By Angela Kroes
After finishing Jessica Zucker’s debut I Had a Miscarriage: A Memoir, a Movement I logged onto Goodreads to see what other readers thought about it. Five-star reviews flooded my screen. Many readers felt validated, understood and moved by Zucker’s words. I, too, had been moved. Never having experienced a miscarriage myself, I was glad that those who had had found comfort in the memoir’s pages. Reading the book, I became aware of how many lives are touched by pregnancy-related complications and the numerous possible emotional responses that accompany them.
Zucker earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, a master’s degree in Human Development and a master’s degree in Public Health. After studying and training at multiple institutions, she became certified to treat perinatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders through Postpartum Support International. She is now a Los Angeles-based psychologist who primarily treats women struggling with pregnancy and pregnancy loss (Zucker, “About”). Her professional experience in the field turned personal in October 2012, when she miscarried after sixteen weeks of pregnancy, in her home, alone.
Her description of the event is vivid; the simple and explicit use of language befitting a surreal situation like a traumatic event taking place inside the home. “My baby slid out,” she writes, “I saw her there, dead, dangling from me mere inches from the toilet-bowl water” (Zucker Miscarriage 9). The reader is presented with a stark and striking contrast between Zucker undergoing a placenta removal and the future she had envisioned for her second child: “As the machine roared, I stared at the ceiling and felt everything I had prepared for – the sleepless nights breastfeeding my infant, the anxiety-ridden moments in which I would stare at my sleeping baby’s chest rising and falling, the moment my son held his baby sister for the first time, the extra place setting at the dinner table – tugged from my body” (16). At the end of the chapter I felt it was time to put the book down and sit for a minute.
In October 2014, two years after she miscarried, Zucker sat down to write about her experiences. The resulting essay was published by The New York Times for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Zucker included a faceless photograph of herself holding a sign that said #ihadamiscarriage so that everyone who had gone through similar experiences could imagine themselves holding the sign. The responses were overwhelmingly positive, prompting her to start an Instagram page entitled @ihadamiscarriage, where she offers support for everyone who needs it (and with 216.000 followers, there are plenty) in the bite-sized format Instagram allows (19-20).
With I Had a Miscarriage: A Memoir, a Movement Jessica Zucker aims to be inclusive and supportive of the countless ways to become (or not become) pregnant, lose a pregnancy, and deal with its emotional aftermath – or the lack thereof. To normalize any and all perspectives and break the “strident trifecta of silence, stigma, and shame” (42) that surrounds it. In order to do so, she alternatingly offers professional insight and draws on her own lived experiences as well as those of her patients. Since this is a memoir, Zucker mostly refers to ‘women’ in relation to pregnancy complications as she feels that term represents her own identity and that of the majority of her patients (xi). Nevertheless, her comments on gender and race in the preface are especially timely for today’s social climate, and I appreciated them. Miscarriage, Zucker writes, is not exclusive to cisgender women, and WOC may have limited access to maternal health care in time of need (xi-xii). With Zucker’s professional insight, it would be interesting to see a future work of hers dedicated entirely to the pregnancy related experiences of POC and trans, non-binary and genderqueer people.
The book discusses a variety of topics: feelings of isolation, sex after pregnancy loss, the anxiety that may come with having a baby post-miscarriage, and body image. One of Zucker’s patients, Grace, a black woman, has suffered from anorexia and bulimia since her teenage years. Her mother dismissed her problems as a “white girl’s disease”, and she never got the treatment she needed. As a result, Grace’s eating disorders continuously went through a cycle of highs and lows. When she became pregnant her eating patterns changed and she gained weight, further complicating her body image. When she miscarried at 13 weeks, she blamed herself and her eating disorders (102-104). Another patient, Taylor, who identifies as gender non-binary, dreamed of getting pregnant as a means to help them appreciate and connect with the reproductive parts of their body, the body they had felt alienated from most of their life. Taylor didn’t get pregnant through artificial insemination, and felt disappointed by their body once more (106-110). Through such examples, Zucker explores not only the complicated relationships people might have with their bodies, but also the sense of losing control over them.
Although the memoir is primarily written for survivors of pregnancy loss, stillbirth and infertility – Zucker directly addresses them in the preface – it makes for a valuable read for outsiders as well. Beside the fact that Zucker opens up a panorama of perspectives, she also offers insight into how to support a loved one who is currently in the throes of a postpartum-but-no-baby transition. Keeping in mind Zucker’s encounter with a friend shortly after she miscarried, who complimented her slim figure, saying she looked like she had never even been pregnant at all (76) – yep, you read that right – this can be a resource for all readers. Aside from the practical take-aways, this book is a valuable tool in that it can simply make the reader realize the depth of this societal issue and how little it’s talked about. I myself realized that I had never heard or read about someone speaking openly about pregnancy loss, let alone the stigma that can accompany it. Raising awareness among those who haven’t experienced a miscarriage themselves seems, to me, a step towards changing the negative narrative that surrounds it.
Throughout the book Zucker links her own and her patients’ stories to the larger cultural conversation surrounding miscarriage: the feelings of guilt, well-meant but ill-phrased words of kindness from close relatives, and the unwritten rule to wait and tell others about a pregnancy only after the first trimester. In her discussion she occasionally cites journalistic and academic sources. I appreciate the authoritative weight this adds to the work, especially in her brief reflection on the shift in attitude towards miscarriage over the years (41-44). During the 1800s, having a miscarriage was generally regarded as a blessing; a financial and physical relief from having to carry another child. However, Zucker writes, this changed around the second half of the 20th century, when the US passed Roe v. Wade and access to safe and legal abortions were made possible and birth control more available. Then, “the prevailing narrative, especially among white, middle- and upper-class women became that, essentially, all “kept” pregnancies are wanted pregnancies” (43).
Although Zucker’s message is clear and poignant, some of her phrases could have done with a Steinbeckian approach. Had Zucker sat down and listened to a recording of herself saying her lines out loud, she would likely have sat down to revise phrases like “please don’t erase my pregnancy with a trivial remark about the shape of this body of mine” (77) and the poem in the epilogue (216-217) to make them sound more natural, less stylistically artificial. Zucker’s prose is mostly nuanced and well-phrased, but a sentence like this – especially when it’s used in a conversational context – is distracting to read. Zucker could have done without that theatrical element since it only takes away from the seriousness and gravity of the topic.
Jessica Zucker’s debut has achieved what it set out to do. And, unfortunately, pregnancy loss is no longer the only field she can offer insight on. Last spring, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has since then undergone a bilateral mastectomy (ihadamiscarriage). On October 14 she published an article on Oprah Daily entitled “Breast Cancer Is Not a “Battle” to Fight” embedded with the same academic reflection and nuance she offers in her memoir. In doing so, Zucker continues to voice the unspoken side of societal-medical conversations and cultivate understanding for previously unheard stories.
Angela Kroes completed her B.A. in English Language and Culture and is currently enrolled in the M.A. Literature Today program at Utrecht University. In previous research, she has explored the “American Dream” in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. She is part of the PR team for RevUU.
- ihadamiscarriage. Instagram post. Ihadamiscarriage. Instagram, 2 Oct. 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2021.
- Zucker, Jessica. “About.” Dr. Jessica Zucker. Dr. Jessica Zucker, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2021.
- Zucker, Jessica. “Breast Cancer Is Not a “Battle” to Fight.” Oprah Daily. Oprah Daily LLC, 14 Oct. 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2021.