Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Jessica Zucker thought she knew everything there was to know about reproductive trauma. After all, she has a PhD in clinical psychology and a master’s degree in public health, specializing in women’s reproductive health and maternal mental health. By all accounts, Zucker is considered an expert in the field.
“I was sitting there with my patients, talking them through miscarriage postpartum, late-term abortions,” Zucker tells Yahoo Health. “All the while, I had yet to experience reproductive trauma.”
Zucker was 16 weeks into her second pregnancy in 2012 — obvious to everyone, due to her small frame — when she started spotting. Two weeks later, she miscarried. “I was home alone and the fetus came out. I had to cut the cord myself,” Zucker recalls. “Luckily, I am friends with my OB-GYN and she walked me through it.”
She would later find out her unborn child had a chromosomal abnormality. She finally experienced the feelings her patients had been describing for years. “What I heard before, and especially after, is that so many women feel guilty, ashamed, and self-blaming,” says Zucker. “Our culture creates this sense that women can control [a pregnancy].” Just not this.
Afterward, she also noticed that no one quite knew what to say or how to react to the miscarriage. Her solution: She created a line of empathy cards to reach the growing number of women who’ve experienced pregnancy loss.
Since nearly 20 percent of pregnancies end in a loss, the number of those affected is huge and underserved. “We just don’t have adequate tools to meet the need of these out-of-order losses,” Zucker explains. “When you have a fetus, it’s not in the world yet, no one knows this baby, so you’ve got a person who wanted a baby just left not knowing what will happen.”
It’s right at this moment when a mom-to-be, no longer expecting a child, needs to feel a community of support around her. She needs the right words. Yet, so often, women who’ve miscarried report feeling isolated. As Zucker resumed her work after her own reproductive trauma, she heard more and more women’s stories. “I was incredibly disheartened that we couldn’t get this right,” she says. “For instance, the level of isolation after losing a baby at 40 weeks is incredible. But after a miscarriage, so many friends or family will say, ‘I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.’”
Zucker calls these cards “a movement,” meant to do better for all the women dealing with unplanned loss, meant to give friends and family the right words — something Zucker admits she has struggled with at times too. “There’s a card that reads: ‘I’m sorry I’ve been MIA. I didn’t know what to say. I’ll do better. I am here.’ I plan to send that card to every person I know who’s been through this. I want to say more now.”
That’s not the only card in Zucker’s new line, though. The offerings range from deeply personal to irreverent. She has a stillbirth or baby loss announcement, and cards that are meant to offer support without trying to “make things feel OK, when they’re definitely not,” says Zucker.
More than anything, she wants the cards to feel validating both in the public health sphere and on a personal level. Pregnancy loss happens, it’s traumatic, it’s difficult — and we should talk about it.
Zucker hopes that when her daughter and son are at the age to have kids, our society will be better able to care for those experiencing all forms of grief and loss. “I do hope these cards widen and deepen the cultural conversation. They’re not therapy, but I’d just love to reach people,” Zucker says. “These cards are daring us to sit with the uncomfortability of what it means to be alive.”