Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month is technically over but I hope that its effects are long lasting. During October, I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Jessica Zucker and calligrapher, Anne Robin, creators of a new line of pregnancy loss cards. The story of how art and writing has brought them healing, and how they hope their cards will bring healing to others, is below. Please be aware that the story does contain descriptions and themes of pregnancy loss.
On a Thursday in October three years ago, Jessica Zucker was 16 weeks into her pregnancy when she began miscarrying at home. She was there alone and describes the experience as incredibly painful, intense, emotional, and horrifying. “I have these memories burned into my mind and my heart. Having her fall out, having to cut the cord, looking at her, putting her on a towel, and putting her in a bag.”
While her husband rushed home, Jessica was hemorrhaging. Fortunately, he made it in time to get her to the doctor but the amount of blood loss she was having made an un-medicated D&C necessary. That night, she drank wine and ate chocolate in bed. Jessica explains that grieving the loss of her daughter was made even more complicated by the fact that she herself also could have died. She wonders how she mustered the strength to make it through. “My grief would just come out. I would be driving somewhere and I would just start bawling or even screaming at the horror of how things happened,” Jessica said.
As a way to process her grief, Jessica, a clinical psychologist who specializes in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health in Los Angeles, began writing about loss. At first, she wrote about the politics of pregnancy loss and explored why we live in a culture where we can’t talk about the experience of miscarriage, where women somehow feel ashamed about their experiences. Then, last October, during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, Jessica initiated #ihadamiscarriage and went public with her own story in a piece she wrote for the New York Times. She explains that it’s helped so much because she’s connected with such wonderful women in the loss community around the world. “I feel my greatest way to honor my daughter, to honor our brief life together, our brief connection, has really been through my writing and I think that’s been the way that I’ve actually healed.”
“I feel my greatest way to honor my daughter, to honor our brief life together, our brief connection, has really been through my writing and I think that’s been the way that I’ve actually healed.”
Wanting to fill a void in the cultural conversation and in the marketplace surrounding pregnancy loss, Jessica decided to create a line of cards; to create something concrete and meaningful as a way to connect after a loss. Research shows that, after miscarriage, women are blaming themselves, feeling guilty, and feeling incredibly isolated. “My hope is that the cards convey messages that help women feel seen, feel validated in their experience, feel understood, and inevitably feel less alone because the card sender is thinking of them.” Jessica explains.
She also thought the cards could provide a sort of go-to guide for people who wonder what to say after someone they love experiences loss. They want to say the “right” thing, but many times don’t know what to say so they stumble.
Jessica knew which messages she wanted to convey through the cards but needed help designing them. She reached out to calligrapher, Anne Robin, who also has experience with pregnancy loss. “There were three (miscarriages) at different stages, all within the first trimester. One of them was at 12 weeks, one was at 11 weeks, and then two babies that we found out at 20 weeks had severe inter-cranial hemorrhage.” recalls Anne. “They realized there must have been some kind of genetic problem but they couldn’t find it.”
Anne was told by her geneticist to “just try again.” “That’s easier said than done, obviously, but I was pretty determined and felt like I needed to, like I couldn’t NOT try again, and again, and again, until it finally worked.” Anne recalls.
Eventually, it did work, and Anne now has a 4-month old son. As a way to memorialize her babies, she has a little box she keeps ultrasounds in, along with letters she’s written to them, and other mementos. “I still wanted something very physical so the one thing I did and I do really kind of cherish is had a new necklace made with a ‘C’ for my older son, that’s cut out of a circle, and then for the two babies that we lost much later, kind of the two that felt more real to me, I have these kind of empty rings. It’s something that I always have on me and it feels special and now my baby holds onto it a lot. He’ll have one of his fingers through the rings so that always feels really symbolic to me.” Anne explains.
Anne also used Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month last year to share her story publicly, creating a series of prints around the topic of pregnancy loss that were available for purchase, download, and use, on her website. She wanted to do something else this year and was looking for a project when Jessica approached her about doing the artwork for her pregnancy loss cards. “I finally had this baby in June and was interested in kind of coming full circle. Last year I was doing this all at seven weeks pregnant and totally terrified.” Anne explained, adding that, this year, she had a little bit more peace about her experiences and felt like she could really invest time and heart into the process.
I was pretty determined and felt like I needed to, like I couldn’t NOT try again, and again, and again, until it finally worked.”
To get started, Anne had Jessica look at her Instagram account to send her a list of fonts she liked and they brainstormed ideas. Realizing they both have an affinity for Mid-Century Modern design, Anne moved forward with shades of turquoise, mustardy yellow, and brick red, following a color scheme falling within that design aesthetic. “I didn’t want to make them super bright because I felt like they should be more muted because of the subject matter,” Anne explains.
Once a general design plan was in place, Jessica let Anne run with it. “I love everything she does so it’s kind of ridiculous. I told her, you go for it, this part is all you,” she said.
What resulted was a series of pregnancy loss cards featuring honest messages, and gorgeous calligraphy. While some of the stronger language may not resonate with everyone, Jessica hopes that there’s a card in the series for everybody and wanted to convey a sense of consistency.
With messages including, I’m here for you always and I love you like crazy, Jessica explains, “I’m trying to underscore the point that I’m here for you right now because this happened and then next week we can hang out in this uncomfortable space together because this is part of life and where a lot of growth, unfortunately, happens.”
She adds that rushing grief doesn’t help anybody and ignoring it most definitely doesn’t either. “I think it’s incredibly important to try to resist judging one’s grief and that we should really shy away from comparing and contrasting grief or loss experiences.” The card stating grief has no timeline expands on this theme. “Women shouldn’t have to worry that they’re going to make somebody uncomfortable or that it’s inappropriate somehow to talk about their loss. That they should feel well within x amount of time,” Jessica says.
It was important to Jessica to have a card for pregnancy after loss, and she describes the baby loss/still birth announcement in the collection as stunning and so meaningful and important.
Both Jessica and Anne have been completely overwhelmed and excited by how well the cards have been received. “At first we were literally talking about printing 25 copies of each card. We had no idea the press we were going to get and the reaction that people would love them so much.” says Anne, adding how nice it’s been that people have been expressing gratitude that the cards are now available.
Working on this line of cards has been an important part of Jessica and Anne working through emotions surrounding their own experiences with loss and it seems that the cards are definitely fulfilling Jessica’s goal of delivering honest and truthful messages, filling a gap in the marketplace, and sparking a discussion about pregnancy loss. She explains, “We have to embrace that this is part of trying to create life and women shouldn’t feel that they have to be quiet about it.”
Jessica’s hope is that future generations grow up in a landscape that is incredibly different when it comes to these important and normative issues, saying, “It can be like a rollercoaster ride. you can be laughing one day or one hour and, the next hour, screaming about your pain and that’s okay.”