way, you know, an apparatus, like a framework for honoring and memorializing loss. And so it, yeah, it took me some time to realize that that would be helpful for me.

I mean, I was writing so much about my loss, and so eventually it just kind of hit me like, wow, if I actually named this baby, then I could refer to her as by name instead of just my loss. Yeah. It’s just such a process for everyone. I think it’s, it’s just good to tell all. Different stories, like it doesn’t have to go a certain way.

Like there’s just so many ways, like it’s, it all has such an undercurrent of similarity, but yeah, it’s so individual. So thank you for sharing that. You said in the book really near the end, you’re talking about if. If grief were no longer conceptualized as something to do away with, but rather we’re respected as a wise teacher, it is, you know, that, that we would have kind of change around grief in general in our society.

We don’t do an amazing job with, but especially like pregnancy loss. My question is maybe a little bit different when we talk about grief as a teacher. I think, again, a lot of us take that on as. If I’m not learning lessons, like kind of, if you’re right in the middle of it and you’re not seeing any lessons, you’re just really, really sad.

What would you say to someone who’s kind of in the middle and hasn’t found a lesson or doesn’t want grief to be their teacher? Um, what would you say to them, but then also would you kind of explain what you mean there about allowing it to, to teach us? Yeah. So to me that I am not in any way invoking the word lesson at all.

I don’t think I. Grief and losing pregnancies happens to us so that we can like learn no way. And I don’t believe in silver linings and I’m not interested in trying to figure out reasons why things happen. I don’t believe in any of that. What I mean as a wise teacher is just the very fact that grief can br ground, bring us all the way to.

Right. I mean, yeah, depending on what you go through, but for me I was like flattened. And so when I say wise teacher, it’s sort of like it, it forced me to, in like sort of retrospect in a way that I never would’ve before, it forced me to. Feel in a way that I don’t think I ever had to feel before it made me, it, it, it kind of took everything from me at least for a time.

And so wise teacher, I, I simply really mean, uh, that when you’re, that without, when you’re that flattened right there, it’s like, Eventually something sprouts. Now, it doesn’t mean another pregnancy. It doesn’t mean a happy ending. It doesn’t mean rainbows. It doesn’t mean unicorns. It means like me starting this movement or you know, me finding my voice within this or.

Me getting out of it. Um, when, when, when you don’t want to kind of a thing. Um, does that make sense? Yeah, for sure. And I love that. Yeah. Like I said, I think it’s like, it’s so hard to, like, you probably see this, I see this with people. It’s just like, they’re like, but what am I not getting about this? And I’m like, it’s just like grief is just hard and there’s no.

Timeline and there’s yes. You know, you just have to lean into it as much as you don’t want to. It’s just, yes, it doesn’t really give you a choice. I think I liked how you explained that. That’s right. It doesn’t give you a choice, and I find that the stronger people try to oppose it, you know, or, or try to stave it off the longer it sticks around and so, I do believe that we almost have to like, lean into grief and I, and I’m sure that people will ask themselves after hearing a sentence like that, like, well, how do I lean into it?

’cause then if I lean into it, then I’ll get out of it sooner. Well, there’s no promise there. It’s not like there’s, um, there’s no arithmetic around grief where you can just say, okay, if I, for two weeks I fully let myself feel this, then okay, then I’ll emerge on that 15th day. It’s like, No, it doesn’t work like that at all.

But I do know that with so many things that we can struggle with being alive, the harder we try not to feel it, the longer it sticks around. Yeah. Um, but yeah, so I hope I clarified that because I, I, um, I don’t want people to think that I am, uh, of the mind that. That we have to learn lessons, um, yeah, through these horrifying events because I don’t, you know, this kind of platitude that some people throw around, like God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, I think is completely asinine and misguided.

I don’t believe that at all. And. Yeah, I think it’s just in, you know, again, it’s like in that culture, like we just, yes, kind of have absorbed this thing that, you know, we’re trying to do our best and we’re just trying to learn, and I. Yeah, I totally understand what you’re saying and I’m, I think we’re on the same page too.

It’s just like, yes, I know that when we talk about grief being a teacher, there’s points where you’re just like, but I don’t wanna do, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna be taught anything. Yeah. And, and we all agree. Like I think that then maybe it could be said better, like, grief sucks. Grief is nothing any of us want.

Somehow I. There are things that will happen to us that will be profound in the process. I mean, I think that’s just almost like a, maybe a better, more, yeah. Um, palatable way to think about it. You know, I like that you started this. I had a miscarriage movement and. I just wanna ask you, what do you see as the power?

Like what is the power in just this simple? Statement of ownership of I had a miscarriage, um, for you. And then everyone who can, you know, be able to say it out loud like, I had a miscarriage. Yeah. What’s the power there? Sure. Well, and I wanna, you know, also, Uh, start by saying that I am, you know, by humbly saying, I, I didn’t even know what I was doing when I decided to write my first piece for the New York Times, holding up this sign that said hashtag I had a miscarriage.

Uh, I didn’t realize that I was like attempting to start what’s now being called a movement. Uh, of course I’m grateful that it’s kind of evolved into that and taken off in such a powerful way, but I, I wasn’t sort of intending to create, uh, something so monumental. Um, I think it’s really simple, like from a sort of linguistics perspective, a psychological perspective.

Uh, A societal perspective to own our stories, particularly in the face of silence, I think is the most potent and potentially powerful way to shift this antiquated societal standard that we continue to uphold in the face of. Miscarriage and stillbirth and terminating for medical reasons and infant loss and so on.

Yeah. And so in simply saying, I had a miscarriage. I had a stillbirth. I lost my infant. I would, I terminated a wanted pregnancy. Whatever it is we do what we wish we had seen before. We bring into broad daylight a simple fact, a simple, very important part of our lives, and in so doing, I believe that we inspire others to do the same.

We also then, Subtly and not so subtly tell culture that this is the new norm. This is what we’re doing now. So we can, you know, the healthcare providers can still try to tell us like, wait until you’re 12 weeks and then you’ll be out of the woods and then you can share your amazing news all over everywhere.

You can try to keep telling us, you know, ways to do this or ways to do grief or ways to be pregnant. Or ways to lose pregnancies, but we collectively, millions of people who have been through these experiences, I believe get to decide what it’s gonna be like for us and what it’s going to be like for future generations.

So I think, again, simply saying, These four words, I had a miscarriage assert, a basic fact. It normalizes that not all pregnancies result in a live birth. And it allows us to feel included in a culture that doesn’t like to talk about grief and that doesn’t like to acknowledge hard things. And that leads right into my last question I had for you.

It’s just what. What is that vision? What does that world look like? However long it’s gonna take with people really starting to speak out and do more, what does that world look like where miscarriage and pregnancy loss and infant loss, like it’s not a taboo anymore. What does that look like? What do you see?

Well, in an ideal world, I think that. It would be so integrated into culture, these conversations that we could talk about it almost as easily as we talk about what we’re gonna have for dinner. And I don’t mean to say that it would be less painful because of that, but what I mean is that it would be discussed as if it is as normal as it actually is.

And so that is what I try to do with my children. So I have two children, living children, um, and they know about miscarriage, and I don’t, it’s not like I sit down with like a lesson plan and like, you know, uh, attempt to school them on the topic, but it’s more like I, I try to naturally weave it in now that they’re ages that they can understand and comprehend.

And of course, you know, I’m very cognizant of not overwhelming them and not overtalking it, but they know the word miscarriage. They know that not all babies make it. They know that not every pregnancy results in a live birth. And I, I think that’s what we need to do. I think we need to have our eye on.

And, you know, I’m, I’m currently writing a piece, and I’ve written about this before, this idea that if, if. Uh, this topic we’re weaved into sex education curricula. For example, we might see a zeitgeist shift. Yes. So that you know, that if, if children, instead of just scare tactics, um, talking about, you know, sex ed, we’re actually also learning the, the real facts that not everybody gets pregnant easily.

And that you don’t just get pregnant by looking at a boy. Yeah. Or whatever, you know? Yeah. Um, this would help, it would also help people who later do struggle to not be so sideswiped. I mean, it still will be traumatic of course, but if you had heard over the course of time in a gentle, sort of compassionate and, um, integrated way that.

It can be hard to get pregnant or as you, you know, like certain things about age and eggs and sperm and chromosomal thing. You know, like, I, I don’t know. I, I think then again, my hope is that people would not turn it on themselves as if they had done something wrong. They would remember, oh, oh yeah, I remember hearing about this in sex ed.

Now it doesn’t mean, again, it will hurt any less. I think if we set up expectations properly so that people truly knew the facts, I think things would change in a very, very important way. Along with that, we would lose a lot of the comments that come from other people who maybe don’t understand how common this is as well.

When you’re talking about your kids, that reminded me. I did actually interview my children. So I have six living children. Four I had before my loss losses and then two rainbow babies and Wow. And my, you know, my oldest ones, I asked them, you know, because I’ve been so involved in supporting Lost Moms in a lot of different ways, um, I was like, are you scared, you know, for them, ’cause that’s something I’ve thought, you know, I’m scared.

Trying to help people, but am I gonna like affect my daughters as they go on to build their families, if that’s what they choose. And, and you know, my oldest daughter just said something like, I’m not scared because I know that if it happens, like you’re there and you understand, and I know that I’m not alone and I’ll get through it because she’s watched me go through it.

And I think that that’s something I feel really strongly about too. It’s like, yes, can this information be empowering? Like can we stop being afraid? That’s right. Afraid. Or like think it’s contagious or just exactly like normalize. Yes. So yeah, I love that. I love that you just said contagious. I think I have that in the book too, right?

It’s like it is not and like it is not. Well, thank you so much, Jessica, for your time and for your wisdom and for all that you do for this community. I really appreciate you being here. Oh, right back at you. Thank you so much for all that you do, and I really appreciate you wanting to include me in your community.

Don’t forget. If you wanna enter the giveaway to win a copy of this amazing book, go to smooth stones and enter your email and you will be on your way to having your own free copy or giving one to a friend. I. Smooth Stones We’ll see you next time.

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