Although psychologist Dr. Jessica Zucker has specialized in maternal health and pregnancy loss for more than a decade, it wasn’t until she experienced her own miscarriage five years ago that she could truly empathize with the grief her clients were describing.
“I had been hearing stories from patients for many years about how isolated they felt, how ashamed they felt, how guilty they felt, how self-blaming they were following pregnancy loss,” Zucker, of Los Angeles, told InsideEdition.com.
“After my miscarriage, I understood the experience of isolation, or feeling grief was a rollercoaster with no seatbelts.”
So she launched the Instagram page @IHadaMiscarriage with the mission of changing how pregnancy loss is viewed and to give a platform for women to share their stories.
“Writing has helped me tremendously,” she said. “I shared all the details of my story and it was a way to model for other women around the world that there’s really no shame in loss.”
About 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the Mayo Clinic, although officials estimate the number may be dramatically higher due to mothers who miscarry before knowing they are pregnant. Still, many women aren’t talking about it.
“Miscarriage isn’t going anywhere,” Zucker said. “Anyone who endeavors to create a family opens themselves up to potential pregnancy loss. We really need to soften up the stigma and the shame and be able to embrace it in a new way.”
While internet forums exist for women to discuss miscarriage and pregnancy loss, @IHadaMiscarriage, which started in 2015, is one of the few that appears on Instagram. It now has nearly 20,000 followers.
Each post features a poem or story related to a mother’s mourning, with a suitable image accompanying the narrative.
“It’s important for me to bring beauty to the conversation and to make a page that basically reflects the world so any woman can look at the page and see themselves,” Zucker said.
Among the nearly 700 posts are stories of Zucker’s own experience as well as those from other women. They provide words of understanding and support for mothers who’ve suffered miscarriages, like Chloe Lodge.
“I really connected with the way Jessica uses imagery and words,” the British photographer told InsideEdition.com. She turned to the page after three miscarriages.
“When you share your journey, it opens women up to be able to share theirs and it really helps,” she said. “By reading other people's’ stories, it makes you feel not so alone.”
Dr. Zucker and her husband were ecstatic to discover she was pregnant in 2012. She already had a son, who is now 8, and the couple was excited to expand their family.
Those hopes came crashing down when she began spotting at 16 weeks pregnant.
“A couple days later, I was cramping and I was unfortunately home by myself when the baby emerged,” she said. “Life lenses really change after we lose something we long for.”
She named her lost daughter Olive. Eventually, she became pregnant again with a daughter, who is now 3.
“I was nervous most days, or at least part of each day I was consumed with worry,” Zucker said about the following pregnancy. “When she arrived, I took a deeper breath than I had in nine months.”
She said she rounded a bend in her grief in 2014 when she published a story about her journey through loss in The New York Times.
She coined the hashtag in the headline, “Saying it Loudly: I Had a Miscarriage,” a mantra she is now using to inspire women each day.
Lodge had two miscarriages at eight weeks after she had her son, Max, who is now 5.
Her third miscarriage turned cancerous through a molar pregnancy.
Molar pregnancies, which occur in one out of every 1,000 pregnancies, are caused when tissue meant to become a fetus instead turns into an abnormal growth in the uterus.
“In 90 percent of women who have [the mass] removed, they’re fine,” Lodge, 42, explained. “In 10 percent, it develops into a cancer, and that’s what happened to me.”
To treat the fast growing and rare form of uterine cancer, Lodge said she had to undergo three months of chemotherapy, which she said was especially traumatic following her miscarriage.
“It made me question my body because when you go to have a baby, you’re creating it out of love,” she said. “[But I] created something, which potentially if it hadn’t been caught, it could have taken my life.”
When she suffered her third miscarriage, she was living abroad in Dubai. The distance and time difference from her relatives and closest friends made it difficult to lean on them through her grief.
“I was living as an expat at the time, so I was totally isolated. I had friends that were fairly new and I couldn’t talk to them about what had gone on,” she said.
But when she shared her experiences on @IHadaMiscarriage, Lodge felt like she was turning to people who would relate to her experience.
She reached out to the community after falling pregnant again with her youngest daughter, Adaline, who is now 8 weeks old.
At 19 weeks pregnant, she contributed her own photo, titled, “Wish You Were Here,” which depicts her pregnant belly with a rainbow painted across by her eldest son. Many mothers that experience pregnancy loss refer to the baby born shortly after as their “rainbow baby,” symbolizing the hope that follows a storm.
“We feel we can’t share with the person across the table having a coffee with us, yet we share with someone on the other side of the world that has no idea [who you are],’”she explained. “Sometimes you connect with someone through social media and all of a sudden you’re creating a support network.”
Mary Purdie, 34, of Los Angeles, shared her story with @IHadaMiscarriage in April after her fourth miscarriage.
“It’s an uncomfortable topic to talk about, and I just felt kind of ashamed,” Purdie told InsideEdition.com. “To be able to put it somewhere and have people like you take care of you with kind words and just sending their love, it did help the process.”
She experienced her first loss in March 2016. She and her husband had been trying to conceive for months, and were ecstatic to find out she had become pregnant.
At the eight-week ultrasound, doctors said they couldn’t find a heartbeat for her baby.
“The first loss was so devastating because I never imagined,” she said. “I knew miscarriage was a possibility but I refused to imagine it for myself.”
The following three losses occurred similarly. Purdie and her husband had no problem conceiving, but each time, they would lose the baby at eight weeks.
“Every time I got pregnant, I just wanted to be excited, but I couldn’t. It was just anxiety, constant worry,” she explained. “You’re not grieving a cluster of cells that never made it to a certain point, you’re grieving your whole entire future, imagining what your baby will look like, what you’ll name them, their first day of kindergarten. You grieve a whole lifetime.”
Doctors eventually discovered she had uterine septum, a condition resulting from a malformation of the uterus, and told her the condition could be treated and reversed through surgery.
Despite the good news, she said her four miscarriages within a year made a lasting impact.
“Ultrasounds are traumatic for me,” she said. “Going into the stirrups, and seeing the monitor, I just can’t explain how scary that is. I don’t want to look at the screen. My life has changed every time I’m in the stirrups.”
As Purdie prepared to undergo the surgery earlier this summer, she shared on @IHadaMiscarriage an illustration of her hand holding a bottle of medication doctors had asked her to take before the procedure in front of a rainbow.
Tattooed on her arm, she explained in the post, were the four birth flowers corresponding to the months of the four due dates she mourned.
Purdie has now been cleared by doctors to try and conceive again, and has been given better odds of being able to bring her baby to term.
“If I ever make it to an eight-week ultrasound, where there’s a heartbeat, I just feel like I’ll explode with joy because it’s never happened,” Purdie said.
@drawnbymary shares: "Today I started medication to prepare me for surgery that I'll be having in exactly 4 weeks. I'm so so so excited for this surgery because without it, it would be highly unlikely that I'd ever be able to carry a pregnancy full term. . In less than a year I've been pregnant 4 times. We got to see 3 of those little hearts beating before we lost them. Last month I got this tattoo on my arm of 4 birth month flowers to symbolize 4 due dates mourned. ?? In the pregnancy loss community, babies born after a loss are called "rainbow" babies. If this next part of our journey holds the solution, which we (and our amazing doctors) expect it does, next year we hope to meet ours. ?" _ Art + words by @drawnbymary. _ #IHadAMiscarriage #rainbowbaby #the100dayproject #fertility #ttc #100daysofdrawnbymary #miscarriage #grief #loss #recurrentmiscarriage #1in4
In 2015, Dr. Zucker created a line of greeting cards for people to give friends who had suffered miscarriages.
“There’s some cards that are soft and passive, and others that are sort of irreverent,” she said. “I wanted them to speak to every moment of loss in the grieving process. I want to help people who say, ‘I just didn’t know what to say to my friend or loved one so I didn’t say anything at all.’”
As mothers began reaching out to praise Zucker’s greeting cards, she said she wanted to continue to provide a voice to women who have experienced miscarriage and started her Instagram, @IHadaMiscarriage, later that year.
“Women are now submitting their stories to me [and it] has just been so heartening, so intimate, so profound,” Zucker said. “Women who are suffering should feel supported in this community, and sheltered in this loving way.”
Despite having to relive many emotions and memories she experienced in her own loss through narratives and poems that appear in her email inbox or direct message daily, Zucker said the stories help her heal.
“I don’t feel re-traumatized by any of the details of their stories,” she said. “Reading their stories or hearing about their stories in my office helps me think through aspects of my loss that I perhaps hadn’t. I want to feel what the women felt."